Mar 7, 2007

Psychometrics at Work

How interesting.
Business Times - 05 Mar 2007
Psychometrics picking up steam among firms
Some use the tests to ensure candidates fit their corporate culture

By OH BOON PING

FEW local organisations now use psychometric tests to recruit staff - but that could change.

'I believe it will slowly pick up among smaller firms,' says GMP Group chief executive Annie Yap. 'Plus, firms are trying to cut down on the number of wrong hires, which can be quite costly. A psychometric test can help reduce that.'

Similarly, Alex Lee, general manager of SHL Group, which administers psychometric tests, says Singapore companies that have expanded overseas have grown more aware of psychometric techniques.

The tests are said to measure a candidate's suitability for a job by assessing their personality traits and other qualities. Some companies use the tests to ensure candidates fit their corporate culture and have the aptitude to succeed.

According to both consultants, the tests are generally used by bigger companies like multinationals, which adopt a scientific approach to recruitment.

'These big corporations often look for certain personality traits and emotional quotient, besides educational qualifications and experience,' says Ms Yap.

GMP says the tests can pick up traits such as leadership qualities, which are crucial for strategic roles. The company has been using psychometrics tests for the past decade and found them a useful supplement to interviews and other screening. Other organisations known to have used psychometrics for recruitment include the civil service and big names like DHL International.
I previously took one of these psychometric tests. My then-employer did not use these tests to screen potential hires. Instead the tests were used to identify the strengths of all senior managers and all high-potential employees.

The test we took was the
Gallup Strengthsfinder. I really like the underlying philosophy of this system. Its whole idea is to focus on the person's strengths, and not his weaknesses.

Gallup's extensive research on highly successful people had led to the following conclusion. Highly successful people do not become highly successful by overcoming their natural weaknesses. Instead they become highly successful by developing their natural strengths.

For example, Beethoven was successful not because he was good in sports, but because he was great in music. Maradona was successful not because he was good in music, but because he was great in sports.

Going by Gallup's philosophy, what should we do if we had a young Beethoven and a young Maradona today? We should encourage the Beethoven to pursue music, and the Maradona to pursue sports. Sounds rather obvious, actually.

However, in Singapore, the problem is that we would penalise both Beethoven and Maradona, for being bad in Chinese. Next, we would send them into NS to be riflemen. After that, we would make them study life sciences, to support the government's latest economic drive.

Anyway, back to Gallup. For organisations, the correct strategy is firstly to identify the natural strengths of their key employees. Secondly, you encourage them to be aware of their strengths and develop them. Thirdly, you move them into positions, roles and projects where they have maximum opportunities to use their natural strengths.

I still remember my psychometric results. My top five
themes were Intellection, Achiever, Strategic, Ideation and Learner. In brief, I think deep; deliver results; strategise well; produce creative ideas; and absorb new concepts like a sponge. My psychologist remarked that these are ideal traits for a future CEO in a dynamic, innovation-driven industry. Heheh.

Every individual has different strengths. For example if your top five themes were Command, Discipline, Strategic, Responsibility and Competition, you would have the natural makings of a great military leader. (War would be the ultimate competitive situation).

103 comments:

Anonymous said...

Outstanding post Mr Wang. It seems that in Singapore, most bosses will look at the negatives rather and develop the positives(strength) of the employers.

Any company who manages to change this mindset will be able to stay ahead of competition.

Anonymous said...

And pray tell what your MBTI is Mr Wang? :-)

geriatric_eunuch-ation said...

Huh? Idea-TION, Intellec-TION?? WTFukisation?

Why not go whole hog and call the rest Achieve-ISATION, Strateg-ISATION and Learner-ATION? Or would that cause indignation and puzzlementation?

This is US management gibberish of the worst sort, best described scientifically by the equation: b(0) + 2(L) + 0(x) and pronounced in your very best Bush monotonic twang-ation.

Any employee of mine daring to perpetrate such a linguistic abomination would be prime candidate for swiftest remediation to a specialist nation in colonic irrigation accompanied by his rapid discombobulation and termination without compensation.

