Chinese Language Education

Why do some people have more problems than others in Chinese? The environment is one. The other is one’s attitude towards learning a language that can only grow in usefulness in China grows in economic and political power in the coming years. The MOE is struggling again to shape its curriculum to fit students of different competencies in Chinese.  However, is CL ‘B’ enough? A deeper question is whether CL ‘B’ is realistic in allowing students to cope or it realistically aggravates the problem of allowing students weak in Chinese to remain weak in Chinese? After all for the sake of argument about “fairness” , students who are weak in English despite being brilliant in other subjects, do not have this EL ‘B’ life buoy thrown to them. Oh well.

Help! I’m Chinese!

05:55 AM Mar 20, 2010

From 2012, all Primary 1 students will be taught the Chinese language in three classes of different skill-levels. I could have used this system growing up. Then I might be able to order a set meal in a food court without pointing at the pictures.

While my classmates raised their hands for extra sheets of paper during Chinese composition examinations in secondary school, I once raised mine to ask for help writing my name in Chinese.

The befuddled invigilator wrote all the different variations of the Chinese characters in my name – all 236 of them, it seemed – while berating me for embarrassing all Chinese people in general.

It was like shopping for a name. “Ooh, I like the look of that one! I’ll take it!”

My Chinese oral exam was more challenging for the examiner to understand than it was for me to say the pocketful of words I knew. Reading the given passage, I’d casually replace the words I didn’t recognise with the Chinese word for “something”.

“Xiao Mei walked to the something on Sunday. She found something and decided something something something. Just then, she met her friend Li Li and something something. ‘Thank you, I something!’ said Li Li.”

Xiao Mei could have been a crack dealer for all I knew.

Things aren’t much better today. Last week my cab driver didn’t know how to get to Caldecott Hill or what a “MediaCorp” was, so I sputtered in the best Mandarin I could dig up: “Erm … dian shi ji!”

I wanted to say “television studio” but I think I ended up telling him I wanted to buy a new TV set.

When it was clear that I did not want a ride to the nearest Harvey Norman, and the line of cars we were holding up stretched back to Batam, I panicked and resorted to playing word association. “Zoe Tay! Fann Wong! Pan Ling Ling!” I yelped.

“Orh!” said the cabbie. “SBC, ah?”

I get a lot of flak for not being able to speak the language – almost exclusively from other Chinese people. It’s almost as if my inability to sing a Teresa Teng song personally offends them.

“You’re Chinese, you know?” those people will say, as if I’ve lied to myself that the yellow shade of my complexion was brought about by acute childhood jaundice. “You should be able to speak Chinese.”

Dude, it’s not an automatic thing. If, as a rule, all Chinese people “should be able” to speak the language, babies in Hubei would be popping out of their mothers with a cheery “ni hao!” instead of the universal cry after a spank on the butt.

“Aren’t you ashamed that you can’t speak Chinese?” Not really, no. But my chicken stir-fry is a little embarrassing. I’m working on it.

I understand that language and cultural identity are linked – but they are not the same thing. I mean, I was really bad at physics, too. It doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of gravity.

I recently came across an article about Chinese dyslexia. Researchers have found that while English speakers who have developmental dyslexia have a hard time connecting letters to their sounds, dyslexic Chinese children have a problem with Mandarin because of two separate, independent problems: Sound and visual perception. That’s because complex Chinese characters must be memorised, rather than sounded-out like words in alphabet-based languages.

Could I have been suffering from Chinese dyslexia? It would explain why after 12 years of Chinese lessons – which cruelly shaved an average of four years off the lives of every Chinese teacher and tutor who ever had contact with me – I still have trouble telling the difference between the numbers seven and nine on mahjong tiles.

Seriously, it only takes about 10 years to become a doctor and remove somebody’s spleen.

Chinese dyslexia would make embarrassing the entire Chinese race completely incidental – my hieroglyphs teacher in 300BC Egypt would have requested for an early mummification, too.

I just needed a little more help in school to know what that dodgy Xiao Mei was really up to that Sunday afternoon.


Out Goes Gopolan’s Credibility (Not a Hoax)

By now, most of us would have read Gopolan Nair’s obituary as a political commentator.  He was, however strangely conspiracy theory it may seem,  an underdog when he vainly taunted the PAP to sue him for defamation when he arrived in Singapore. Gopolan styled himself flamboyantly as a Singapore Dissident based in the US, but a US citizen by the way and not a Singaporean despite the “Singapore” in front of the word “Dissident”. With Gopolan’s latest admission that his blog posting was a fraud and that he perhaps was a fraud by extension, he has thrown whatever little credibility and knee-jerk underdog political sympathy he had mustered since 2008, out of the window.  The sad fact is that there are probably more of these political comedians, doing more harm than good to Singapore, hiding among the ranks of Singapore’s already beleaguered opposition that needs our discerning support.

Singapore strongman 87 year old Lee Kuan Yew suffers massive heart attack

Ladies and Gentlemen,

According to latest reports received from Singapore a few minutes ago, the 87 year old Singapore strongman, Lee Kuan Yew, had suffered a massive heart attack at 9.34 pm yesterday Singapore time.

