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2006-09-24 13:27

  Speaking at the official opening of The Chinese High Boarding School last week, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the Ministry of Education has piloted a bilingual approach towards the teaching of Chinese.

  Under this new approach, bilingual teachers will use English as a supplementary medium of instruction to assist students from English-speaking families in learning the Chinese language.

  According to the official Singapore Census of Population, the number of Chinese Singaporeans using Mandarin as their main household language increased sharply from 10.2% in 1980 to 29.8% in 1990 and 45.1% in 2000.

  Likewise, the number of Chinese Singaporeans using English as their main household language also increased steadily from 7.9% in 1980 to 19.2% in 1990 and 23.9% in 2000.

  However, figures of the Census of Population 2000 clearly showed that 35.8% of Chinese children aged between five and 14 use English as their main household language, compared with 21.5% of Chinese youths aged between 15 and 24.

  The gradual language shift from Mandarin to English as a main household language indicates that English will potentially emerge as the ethnic Chinese lingua franca in place of Mandarin should the current trend continue.

  With the robust development of the Chinese economy and the stable growth of Sino-Singapore trade, the government has reiterated the importance of developing a pool of bilingual Chinese elites.

  Young civil service officials have been sent to China for attachment while senior civil servants have attended Executive Programmes in China's leading universities.

  A Sino-Singapore exchange programme specially targeted at tertiary students will commence this year.

  Yet all these measures clearly show that the authorities have no intention to change the current language policy under which English is the dominant language in schools. The Chinese community should realise that it is impossible to reverse the rapid growth of English-speaking families within the community.

  The main rationale for implementing the bilingual approach is to help students from English-speaking families to tackle problems at the beginning stage in learning Chinese. Chinese teachers face an increasingly uphill task in the years to come.

  Furthermore, English is currently taught as the dominant medium of instruction for the learning of all content subjects, with the respective ethnic mother tongues as merely a single compulsory subject in schools.

  The ideal goal under the current unified language policy is to train and produce learners who are effectively bilingual in both English and Chinese.

  Yet given our existing Chinese educational resources and social environment, it is still not impossible to produce a pool of bilingual Chinese talent to help Singapore ride on the growth of China.

  Besides continuously strengthening the Sino-Singapore exchange among government officials, the Chinese teaching circle should dispel any prejudices and fully support the proposed creative teaching methods.

  For example, universities or private organisations should design intensive courses on Chinese language for specialised fields, such as Chinese for science and technology, Chinese for business, Chinese for legal practice, and so on. Such courses should be specially customised for selected bilinguals and focus on the mastery of English-Chinese translating skills through a bilingual approach towards the teaching of Chinese language.

  It will not only make full use of learners' fundamental professional concepts, but also activate their meta-cognition and background knowledge in English, thereby enabling them to become a bilingual in their own professional field within the shortest period of time.

  At this critical juncture, the government and the private sector should take active steps to reward English-Chinese bilinguals.

  The Ministry of Education could establish various English-Chinese bilingual proficiency tests and any bilingual who has been awarded a recognised diploma under such tests should be given an additional substantive allowance or promotion prospects.

  To meet the increasing demand for English-Chinese documents, professional organisations, such as the Chinese-language newspapers of Singapore Press Holdings, could consider establishing a“centre for reviewing bilingual documents”to assist government agencies and the private sector to review translated texts.

  。The writer is an Assistant Professor and Co-ordinator, Asian Languages and Cultures Academic Group (Chinese), National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University.

















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