The word "psychometry" literally means "measure of the soul." Good luck trying to achieve an objective measure of that.

simplesandra said...

mr wang says so: "However, in Singapore, the problem is that we would penalise both Beethoven and Maradona, for being bad in Chinese. Next, we would send them into NS to be riflemen. After that, we would make them study life sciences, to support the government's latest economic drive. "

I'll give an example: a 12-year-old discovered music after joining the school band and that introduced her to classical music (see, her family was poor, so she didn't even know what a violin was until then). She picked up music on her own, and in no time, started composing.

Her bandmaster noticed her, and so did her teachers and even the vice-principal; all of them tried to talk the principal into getting the school to sponsoring her piano lessons (bcos her family was poor) but he would have none of it.

You see, the girl was a top student in school, and since the school wanted to focus on the sciences, he didn't see why the school should waste time and money on a pursuit so utterly "useless"?

Meanwhile, her family concurred with the principal. Didn't most composers die in poverty, they argued.

So she was eventually forced to take up the sciences (which she hated). But her heart was still in her music and her grades suffered during A-levels. Her JC teachers mostly left her alone--she was a weird one anyway. Maybe because it was she was at rebellious stage of life, but she fought back in the silliest way--she gave up on her A-levels. Well, she somehow passed (barely) but would suffer greatly for her folly in years to come.

Luckily, she managed to turn her life around--decent life with a decent job now. Oh, and she still composes for herself her close friends.

Yet, she sometimes wonder what might have been, and if the system had betrayed her.


Think this story's incredulous? I don't think so. That girl was me. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sandra, since you were in a top school, wasn't there the music elective programme (MEP) that you could have enrolled in at 'O' and 'A' levels? I know I was involved in that in secondary school but had to give it up because you were only allowed to take so many subjects and had to give up say a humanity or science to continue taking (something I wasn't prepared to do then).

Anonymous said...

> in Singapore, the problem is that we would penalise both Beethoven and Maradona, for being bad in Chinese.

Luckily for Beethoven, his parents, NOT being as kiasu or rootless as Singaporean parents, had not spoken to him only in English and had not forbade his grandparents from speaking to him in German dialects, so as to give him a "head-start" in life. Otherwise poor Beethoven would have been penalised for being bad in a language that is supposed to be his mother tongue but for which his mother has never spoken to him in - the German language!

Oh, by the way, should Germany be faulted for requiring Beethoven to study (note: NOT pass, just study) the German language in school? And not as 1st language, but just as a 3rd language, with electronic dictionaries allowed in exam, and for which a pass is NOT required to enter university?

English was never the mother tongue of most singaporeans, not 40 years ago, not now (though if one live within one's "caste" and not mix around, one's view become distorted). Chinese/Malay/Tamil is still the mother tongue of most Singaporeans. What's wrong with penalising a student for not knowing his mother tongue? Does not Germany, France, Switzerland, and all the ang moh countries do that? Name me a country in this world which abandon its (various) mother tongues, and has its pple grumbling about being "penalised" for having to learn mother tongues? Only 1 country: Uniquely Singapore!

Or perhaps Mr. Wang thinks Germany should abandoned the German language completely (unlike Singapore, which abandoned mother tongue only "half-heartedly") and adopt English soly as mother tongue, so that poor Beethoven need not be penalised for being bad in German?

Anonymous said...

> After that, we would make them study life sciences, to support the government's latest economic drive.

"make"? You talk as if the govt-funded universities force students into certain courses, and students have no rights to compete to study in whatever they want to study.

You know that's false. Sure, the govt can come up with a big propaganda abt how good life sciences are, just as it did with engineering. But hey, if you and your parents do not buy into their nonsense, and you insist on studying law, you can still apply and be accepted if your grades make it, can you not?

The bottomline is: singaporeans do have the liberty to choose what to study (and what to eat etc), and they chose to listen to whatever the govt say. That's their own fault. Fools!

Mr Ko said...

"After that, we would make them study life sciences, to support the government's latest economic drive."

Could you cite an example of how anybody has been made to study life sciences, against their will?

Anonymous said...

If Beethoven had lived in Singapore, his parents too can let him study music. Likewise, Maradona's parents can let him play football all day. We do have such parents in Singapore, who support their children in such pursuits, at the expense of academic education. We read abt the violinist who requested NS deferment recently. Look at how his parents helped get media attention to garner support for their son. That's what a parent should do!

