Thoughts : Singapore (Education) : MOE Should Offer Students a Wider Range of Language Choices

I refer to Mr George Wong’s letter, ‘Let students have free choice in study of language’ (ST, Oct 4). As he pointed out correctly, ‘it should be sufficient for students to be able to speak and use the language fluently’.

The question is, at what point can a student speak his mother tongue fluently? Do we need to make studying our mother tongues at higher levels compulsory, and do language grades need to be given as great an importance as other subjects?

I would have suggested that studying one’s mother tongue should be optional, but I think each Singaporean should get at least a basic grasp of it in his early years. What should be considered is how far the Government should make mother tongue compulsory.

A student can stop studying his mother tongue from junior college onwards, under the present education system.Or if he continues, he can give it less importance in terms of marks when using it for matriculation.

Students passionate about their mother tongue are allowed to study it in a higher form, like any other subject. However, those who are not so keen, but have already attained a pretty good level of fluency, should be allowed to take other subjects or even another language.

I am not sure if there is such a thing as an aptitude for languages, but surely it is passion that motivates one to do well in a language and persevere. And this is very important in studying a language: if you want to master any language, you definitely have to put in hard work and long hours of studying and practising.

That is why a person without the passion or interest to study the mother tongue at a higher level will find it a great hindrance.It also follows that a person who has a passion for another language should be given the opportunity to learn it.

Besides English, the three mother tongues and a couple of other languages offered at the Ministry of Education’s Language Centre (such as Japanese, Indonesian, French, German), I hope that others would be offered in our educational system. In particular, I believe the MOE should strongly consider teaching a language like Spanish.

This is one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world and perhaps the language that those who already know English and Chinese would like to learn most. It is also the unofficial second language of the United States. Nobody would doubt the importance of such a language in this globalised world.

For example, in the article, ‘You and the FTA: For freer or for poorer’ (The Sunday Times, Aug 25), William Choong commented on Singapore’s Free Trade Agreement with the US and its potential for Singapore to link up with Latin American countries. Beyond economics, much can be said of the big impact that Spanish and Latin American culture has on the world today and the greater impact this will have in future as Spanish-speaking countries develop and become more influential.

Learning another language opens one to a whole new world. It is not merely the language but also the history, culture, politics, music and food waiting to be discovered.

If Singapore is to be a hub for arts and culture, allowing a diversity of languages to be learnt is the first important step to expose Singaporeans to the intriguing world of different peoples and cultures. I do not believe the way forward is to abandon our mother tongue, but we need to rethink the level to which we should force students to learn it.We also should be open to teaching more languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese, Russian or Arabic, than are currently taught. This will only have a positive effect on Singaporeans in this globalised age.

Sydney, Australia

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