One of my galfren who is living in Japan was sharing about her "horror" of having to relearn or refreshing her mandarin. She was asking if our mandarin was closer to china or Taiwan, apart from the obvious fact that the characters are different and we emulated China's system.
As the discussion progress, only then did I realise the disparity (in level and accuracy) between the way I was taught versus the way the others were taught. I didnt know if it was due to the schools we went to, or the fact that they were born several years after me and thus the visible "lack" of standard and mastering of the language. Actually, sometimes I find it depressing when Sg retail staff asked "Where am I from?" It's like a "big thing" if I dont have Sg-accent in either tongue, I must be foreign bred. Strange.
I wont profess I am superb in my Mandarin, in fact compared to my elder brothers, mine is shamefully pathetic. Yet compared to my peers, I realise that my command of mandarin from using 成语
，谚语，诗歌朗诵 were definitely there. This, I supposed is attributed to the fact that I had went to a "Mandarin centric" primary school where the "old school" mandarin teachers had spoken IMPECCABLE mandarin. So much so that when I went to Junior college, even though I had went to a "English centric" convent school later, my command of Mandarin was still far better than those who had come from Dunman High or Chinese high which were perceived to be Mandarin oriented secondary schools. This is how 6 solid years of hardcore, accurate, stringent Mandarin lessons in primary school benefited me. (On this note: I pay great tribute to all the mighty and honorable Chinese teachers who had taught me. 恭宽信敏 is indeed a great school motto though I could have done without the cuckoo mushroom shorthair cut imposed.) Of course, all those great Mandarin story books our teachers recommended were an added bonus. It cemented my foundation. In fact, I suddenly had a flashback where my mandarin teacher was even teaching us the "original" character of certain words on how it derived from caveman drawings....to traditional font to simplified font. Perhaps that was why I am able to alternate easier between the two fonts. (of course with my ploughing through stacks of Taiwanese version of Doraemon helps too) The core language and pinyin is so drilled into our head that I am rather thankful for it now even though I didnt think much of it then. Do higher level primary school kids still read short novels by 尤今-散文 like we had back then？I seriously doubt it huh...
The sad thing is that the language was "killed off" or died a slow painful slow death under the regime of the "anti-mandarin-anti-dialect" education system where little focus was given to the language till it is too late now. Again whose fault is that? The very same man who insulted the "pedigree" of our ancestors who had migrated to Singapore but yet singlehandedly, eradicated the existence of proper use of common dialects and mandarin in Singapore. I wonder as he wrote his memoir describing that our migrant forefathers had less than desirable "educational level" as compared to those who stayed in China, did he even remember how POWERFUL the CHINESE educated people were back then, and how anxious he was about the former NTU so much then that the school had to be closed down, not exactly peacefully as described by older generations who were exstudents.. Those people, will turn in their graves hearing him insult them.
Everything that went wrong today was a result of his short-vision for the future of Singapore. I cannot grasp his ill-advised vision really. I didnt understand why he felt so compelled to de-prioritise Mandarin use in Singapore back then. (By this I meant the removal of Chinese Schools, Chinese teachings like Confucian ethics, Chinese History etc. I dont mean eradication of language in all schools. I am not highlighting the other race for as far as I know, most Malays and Indians still retain their own native tongue at home). So what if half the nation was not proficient in English but was good in Mandarin back then? Just like Hong Kong now, there are a segment of the population who can only speak Cantonese, a segment who spoke Cantonese and varied levels of English, a segment of Cantonese and Mandarin, and then the segment of linguistic genius who are equipped with tri-languages. In the end, it is a good blend where people find jobs that suit their "language skills". Their economy remains vibrant and the social integration works perfectly well all these years. There is a unity in them, a Hong Kong spirit which is so hard to pen down but you feel it in their bones. It all boils down to the identity they had form from a common Cantonese language bond. What has eluded Singapore is this same sense of identity which was there for a while in the 80s and early 90s, then in a blink gone.