Now, if, on the other hand, many parents refuse to stand by their children, but instead order their children to do whatever the govt advocates, who should their children blame? Surely, it should be their own parents (or blame it on "destiny"/"fate", if it is abt poverty or some things beyond the parents control).

In fact, I would argue that Singapore parents (not the govt) screwed up their kids' life real well. For eg. O-level english passing rate was below 50% every year a decade ago. Meaning, more than 50% of parents in the 1970s, 1980s, early 1990s know that their kid will not make it past O-level no matter how intelligent they are, due to English. Yet, these parents gave PAP top support in language policies to screw up the life of their kids. Their kids, now in their 40s-50s, are low-wage menial job workers with hardly O-level passes (because apart from english language itself, they also didn't do well in subjects that were taught in english since they can hardly understand what their teachers were talking abt).

Parents are supposed to stand by their children, instead of joining ranks with the govt to bully their own kids! Sadly, many of our parents' generation, dont seem to get it.

simplesandra said...

anon wrote: "Sandra, since you were in a top school, wasn't there the music elective programme (MEP) that you could have enrolled in at 'O' and 'A' levels? "

Unfortunately not. I wasn't in a top school--I just happened to be a top student at the neighbourhood school. And during my time, engineering was the rage, and most schools were more concerned with grades and, to quote Mr Wang, supporting the government's latest economic drive. :-|

That's why it still upsets me whenever I meet kids who lament to me that their schools are deciding their future for them, and not themselves. And because these kids are from poor or average families studying in neighbourhood schools, there isn't much they can do about it.

To me, promoting arts among Singaporeans isn't just about building a $600 million Esplanade, but funding educational programmes in the classrooms, and making them affordable. Beethovens aren't found only in the top schools.

simplesandra said...

Mr Ko wrote: "Could you cite an example of how anybody has been made to study life sciences, against their will? "

As stated, my secondary school relegated arts and literature to the normal stream, because express students should focus on more pragmatic and "useful" skills like the sciences. If that's not made to study, what is?

Anonymous said...

I am anti-pap, but that's confined to things which they shove down our throat and for which we have no choice: GST, inadequate healthcare subsidy, refusal to take care of elderly, large class size in schools, streaming leading to elitism, and so on.

But there are some things that we can choose, and for such things, the govt is not to be blamed.

Take simplesandra's family for example. The govt has a unique agenda - it wants to educate enough engineers for our MNCs. The family should recognise that it has a different goal - it wants to help its daughter fulfill her potential and reach the top. The failure to recognise this difference in agenda, is the family's fault.

The govt did not force us to become engineers. If we are successfully psychoed by the govt to think that it is better to be a mediocre engineer confined to Singapore, earning less than what a clerk in UK/USA earns, than to be a world-class pianist, where the world is our oyster, that, again, is our own fault.

If we entrust our children's education and career and life's goal to politicians, without thinking twice about the adage that politicians are the biggest liars in the world, it is our own fault again!

Finally, if we fail to realise that singapore's style of education is to sacrifice individuals aspiration in order to fulfill quotas for the "good" of the nation, and we choose to whole-heartedly obey whatever the govt tell us to study, to marry, to have babies etc, it is our own fault!

At some point, we must say: We did had a choice once upon a time, but we gave up on this liberty to choose and let the govt decide everything for us. We are idiots!

Anonymous said...

Simplesandra, even if you can study arts and literature as an express stream student, that won't make you a pianist. To really become a pianist, you need the money to attend 1-on-1 music lesson. I don't think any public school anywhere in the world is able to provide that through the school's music lesson, which is meant for average students.

So it all boils down to your own family - having the money AND the mentality to put you through private music training, and then apply for scholarships to study at top conservatory overseas. All over the world, it is like that. Hardly the govt's fault I would say.

Elite uncaring face said...

Simplesandra,
> it still upsets me whenever I meet kids who lament to me that their schools are deciding their future for them,

Their schools are not! Whatever subject combinations they take for O-level, it will cover the L1R5 requirement to go into any stream (art/science) in JC.

1. If they want to do life sciences in JC, they need not have done O-level biology.

2. If they want to go engineering, they do not need to do further math at A-level (which would require A.math at O-level).

