China’s rise as a major economic power is often described by analysts as one of the greatest economic success stories in modern times.
From 1979, the beginning of China’s economic reform, China’s real gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an average annual rate of nearly 10%. That’s almost 5 times the growth of America’s annual real GDP growth. She is also now the world’s largest economy manufacturer, merchandise exporter and importer, and holder of foreign exchange reserves.
What this means for the global population is that we now have to catch up with the language of Chinese people, in order to communicate with them and find new opportunities.
Click here for 8 ways to improve your Chinese!
Right now, Singapore offers Chinese language as a mother-tongue subject in public schools, so the language is usually offered only to Singapore-Chinese students, and as a strategy to foster ethnic identity.
However, we’ve got to start looking further than ethnicity and see how Mandarin, like English language, is going to serve our nation economically and pragmatically.
In the year 2000, Singapore launched its “Speak Good English Movement” (SGEM) whereby the government tried to discourage Singaporeans from speaking Singlish, and to adopt standard British-English instead. While this “movement” sparked many controversial debates related to our nationhood, the “movement” did serve to promote “proper English speaking” in Singapore. And we can’t deny that good did come out from it!
While there was indeed a “Speak Mandarin Campaign” launched in 1979, the purpose of this campaign was not to emphasise the advantages of speaking mandarin but to dispel dialects from the Chinese community in Singapore. Of course, this campaign once again led to much unhappiness and eventually the loss in variety of dialects over the years. However, because of the rise of China as a major economic power, Mandarin is bound to gain popularity in Singapore again, but now to build rapport with Chinese powers.
The rise of Mandarin does not mean that other ethnic languages, such as Malay and Tamil, are not as good. It is simply an indication of today’s economic trend. And if we are an opportunistic or business-minded people, we would catch the waves before it’s too late i.e. when the Chinese market is heavily saturated.
With this understanding, it is not difficult to identify why demand for Chinese tuition is set to soar!
1. It’s political!
The government has tweaked its language policies several times over the past two decades because it wants Singaporeans to benefit from the rapid growth of China’s economy.
Last year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has raised the funding commitment for the mother tongue language learningand promotion committees to $25 million over the next five years, up from $16.6 million from 2011 to 2015. This means that more programs and activities that enable mother tongue languages be “living languages”, will be implemented.
Lim Sau Hoong, CEO and Director of 10AM Communications, said that “Companies come to us (Singapore) because we offer a hybridisation of both East and West, something that others cannot offer.”
In 2014, various media outlets in Hong Kong and Taiwan pointed out translation blunders in popular Singapore tourist spots and official websites. On the National Heritage Board website, “Bras Basah” was translated into Xiong Zao Basah (meaning Brassiere Basah), while “admission to museum” was translated Ru Xue (meaning admission to school).
Lee Cher Leng, an associate professor from the Chinese Studies department at the National University of Singapore (NUS), commented that “Such mistakes are unforgivable and we can laugh at them within ourselves. But now that it is covered in foreign media, it is no longer that funny to us already right?”
Mistranslation is not a recent phenomenon. In fact, it has its roots as early as 2002 when Singapore Tourism Board’s marketing brochure translated Hungry Ghost Festival as Xiong Ya Li Gui Jie (Hungary Ghost Festival).
What has the government done to improve Singapore’s Mandarin standard?
As of today, one thing’s for sure: they have been trying to communicate that Mandarin is “cool”.
As mentioned, the Speak Mandarin Campaign was launched in 1979, but was always used for the purpose of discouraging people from speaking dialects instead of speaking Mandarin for its own advantages.
However, in 2006, a SMC poster featuring celebrities Hossan Leong, JJ Lin, and Fanny Tigh was released island-wide. It spreads the message that Mandarin is “cool”.
With this message, Singaporeans are encouraged to embrace Mandarin. And with Singapore’s “tuition culture”, this is where Chinese tuition comes in.
2. Singaporeans unconvinced by the education system
Ask a group of random Singapore-Chinese teenagers if they can speak Mandarin comfortably. Most would reply that they can’t.
Associate professor Lionel Wee from the English department at NUS commented that “It should no longer come as a surprise that English is the lingua franca for most Singaporeans. In fact, it is safe to assume that English has become the mother tongue for most.”
Singapore’s current outlook of Mandarin is still tied to the bilingual policy. Learning the language is about fostering ethnic belonging, not acquiring a world-class skill. Hence, there is the connotation that Mandarin is more “primitive” than “progressive”, and learning it is a “moral responsibility” rather than for “practical reasons”. Some Singapore-Chinese are even more unhappy with the need to learn Mandarin as their mother tongue instead of their dialects, because they identify their mother tongues as the native languages of their predecessors. With these disinclinations, it is not surprising that the atmosphere for Mandarin learning in school is low.
A regular Mandarin class in school consists of a spelling test (ting(1) xie(4)), reading a chapter from the textbook, and doing an activity on a workbook or writing an essay. This format emphasises on language practice but often makes learning the language unenjoyable and ritualistic. As a result, students are disinterested and disengaged, often not learning much from classes.
This is why parents seek tuition help for their children. Perhaps, in a smaller group, their children may be given more attention from the teacher, and their doubts can be dispelled. Perhaps, in a less rigid curriculum, teachers are able to inform students in a more creative and experimental way.
Taking a look at this image below, It is evident how parents are putting more of their faith in external tuition centers or teachers, instead of school, to raise their children’s standard of Mandarin:
Click here to read this letter for uninterested students.
3. Kiasu-ness is in our blood
We are one kiasu people.
Did you know that this website existed? This image is taken from a section from the site, and it reflects how parents take tuition for their children very seriously.
In Singapore, nearly eight in 10 households with primary school children have tuition, according to a new Straits Times survey.
The Straits Times-Nexus Link survey shows that seven in 10 parents do not think tuition improved their children’s grades noticeably. So why are parents still spending time and money – a median of $155 to $260 a month – on something that doesn’t benefit their children?
The answer lies in one word: Fear. Fear that their child is losing out to others. Fear that he or she is idling time away on weekends and during school holidays, while others are attending enrichment programmes arranged by their parents, progressing far higher than their own child.
It’s not good to tap on one another’s fears for profit (read: Chinese tuition), but the demand is going to be there. And the best thing that tuition agencies can do, is to find a nurturing and capable tutor to leave these kiasu parents rest assured!
Click here for 21 parenting tips.
Singapore has always been a majority-Chinese population. While that does not mean that its people has to learn Mandarin to adapt to its majority, it does signal high demand for Chinese language lessons, from the Chinese population! So brush up on your Chinese, keep a look out, and rise to the occasion!