The Singapore now cannot decide if it wants to be a western or eastern country. It's neither here nor there, just like our language skills. Is that why there is a huge influx of China students and migrants now? To get the drawing board back to square one so that some man can right his own mistakes and try to have "round 2" attempt of his vision with a new Chinese crop because he had realised his past idealistic experimentation had gone awry?
Anycase, another sg friend living in China posted in the facebook discussion that Mainlanders used 上午 vs to Singaporean 早上 and said it was our own version of chinese. But the truth was, we were TAUGHT to use 上午, think morning session class and afternoon session class. How do u say it in mandarin? 上午班 right? Also, I was taught to say 整个上午 instead of 整个早上 used now but what the hell, go with the (main)flow right? Then there are 用膳/用餐时间 instead of 吃饭时间。Plus I have no idea how 早上 instead of 早晨 creep into our language, except to put it to the fact that that with the widespread lack of accurate and proper teaching of Mandarin foundation, the majority of the population ended up using the wrong mandarin phrases and it became prevalent and norm, and then they blame the system for producing localised version of Singapore Chinese.
(PS: Someone commented my mandarin is shaky because China people also use 吃饭时间／早上 etc. Please note that i did not say that these phrases are not used in Mandarin speaking countries except that I was taught that there is a difference between causal speech and formal speech, and the phrases that I had mentioned above are also being used. I would be surprised if someone from china or Taiwan tells me that 用餐时间 is wrong. As for 上午 vs 早上, its more than the A.M (period/range) vs Morning isn't it, so at times its interchangeable but at times not. In the end, the post is not about MY mandarin, its about the state of Mandarin or English medium in our nation today. )
However to be fair, unless the syllabus has changed (which it has I believed), for once this language weakness arises more from the people than the system. However, the system also is greatly flawed. Unless the system has changed again, the tweaking to only "recognise" and converse without having to learn to memorise and write them at an early stage is a grave mistake. My Australian partner had been trying to learn Mandarin for years on and off. He just couldnt get it in his head until I forced him to memorise and write each characters starting from the basic verbs and nouns. Painful for him but it worked and he often proudly point to the subtitles to tell me what he knew. The point is getting the teaching technique right, and then motivate the kids with things that interest them in that language. Read comic books, listen to songs, watch cartoons whatever it is, exposure is the key. If parents continue not to pay equal attention to the language due to the "lower priority" and thus resulting in the lack of focus and understanding of the correct grammar and vocab uses then we will always have this current unbearable scene of "ill-equipped" Mandarin users.
While many Asian countries (used to) say Singapore has a very successful education system of the bilanguage system, I personally think its a bloody failure in some ways because while predominantly people can understand both languages, they suck at both too. A good portion of Singaporeans are not a master of either language, least of all both. They can speak well (not necessarily fluently) in a specific language but because they are a jack of all trade, its almost hard to find one who are fluent in both. Throw in fluent in dialect, is that like 1% of the population (and by that i mean the BORN AND BRED locals, not the invading locusts). Many couldnt pronounce the words correctly in English, and they couldnt even converse in Mandarin properly throughout without having to mix and jumble it up with English. We have Sg stars/ singer wannabe like Derrek from Superstar who lament about struggling in Taiwan...I wanted to ask him, what language are u actually proficient in and you speak funny? So that is precisely what I call a Failure. Where people think they are good enough in both but really, they are neither fluent nor reasonably good in both. Singaporeans are just passably good in both. One will be lucky to find a local school sg kid actually being fluent in one Language, with a wide range of vocab and correct pronunciation. Of course there are always exceptions, there will always be kids who are very good, but like i said, it is not a high percentage judging by what I hear around me.
I have no idea how the education landscape will change. However, I really dont quite get why they are importing all the Mandarin speaking China teachers, and yet they do NOT import native English speakers from UK (since we are on a UK syllabus and I suppose American teachers are not ideal with the different spelling like "S" and "Z" usage). Must we suck up so BADLY to China? Do they realise whatever they are fucking around with, it will take 10years to reap their errors and lack of judicious policy making strategies. (Think 2 child policy, think degrading of Mandarin to get the drift) It's disgusting... I almost canx wait to see China fall so that I can see people scramble to tweak or make new policies.