3. If they want to go into Arts/Music/Languages, there are also such specialised humanities programs for selected students at top JCs.

4. If one is not good enough to get into such top JCs, one can study such Arts/Music with private teachers (which is actually what most budding artists and musicians do).

5. If one has no money to do that, that's not the govt's fault.

6. If one does not want a general education prior to university education, but wants to do vocation training at polytechnics, then, yes, the course that one is forced by the school to take at O-level, may somehow restrict one's choice at poly. But well, why would one want to do vocational training at poly at such a young age? If one has such foolish idea that it is good to specialise only after 10 years of general education, one has only oneself to blame: the govt wants to channel you into a vocation starting at 17, the school wants to pre-channel you at sec 3, and you fall for it becos you also want to channel yourself into a vocation at age 17! All you "vocation-training" obsessed govt and students deserve each other's company!

So tell me, where is the part where schools decide future for kids? The kids are deciding their own future, when they conciously choose to do pt 6, instead of pt 1-5 <-- a 12 years of general education, before doing a liberal arts education at bachelor, before finally specialising only at the postgrad level -- the USA model. Or a 12 years general ed, followed by specialisation at bachelor level - the UK model. These kids could have gone the UK/USA way if they chose JC. But they conciously chose to do it the uniquely singapore way: a 10 years only general ed (in fact, only 8 yrs, since they are streamed at sec 3, as you mentioned), followed by vocation training. They decided their own (bleak) future.

Sounds very elitist and uncaring? Ok, I scold myself with my moniker.

Mr Wang Says So said...

My quick response.

To Anonymous March 7, 2007 11:44 PM: My MBTI is INTJ. There is strong correlation with Gallup Strengthsfinder. You can quite safely predict that most INTJs will show up with Intellection and Strategic at least.

To geriatric_eunuch-ation: Gallup has stated that the reason they've invented some of these terms is so that people don't make the mistake of assuming that they carry the meanings of the more usual form of the word. Eg "Intellection" doesn't mean that you score good grades or like to read books or have a lot of knowledge. "Intellection" in the Gallup Strengthsfinder simply means that you have the ability to think extensively for a long time. What you actually think about depends on the other Gallup themes you have.

SimpleSandra:

THere are other examples. A few years, there was a young 12-year-old Malay kid who was highly talented in soccer. However he failed to enter the Singapore Sports School (newly set up then). Why? He did badly in Maths, Science and English, in his PSLE.

Anonoymous (March 8, 2007 7:29 AM): Mandarin is not the mother tongue of most Chinese Singaporeans. My mother didn't grow up speaking it. My grandmother didn't grow up speaking it. My great-grandmother didn't grow up speaking it. Most Chinese Singaporeans are Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew or Hakka.


Anonymous (March 8, 2007 7:45 AM): There are various ways that Singaporeans can be pushed to study various things. For example, you can automatically channel top students into the Science Stream. You can cut the number of available places in universities for "non-desired" disciplines and boost the number of available places in universities. YOu can control the allocation of public resources to the education system (for example, by training fewer Art teachers, you will have fewer Art classes in school). You can also set up artificial barriers - eg if a student does not make it to the top 10% of his cohort, he will not be allowed to participate in the Music Elective Programme etc (never mind that grades in English, Geography, Maths, Chinese, Chemistry etc have nothing to do with musical aptitude).

Anonymous March 8, 2007 8:08 AM:
Agree that parents have a lot to do with it.

Anonymous March 8, 2007 9:00 AM:
If the government systematically seeks to propagate harmful or inappropriate ideas, is the government to be absolved of all blame?

Anonymous said...

simplesandar: she sometimes wonder what might have been, and if the system had betrayed her.

Nolah, system had not betrayed her. Money had. Money needed to attend private music lesson. Money needed for family to have the mentality that it is ok to pursue the arts even if it cannot bring home the bacon.

The typical singaporean afraid-to-lose mentality also betrayed her. Lots of aspiring but very poor potential composers in New York, LA/hollywood. They live from month to month, not knowing what happen the next month. They go for audition and failed until they lose count how many times. Singaporeans are not willing to do that.

simplesandra said...

anon wrote: "The failure to recognise this difference in agenda, is the family's fault."

