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Bi-Lingualism – Talk Is Free

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The following was from a letter by one Dr Yow Wei Quin in the Forum of the ST today (12 Dec 2011):

  Here are a few suggestions:
Start as early as possible: Language learning is best carried out before age three. Currently, we are focusing our efforts from age seven, which is too late.

Address parents’ fear that exposing children to multiple languages early will confuse them and reduce their ability to master English, thus affecting their academic results; research shows this to be unfounded.

Change the way language is taught in early childhood: Adults learn a language like a subject. Children do not.

Mr Lee aptly wrote: ‘When it comes to learning a language, you have to start young, preferably as a toddler when the brain is at its most absorptive and retentive.’

Dr Yow Wei Quin

We seem to have a society where lots of people think nothing of hitching free rides on someone else’s power and fame so as to draw attention to themselves. IMO, Dr Yow appears to be one such person.

In her letter which you can read here – http://www.straitstimes.com/STForum/Story/STIStory_743938.html, she tried to re-package what must be plainly, and obviously hackneyed, bromidic (though fundamentally true) motherhood statements on this issue and made it sound like some newly inspired gem of a holy grail. Why, she even cleverly sandwiched what she wants to say between Lee at top and bottom. It cannot be any safer!

But, let us look at what Lee, who has been spewing lots of his thoughts and statements on Mandarin learning lately, has said this time round in his latest book. According to Yow, who quoted him at the bottom of her forum letter:

Mr Lee aptly wrote: ‘When it comes to learning a language, you have to start young, preferably as a toddler when the brain is at its most absorptive and retentive.’

Now, tell me which self-respecting pediatrician, speech therapist, neurolinguist, speech trainer, and other allied professionals don’t already know that? And why is Lee saying all that now, not forgetting that he has been experimenting, directing and overseeing decisions that have far-reaching consequences and which have affected and are still affecting millions of Singaporeans on this issue for FOUR decades?

A ground breaking discovery or even a keen observation it obviously is not, what he has said. But it most definitely smacks of yet another subtle attempt at blame-pushing which is so characteristic of his ‘murmurs’ nowadays. Does he ever feel guilty at all about, anything?

BUT IT IS QUITE OBVIOUS THAT LEE’S LATEST ‘GOD-SPEAK’ ON THE MATTER WAS NOT A PART OF HIS YESTERYEARS’ WISDOM.

The real yesteryears’ variety of his god-speak on this matter manifested itself in the form of many thousands of students becoming quite completely ALIENATED by the method and manner Mandarin learning was forced down their throats in schools, with thousands of these many thousands later leaving for foreign shores, at heavy financial expenses to their parents, for a chance to obtain higher qualifications THAT HAVE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THEIR PROFICIENCY OR LACK IN SPEAKING AND WRITING MANDARIN!

SO, LEE KEEPS ON ‘UPDATING’ HIMSELF AND IS THEREFORE NEVER WRONG! (OR, IF YOU ARE A FAWNING ACOLYTE, ‘ALWAYS RIGHT’; SLIPPERY, AS SOME WOULD SAY.) WHAT WITH WRITING A BOOK WHICH IS WITH GREAT ALACRITY OBSEQUIOUSLY QUOTED FROM BY THE LIKES OF YOW, LEE’S LEGACY ON THIS ISSUE IS PROTECTED MOST ASSUREDLY BY WHAT HE NOW DECIDES TO SAY IN HIS BOOK .

Sometimes we have to wonder where is the justice in all this?! And where it is all leading to?

One last point.

It is easy, far too easy, to prescribe ‘WHAT’ to do, like in Yow’s ‘suggestions’. In my book, with due respect, they are a dime a dozen as far as this issue is concerned. The DEVIL is in ‘HOW’ these and any other suggestions can be effectively and realistically translated/implemented into effective and efficacious policies to achieve the desired results given the realities on the ground now and also in the past.

A Chinese saying describes the situation here best:

To indulge in military manoeuvre and strategy on paper (纸上谈兵 – zhǐshàngtánbīng – fig. theoretical discussion that is worse than useless in practice / armchair strategist / idle theorizing ). And that’s what has been going on for far, far too long on this issue.

The metaphoric broth has already been spoilt beyond redemption by Lee and the underlings who report to him on this issue – and I don’t mean the MOE alone, there was a collective failure in responsibility reaching down from cabinet, to MOE, to grass root leaders. None, it would seem have the courage of conviction even if they have an alternative view to offer.

It is easy to say that parents should be doing this and that, but how many parents in present day Singapore (or in the past) are effectively bilingual to start with for this idea to work? How many families now are not dual income in order to maintain a decent standard of living? Who would be minding the kids, let alone cooing into their impressionable ‘plastic’ ears sweet nothing in M? Get real. Where are the policies, for instance, that would mandate a 3-year ‘paid sabbatical’ for at least one parent to temporary shelf her/his work ambitions to bring to fruition Lee’s and Yow’s grand strategy of Mandarinization of Chinese Singaporeans?

One craves to see the Singapore govt puts its money where its mouth is, for once.

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1 Comment

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