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LAST_UPDATESun, 21 Dec 2014 5pm

PM Lee: Mandarin Policy Put Singaporeans In Good Stead

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said his country’s Mandarin policy has helped Singaporeans to succeed in China. Pic: TodaySingapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said his country’s Mandarin policy has helped Singaporeans to succeed in China. Pic: TodaySINGAPORE: The Republic’s Mandarin policy, complemented by the bilingual policy, has put Singaporeans in good stead, bringing Chinese from different dialect groups together and allowing Singaporeans to succeed in China due to their good foundation in Mandarin, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

However, the success of the Speak Mandarin campaign - launched 35 years ago - does not mean that it is time to allow dialects be used more widely, said Lee, who spoke at the launch of this year’s campaign yesterday.

Many Singaporeans, he said, may feel it is time to relax the stance on dialects, as Mandarin is more widely used now, but this is not a pragmatic approach.

Lee said that while he understood the desire to allow the young to learn dialects and to protect the use of dialects which they consider an important of the Chinese culture, he emphasised that the Government first introduced the bilingual policy as it was very difficult for most people to master English, Mandarin and dialects at the same time.

Speaking to about 200 invited guests, Lee cited Hong Kong as an example of how difficult it is to master several languages at once. Although the standard of Cantonese is very good in Hong Kong, they are not as fluent in Mandarin and less so in English, said Lee.

“In Singapore, we decided not to promote the use of dialects in order to emphasise bilingualism,” said Lee in Mandarin. “This trade-off has allowed us to maintain good standards in English and Mandarin”.

Lee said if we require our students to master English, Mandarin and dialects at the same time, it will affect their standards in English and affect their future opportunities. At the same time, Lee noted that it will affect their ability in Mandarin and the standing of Mandarin in Singapore over the long-term. “This is a huge price to pay,” said Lee.

He said in the past, many Chinese spoke mainly dialects and it was difficult to communicate important information to Chinese from different dialect groups. Moreover, when they interacted with one another, they could not fully understand each other, said Lee.

“This proved to be a challenge to building a multi-racial society,” said Lee. Hence, the Government chose English so that the different races could communicate with one another, and Mandarin so that Chinese of different dialect groups could better integrate.

Apart from helping people from different dialect groups communicate with each other, the Speak Mandarin campaign also to sought to deepen the understanding of Chinese culture and promote its development, noted Lee.

After more than three decades, Lee said that the campaign has been successful and Mandarin is now commonly used at a commendable standard. Although not all of the young in Singapore can speak Mandarin fluently, they are able to understand and speak it, said Lee.

While the seniors many feel more at home with dialects, Lee acknowledged that many have picked up Mandarin to communicate with their grandchildren.

Lee noted that many stakeholders such as teachers and the Chinese media have contributed to the increasing use of Mandarin in Singapore. For example, people can access Mandarin easily through the Chinese media, said Lee.

He also said Singaporeans can now appreciate the importance of Mandarin and have a strong desire to learn the language well to know their culture better and grow deeper roots.

Although Lee noted that some may feel it is too “utilitarian” to pursue Mandarin for economic gains, he said that as long as anyone is interested in Mandarin for any reason, he will encourage them to learn it.

Nonetheless, there is still room for dialect in Singapore. For example, those who are interested to learn dialects can attend classes run by clan associations, he said.

The Government is also prepared to use dialects under special circumstances, such as how the Government has produced special video clips in Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese to better explain the Pioneer Generation Package to senior citizens.

As for the next generation, Lee said parents must help their children master English and Mandarin to help them connect to the global stage and yet remain anchored to their culture. For instance, parents should start teaching Mandarin to their children when they are young. In schools, teachers should find creative ways to teach and motivate children’s interest in the language.

Chairman of the Promote Mandarin Council Seow Choke Meng said this year’s campaign will seek to cultivate an appreciation for the Chinese language and culture.

In the upcoming months, people can expect programmes and activities that will feature food, music and games, such as Heritage Food Trails held with the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language Learning.

The council has also launched a commemorative book documenting the 35-year history of the campaign which is available for loan from the public libraries. 

— TODAY