I totally agree on that. My parents were a pragmatic lot, but then again, most from their generation who've slogged hard think that way.

It's up to the schools to discover the potential of their kids and help these folks see things differently--instead of acting indifferently (or worse, reinforcing those attitudes). Not that some don't, but we can do with more John Keatings in the system.

anon wrote:"To really become a pianist, you need the money to attend 1-on-1 music lesson. "

I agree with that, but I wasn't asking to be the next Horowitz or something. I'm talking about greater access to music education--one needs to start somewhere.

elite uncaring face wrote: "All you "vocation-training" obsessed govt and students deserve each other's company!"

Well, may as well blame it on these kids and their parents for not able to afford the "luxury" of an all-rounded education. When you can't afford to decide your fate, you can only hope that the other options are good enough.

anon wrote: "Nolah, system had not betrayed her. Money had. "

Which is why pose this question: is enough money allocated to education of the arts, not just in special or elite schools, but even neighbourhood schools, where the next Beethoven might be?

Anonymous said...

Mandarin is not the mother tongue of most Chinese Singaporeans... Most Chinese Singaporeans are Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew or Hakka.

Meaning? Does it mean you would have supported "penalising" Beethoven if schools had taught Hokkien instead of Mandarin?

You would agree that teaching a mother tongue language (as opposed to a foreign language) in school is about teaching how to read and write, not about listening and speaking (my illiterate grandma can listen and speak too). And Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka, Mandarin all share the same chinese characteers and almost the same grammer and require the same reading and writing skill!

So face it lah, Mr. Wang. Your opinion on Chinese (you used the word "chinese" originally) being a penalty, will not change at all - if you have difficulty/disgust for Chinese taught by a teacher pronoucing in mandarin, you would still have nearly the same difficulty/disgust when the SAME language is taught by the teacher pronoucing all 250 idioms (and not just low-level peasant-like babbling used by our farmers ancestor) in your mother tongue, be it Hokkien or Hakka, and expect you to write a 1000 word composition in Hokkien/hakka insead of in Mandarin (whatever that means)!

Here we have someone making the pt that the Chinese language should not be regarded as a penalty, but rather than addressing the issue per se, you are splitting Chinese into Mandarin versus Hokkien/Hakka, as if it would make a difference to your opinion! it does not.

I am not a lawyer, but reading your blog is good. It helps me understand that you have set up a strawman attack - misrepresenting your opponents position (from Chinese versus English to become mandarin versus hokkien) and attacking the mis-represented position ("oh, I am only against learning Mandarin. If it were Hokkien that Beethoven is made to read and write in school, I would not have regarded it as a penalty, since Hokkien is his mother tongue" - that's your point? Bull lah! :)

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think people who feel that studying Chinese is a penalty, will still find it a penalty even if the teacher teaches the same syllabus, but this time verbalizing every character in some dialect other than Mandarin. That's because, it is the reading and writing skill that is regarded as a penalty, and verbalizing it one way or the other is not going to change anything.

Many people who argue that they are oppposed to studying "Mandarin" in school because it is not our mother tongue, are being dishonest. They would have opoposed to studying "Hokkien" (different way of verbalising, but same script, same grammar, same idioms, same essay, same difficulty, same written exam, same standard) in school too.

They are just trying to divert away from one fact - the Chinese Language (regardless of how it is pronounced), is the mother tongue of most singaporeans and any discussion should keep this in mind. period.

They are doing a divide and conquer - pitting one dialect group against another, arguing meaninglessly abt which dialect is our real mother tongue, as if it would make a difference to their position on language learning in school. Their hidden agenda actually does not make any distinction: Chinese language study is a penalty to them no matter the teacher verbalizes the words in Mandarin or otherwise!

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, how come you have a psychologist?????

Mr Wang Says So said...

You're mistaken. In this post, my point is that the Singapore system keeps failing to focus and develop its people's strengths.

My post is not intended to be a commentary on our education policies on language. In fact I am quite happy with the changes that have been made to the education policies on language, over the past four or five years, starting with the "Remaking Singapore" project chaired by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

On mother tongue, my response was merely a direct response to this comment:

"What's wrong with penalising a student for not knowing his mother tongue?"

