Source: ChannelNews Asia.

Medical professionals and volunteers picking up dialect for better communication with elders in Singapore

In a ChannelNews Asia report dated 26 September 2017, it is reported that more young Singaporeans signing up for dialect classes.

The CNA report wrote that 30 undergraduates from the Department of Pharmacy at the National University of Singapore (NUS) signed up for a four-week course in Cantonese hold by their seniors in the hallways of one of the science blocks, with a main aim of better equipping these future pharmacists for when they encounter older, dialect-speaking patients on the job.

Ms Sarah Xing, one of the 30 undergraduates was quoted saying, “With our aging population, a high percentage of the patients will be elderly. And if I can speak their language and understand their situation, I can provide better care to them.” She also wants to be able to communicate better with her maternal grandmother.

“Like a number of elderly Singaporeans, grandma speaks Mandarin, but often lapses into her dialect when she struggles to find the Mandarin words,” reported the media.

In 2015, the General Household Survey reported that some 12 per cent of Singaporeans said they spoke mainly Chinese dialects at home, which was down from 14.3 per cent in 2010, and 18.2 per cent in 2005.

It also reported that more young Singaporeans are going back to school to learn their grandparents’ tongues, mainly to bridge the linguistic gap between the generations. Michelle Cheng, a senior programme executive of Viriya Community Services which started free Learn My Dialect classes in 2007 to build awareness and promote intergenerational bonding, said, “We see a growing interest from those in the medical field and those doing community outreach programmes, because they deal mainly with the elderly who understand only dialect.”

Pharmacy student Ms Ang Soon Jun said that, even when the patients do speak Mandarin, she has noticed on home visits with voluntary service and learning initiative NUS CHAMP (Community Health Angels Mentoring Programme) how these old folks build a closer rapport with – and sometimes reveal personal details only to – volunteers who can speak their dialect.

Some netizens who commented on the matter, saying that it seems the need to keep the dialect alive is only for the matter of political and economical needs. They also added that the Government has made a wrong move when they tried to get rid of the dialect.

Chen-Pang Wong wrote, “I have always believe that my true mother tongue is my dialect, Cantonese, because that was what I grew up speaking at home. Speaking and hearing it certainly makes me feel closer to my ethnic roots, no matter which country I’m in. Learning Mandarin as a mother tongue was just a result of Singapore’s social engineering that was necessary for political and economic reasons.”

Chin Hua Yak wrote, “Singapore Govt is stupid. They once “destroyed” dialects but now wants to revive it because economically it is still useful in China?”

Josephine Kwek wrote, “The government did us a disincentive by removing part of our culture from our lives. Now, the people are trying to put things right.”

Xuan Vinh wrote, “Saying Chinese language has dialects is like saying various Romance languages like French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italians are different dialects of the parent language called Latin. They really might as well be different languages.”

Norman Chai wrote, “It is obvious that LKY policy failed big time, so much so most Chinese has forgotten their roots and mother tongue, we use to have a radio station that can play any dialect songs now it is banned, the most stupid policy is stopped at two!”

John Ng wrote, “I dare to bet that many people learn dialect for work purposes not because they want to preserve the tradition and remember their ancestor.
No matter what, it is good to know and learn dialects. This way we will not neglect our elders generations and roots.”

Khai Chin Tan wrote, “Fact: Mandarin is a dialect from Beijing. It just so happens to be the official language in China. Speak mandarin not dialect was utter nonsense conceived by the government.”

Melvin Emmanuel Chan wrote, “Give us back dialect TV and Radio programs for start.”

Rachael Charlae wrote, “Thumbs up for those in medical field and the rest who took up/in process of taking the course. A lot of elderly cannot speak to the FT doctors in the hospital and hence do not feel at ease going alone if there is no one to help them.”

Peter Lim wrote, “It is a pity that some have to resort to classes to pick up dialect. This should not even be happening.”