Change teaching attitude
Teachers could break stigmas in teaching, like 'Mandarin only' learning methods.
I REFER to yesterday's report, 'MM Lee wants learning of Chinese to be fun'. It will be of enormous help if Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's idea incorporates a learning bridge which uses English as an aid in studying Mandarin in schools.
As a Malay student who tried to learn Mandarin in school in the 1970s, ting xie (Chinese spelling) and mo xie (rote memorisation of passages) were a nightmare.
Predictably, I often scored jidan (zero) for failing to memorise the required list of Chinese words. I gave up finally and switched my mother tongue to my native Malay.
Learning Mandarin then was an exercise in futility because my language teachers zealously refused to use English to help pupils learn their mother tongue.
This 'Mandarin-only' attitude prevails among several Chinese language teachers today for whom it is taboo to translate Chinese words into English in class.
The attitude is especially prevalent among Chinese-educated teachers who feel the need to uphold the purity of the language. But my personal experience with using English to learn Mandarin suggests that it works wonders. When my daughter, who is studying Mandarin in school now at the request of my Chinese Singaporean husband's parents, was taught by a young male Chinese language teacher, her grades almost doubled from 40-plus to the respectable 70s.
The reason: She loves the language now as her Chinese teacher translates Chinese words into English in class. The teacher is helping pupils like my daughter learn and understand Chinese words quicker.
The teacher confirmed my view of my daughter's progress at a meet-the- parents session when he replied that he observed an improvement among his students with this method. My daughter, who will sit for her Primary School Leaving Examination next year, has managed to maintain an average score of 70 or more in Chinese.
It may not be a fantastic grade to some children, but to my husband and myself, it is an immense achievement as ours is not a Mandarin-speaking home.
Ultimately, we want our daughter to love the language and not just score well in exams.
I hope my son, who will be in Primary 4 next year, will be lucky enough to have a teacher like my daughter's, who will spur his interest in the language by bridging the gap in understanding it. I have not given up hope. Not just yet.
Hasleen Bachik (Madam)
This article was first published in The Straits Times.
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