In the very first place, this question has gone wrong, because the factual basis is wrong. Chinese students generally do not study their mother tongue in school.

I will be helpful and rephrase:

""What's wrong with penalising a student for failing his Chinese?"

As I mentioned, the education system is no longer as dumb as it is. For example nowadays, if you are brilliant in maths but you fail Chinese, you can still proceed to study Maths in NUS. This was not so, 20 years ago. If you failed Chinese, TOO BAD, no admission to NUS, even if you wanted to study maths and are brilliant in it.

So the answer is:

"Nowadays we don't actually penalise students as much as we used to, for failing Chinese."

The point, however, is that the Singapore system still keeps failing to focus and develop its people's strengths.

By the way, I think that studying Chinese is very important. Even at my age, I have considered taking a course, so that I will be able to read and draft legal documents in Chinese.

However, fundamentally, Gallup's point is still that we should be focusing on our strengths, not our weaknesses. For example, if a child is bad at languages but shows potential in science, instead of scolding and penalising and criticising him for being bad in languages (whether English or Chinese or French), we should encourage him to fully develop his potential in science.

Otherwise, all we get is a mediocre non-scientist who is neither fluent in English, nor fluent in Chinese.

(Oh look. With that single sentence, I just described a very large proportion of the Singapore population).

Mr Wang Says So said...

The "psychologist" is actually a HR staff of my ex-employer who had to undergo a lot of training on the Gallup Strengthsfinder system.

She would then provide one or two private "counselling" sessions with the people who have taken the test, to discuss their results.

One of the key objectives is to identify how each person can find opportunities to use his own Gallup strengths, in his particular job within his own department.

Another key objective is to analyse, with the person, his particular combination of strengths, and how they influence each other.

Bosses of "high potential" employees are also given the employee's Gallup Strength results, so that the bosses can use them most effectively and give them the kind of work for which they have natural strengths.

Eg a person with "Communication" will probably be good at doing presentations; a person with "Arranger" will be good for coordinating a complex project with many moving parts; a person with "Woo" will be good with persuading and selling; a person with "Focus" - you will want to deploy in a project with tight deadlines.

Meng Chong said...

Let's return to the subject matter. It is about developing strengths and NOT penalising weaknesses.

The point of Mr Wang's post, if I read it correctly, is to create AND MAINTAIN the environment such that everyone has the opportunity to flower in their unique way.

This is not a perfect world so therefore somethings gotta give. During Singapore's early years, there was a need to build up the economy and provide jobs. So manufacturing was encouraged and so forth.

Fast forward to today. For Singapore to survive, we need to be a knowledge society. Most folks will agree on this.

My beef about the current gahment policies is in short "Their way or the highway". Still remember the special treatment for the MALE athletics gunning for the Olympics? How about those who are talented in music? For that matter those who can cook? Remember the ST report on their lonely journey to a Olympic equivalent of a gold medal? As long as it furthers THEIR agenda, everythings peechy.

So far the policies are 5 year plan. First was IT, then semicon and now life science. I get better hits with a saw-off shotgun shooting birds.

A sub point on language. Please note that we all need to start from somewhere. For the ethnic Chinese in Singapore, it is Mandarin (spoken) and Chinese (written). Now, to truely appreciate/pick up/be interested in a language you have to learn/appreciate the culture.

There is only so much that can be taught in the schools. The rest is up to the parents/society to create that environment. BTW, I include the gahment as part of the society. BECAUSE LIKE IT OR NOT THEY ARE VOTED IN BY US! Yes some folks will complain that they didn't get to vote during elections. Is this the only way to vote/voice out? Then why the gahment is focusing on blogs?

IMHO, learning a language ain't that difficult as long as there is a hook/interest. The culture, the music, whatever. There is no way you can effectively learn a language as a subject!

And please, by all means pick up dialects. Much values were past down by those story tellers back in the 50s/60s. Go ask your parents/grandparents, they ought to remember.

For those who travel. You find that the sense of closeness when you can speak your mother tongue to another of the same ethnic group in a foreign country. Doesn't matter if you are strangers.

80s kid said...