Afterall, our main medium is in English, wont it make more sense to spend more on recruiting English teacher to get our kids the right fundamental in linguistic basics? Bombarding the minds of young kids with grand sounding words isnt the right route, especially when they cannot even damn say the words right without sounding awkward or off from base. (eg: I have to correct my friends all the time when they say "colleague", "buffet" incorrectly. It's not "ker-lick" and neither is it "bull-fey"...sigh)
Having friends with kids, their common "laments" are that it's too much to overload the kids with so many languages. I beg to differ. Kids absorb languages like sponge when they are kids. I too disagree that bilingual is impossible. Living in HK currently, I had met several HK and taiwanese friends who spoke fluent English and yet retaining their perfect Cantonese or Mandarin. I have also known of American raised Koreans who spoke fluent Korean and English AND German language. I have had other friends who are from France who had a good command of English (with a slightly twisted french accent) and French. So the point to drive home is that it CAN be done. It's just not happening in Singapore because the people you place in schools are important. I am NOT saying local teachers are not good. I have good great Singaporean teachers too but the point is, we need to be stringent. Dont just train someone for the job and neglect the fact that this person is going to impact the next few generations to come. Dont just cast all the excellent teachers in the so call "top schools", and parents do your kids a favor. (On the English front, I have always wanted to advise Singaporean parents that if you are not fluent in the language, please refrain from using it with your young kids because you are indirectly/ inevitably having them pick up the wrong grammar and pronunciation from you. Unless you are an 80yr old granny trying to communicate with your grandkids who only understand English then I suppose that's understandable.)
In the past, being enrolled into a local convent school then, I know I had the good fortune of benefiting for years, from a series of foreign native English teachers which allows my peers and I the grace of speaking reasonably non-singlish English. Yeah sure the flip side of having varied foreign teachers also means I have a "jumbled" accent toggling between the UK and American pronunciation but hey at least its not the wrong pronunciation. I only wish this had been a benefit for the rest of the children of Singapore. Will my wish ever materialised? Till then, the rest of the world and Sg alike will have to put up with our half-bake linguistic skills, where we are half-bilinguals. Meaning, we are only partially good in both languages. It's really an "open stigma" for many out there, that Singaporean speaks bad English and Mandarin. Yes, a fact known even way before that idiotic cowardly China freak openly mocked his host nation on a public media platform.
Then again, it depends on what is the definition of bilingual. Does it only apply to understanding it but not having to speak or write well? Or does being bilingual constitute being effective in both verbal and written? I think that may be the point of contention here.
PS - 5th Aug: In case I get misunderstood, I am NOT saying every Chinese must speak good Mandarin. I recognise the fact that some are brought up to in all English speaking family. It is fine to be fluent on one language, but my article is not to "attack" people who are fluent in English but bad in Mandarin. My post questions about the current situation on the lot that are neither here nor there, who speaks both inaccurate English and Mandarin (primarily more form chinese speaking family), and that the current system brags about us being "bilinguals" when actually alot are only passably good in both and not proficient in either and why the govt continues not to spend any effort in correcting that aspect...It just seem strange to me that we having growing import of teachers from China because of the growing influence of China, but they do nothing about the level of English teachers as in why not import UK teachers as well since English is our "professed national Business medium"?
As well, by proficient, I meant pronouncing words correctly, obeying grammar structure (eg: the way to use May I, Can I correctly etc) In Mandarin aspect, I think structure is fine but we just cannot seem to get the eg: "zao" vs zhao, "cao" vs "chao" right. Not to mention conducting meetings in Mandarin, just pull anyone off the street and leave them in Taiwan or China and ban them from speaking English, can we speak without stutter or pauses with our minds blank searching for ways to express ourselves etc. If most of the population cannot, then effectively to me, that is half-bilingual.
That is the gist of my post about being half bilinguals. Please dont be offended if you happen to fluent in at least one of the medium and think this is an attack on you. It's not.