He is reported to be presently in the Intensive Care Cardiac Unit of the Singapore General Hospital under sedation and respiration, carefully watched by a team of doctors, with his son whom he appointed the Prime Minister and his 2 other children beside him.

It is understood his wife is also in the same hospital in a coma now for several years.

It is uncertain if he can recover at his age, and the pacemaker which he has in his heart is believed to have contributed to it.

According to reports, the pacemaker malfunctioned triggering this massive heart attack.

With the entire country run by this one man, the fear that business leaders and bankers had for very long may have finally come true; that such a happening can destroy the business confidence and cause total destruction in the small island city state.

The reason for the lack of confidence is due to the general lack of confidence in his son’s, the prime minister’s capacity to govern thereby creating a power vacuum with no single person able to assume control in the island.

In fact reports have been coming in that some investors have already started transferring their funds overseas creating a fear there could be a run on the banks.

There are reports that several top officials who have amassed fortunes under Lee Kuan Yew’s patronage and connections have begun to have the jitters and started moving their funds overseas.

A few high ranking civil servants and judges who were responsible for human rights abuses against his political opponents have also been on alert ready to leave the island any minute.

Reports have also been coming in that peaceful protesters and demonstrators have begun assembling in small pockets at the Geylang and Mountbatten Road junction and the Orchard Road and Patterson Road junction holding placards
reading “Democracy” and “Down With the Dictator” and chanting slogans.

The situation is very fluid and I will be reporting on the situation as it unfolds. There have been numerous telephone calls to the Prime Ministers Office and the Singapore newspaper the Straits Times for information.

Gopalan Nair
Fremont, California
March 06, 2010

Out Goes the AG

Re-entry into politics or rather, he didn’t like what he is doing now.  I always thought he would be the man advancing change from within and that he was not co-opted into the government as what his critics thought. He was one of the more prominent NMPs and when he was offered Ambassadorship in Germany years ago, many thought that it was the chance to shift him out of Singapore so that his voice won’t be heard over here.

05:55 AM Mar 04, 2010
by Zul Othman

SINGAPORE – Some had heard recently that Singapore’s top prosecutor Walter Woon would be leaving the job he took over barely two years ago. But when it was confirmed yesterday that Singapore’s fifth Attorney-General (AG) was indeed stepping down, the legal fraternity was still taken by surprise.

“Professor Woon was appointed only quite recently. Anyone who gets in a position like that is not going to stay for one or two years. It’s a long-term thing because you need to learn the ropes and the intricacies of the job,” East Asia Law Corporation lawyer Premchand Soman said.

The AG is the Government’s main legal adviser and his office decides which criminal cases to prosecute. In a statement yesterday, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced that Prof Woon, 53, would exit his post once his term of office expires on April 10.

Mr Sundaresh Menon, 47, Senior Counsel and managing partner of law firm Rajah and Tann, will take over as AG from Oct 1 – after he has cleared other commitments – for the usual initial term of two years.

And in a first, there will be an acting AG for the interim six months. Solicitor General Koh Juat Jong will hold the post from April 11 to Sept 30.

Lawyer Rajan Supramaniam from Hilborne and Co said: “Since Prof Woon came in, there have been a number of changes and all has been well so far. He was expected to remain in the position for some time.”

Prof Woon created a separate division for subordinate courts prosecution to enhance the development of criminal litigation skills, noted PMO. He represented Singapore in the negotiation of the Asean Charter and raised Singapore’s international profile by hosting the International Association of Prosecutors Conference in Singapore in 2008, among other things.

He also ensured the recruitment of many young and talented lawyers, added the statement.

But now, Prof Woon has decided to return to the Law Faculty of the National University of Singapore to resume his teaching appointment which he last held in 1997.

He will concurrently become the first Dean of the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, which takes charge of the post-graduate practical training of local and overseas graduates seeking admission to the Bar.

The AG’s Chambers did not reply to queries by press time. But Mr Premchand thought Prof Woon has always had an attraction to teaching. “He’s always been a scholar, and he’s a good teacher. If you discuss (law) with him, he doesn’t patronise you.”

Singapore Management University law lecturer Tan observed: “Given that Mr Menon would only take over the post on Oct 1, this would suggest that Prof Woon’s departure was unexpected.”

There have been whispers within the legal fraternity that Prof Woon’s career could take another direction: Into politics. After all, he is already an experienced diplomat, one lawyer observed.

“He’s more of an academic, but there’s also a possibility he would stand in the next General Election as a candidate,” said criminal lawyer and Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Subhas Anandan. Under Singapore law, public servants are not allowed to assume political office.

Prof Woon took on his first case as AG in July 2008 when he sought a life term for a woman who had schemed with her teen lover to kill her husband – surprising the legal fraternity by the choice of case. The prosecution lost the appeal. The outgoing AG also initiated contempt of court proceedings against the Wall Street Journal Asia.

As for his successor, Mr Subhas said Mr Menon would make a worthy AG, as the former judicial commissioner “is very experienced and world-renowned for arbitration”.

Mr Rajan concurred: “He knows the ground and, coming in, he may introduce practical measures in the criminal justice system.”