Tue, Aug 25, 2009
my paper
Why he picked up six languages

By Kenny Chee

STUDENT Wang Chenwei, 20, was the youngest panellist for a contest on Chinese culture and language last month, but he is not just well-versed in that.

He speaks and writes in six languages - English, Chinese, German, French, Arabic and Hindi - and writes in another six, including Hebrew and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

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He is also a composer who plays 12 instruments, including the cello and the sanxian, a long-necked Chinese lute.

His love affair with languages started when he studied French in secondary school.

At the age of 18, he picked up German, which will come in handy when he begins attending a university in Vienna next month.

Languages give him access to the cultures behind them, which is important in helping him better write music that reflects the cultures of people, he said.

"The language of music is universal, but the language of musicians isn't," he said.

He is among a group of Singaporeans, including interpreter Shalini Samuel and investment executive Chew Wei Yin, who have seen the value of learning Mandarin, as well as languages that are not native to them.

More people here are taking up Mandarin classes, to help them in their work.

Language schools here have reported a jump of about 20 to 50 per cent in their number of students so far this year.

Less than two weeks ago, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had urged Singaporeans to speak more Mandarin as this would give them an edge when doing business with China.

A June report by Australia's Griffith University said that half of all Australians need to be fluent in an Asian language within 30 years, or risk falling behind other countries.



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