Response to Education Minister’s stance on learning dialects

Response to Education Minister’s stance on learning dialects

By Philip AngDear Minister Heng

I refer to the article “Dialects will burden school kids more”. (My Paper Monday, Apr 22, 2013)
In the article, you did not cite any supporting study but instead offered your thoughts on how complicated our language environment is.
Your agreement with feedback that our education system is too narrowly focused on grades does bring relief and expectations of meaningful changes, not tweaks.
Your views might have carried some weight if there was anecdotal evidence to suggest that children who are not proficient in their mother-tongue language is due to dialects.
The truth is mother tongue language, especially Mandarin, has been force-fed to Singaporeans for the sole purpose of greasing the engines of growth.
Mandarin continues to be the most hated subject of most children, until today.  Children hardly communicate with their parents in Mandarin and adults hardly converse in it.
Children will be jumping with joy to be able to completely do away with Mandarin but this is not being suggested. 
What is fallacious is the belief that by suppressing or eradicating learning of dialects, it will result in an improvement in the learning of our mother-tongue language.
Despite the removal of dialects from the airwaves, Singapore’s ‘”rojak language” has persisted.  Since dialect is already as good as dead, the cause of our “rojak language” must have been due to our education system, the use of social media etc. 
Dialect is also learnt and spoken at home ie it is not an additonal subject, so how is it likely that this will “further burden children here with additional subjects”?

Minister Heng says that “As people get older, a strong foundation in the two languages will allow them to get into learning dialects if they wish” and “You don’t have to start learning these during primary school”.

Why would anyone wish to learn dialects later in life when all their peers did not learn during childhood and are not able to converse in dialects?  As far as the younger generation is concerned, dialect was dead.

The sad part is such a policy has destroyed what could have been a healthy development of a child/grandparent relationship.

A child has the ability to absorb whatever is interesting like a sponge. I taught my children how to count from one to ten in Japanese, Thai, Tamil and Malay and they could do so at 4 to 6 years of age.
An Indian friend from Malaysia could converse in fluent Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay and Tamil besides English.
Languages and dialects are best learnt from a young age.  By insisting that our our children are capable of learning only two languages, we are belittling them.
Emphasise on mother-tongue language if the government must but why eradicate dialects when there are no studies to prove conclusively that learning dialects will impede learning other languages?
The official view of the government requires a review.