I am anti-pap, but that's confined to things which they shove down our throat and for which we have no choice: GST, inadequate healthcare subsidy, refusal to take care of elderly, large class size in schools, streaming leading to elitism, and so on. But there are some things that we can choose, and for such things, the govt is not to be blamed.

I will say the govt is not entirely fault free too. Just like a salesman who misrepresents his product has not discharged his ethical responsibilities. The effects of "calibrated coercion", misinformation and propaganda is gradual and lasting.

During my formative yrs in the pre-internet age, I dare say most if not all of my cohort honestly believed whatever the TV and newspapers told us. When the govt encourages something there is no reason for anyone to doubt, and when things eventually don't turn out as expected the govt propaganda has a way of making the people think that it is their own fault. Some of us may harbour doubts but there were simply no alternative viewpoints or outlets for such expressions to take root unlike today.

My own awakening came after a short study stint abroad. But mind you the majority are not as fortunate or has the opportunity to go overseas back then. And if your peers are mostly elite-types from top schools than the insulation is quite complete.

The media is a most powerful tool and it permeates all aspects of people's lives. Even today the govt-compliant media is grotesque in the way it manipulates information and paints everything in a rosy tint.

Take the parliamentary reports and budget debate, you would think we are living in paradise. And there can be no meaningful way to examine such news and reports because information and data are being withheld and only selectively revealed. Technically they are not lying, but they are also less than honest.

piper said...

Their schools are not! Whatever subject combinations they take for O-level, it will cover the L1R5 requirement to go into any stream (art/science) in JC.

You can't enter JC without Additional Maths. Not all Secondary students are given the chance to do Additional Maths. Then they have no choice but to go to polytechnics.

boon said...

I'm a psychology graduate, and I did my Masters in Occupational Psychology. The bulk of my Masters was on psychometric testing.

So this is a subject close to my heart, even though I've never practised as a psychologist.

Contrary to what many assessment companies tell you, psychometric tests are not that accurate. The data show at best a 0.3 to 0.4 correlation with work performance.

If you understand statistics, that means it can only explain 9% to 16% of the variance in performance. Not that impressive, is it?

In my personal opinion, psychometric tests should only be used as part of a comprehensive package of job selection tools, e.g. interview, role-play, group tests etc.

My pet peeve is the MBTI. It is a simplified personality test, and yet it can determine a person's fate at a job interview. It is a crude tool, and better used for personal development.

Do you really think that people can be sorted into 16 neat boxes? It gets on my nerves when people go around proclaiming their MBTI type, as some sort of god-given truth.

As for Gallup's tool, yes, they offer a twist in that they focus on strengths. This is a nice philosophy, but it doesn't mean that their tool is any good.

To sum up, please take the results of any psychometric test with a big pinch of salt.

boon said...

The "psychologist" is actually a HR staff of my ex-employer who had to undergo a lot of training on the Gallup Strengthsfinder system.


I just saw this comment by Mr Wang.

It's depressing that people see no/little difference between a HR staff who attended a short course, and a professional psychologist.

The main difference is that the psychologist understands the methodology behind the tests, and their limitations.

The HR staff simply regurgitates what the testing company has told them, without any meaningful understanding of the words that come out of their mouths.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Boon:

You're right about the HR staff. That's why I later went searching on the Internet; used my own money to buy my own book on Gallup Strengthsfinder and read up on it.

So I ended up knowing much more about Gallup Strengthsfinder, by carefully reading the book from Gallup, than by meeting my HR lady.

Of course the fact that I actually bothered to hunt for the book; buy the book; and study the book -

reflects my innate Gallup themes. Intellection (--> love to think); Achiever (--> want to learn to maximise strengths); Learner (---> want to understand this Gallupie thingie better). Etc.

An interesting point that Gallup makes is that one must not be too hasty in saying, "Oh, this person has A, B, C, traits, therefore is suitable for XYZ job."

The reason is that there can be many ways to do the same job very well. For example, suppose that there are 3 outstanding teachers. One may be outstanding because of "Communication" - he communicates very effectively in class, and knows how to make lessons very interesting. Another teacher may not have "Communication" but may be outstanding because of "Individualisation" - he can sense the different capabilities of the students and teaches them accordingly. A third teacher may neither have "Communication" nor "Individualisation" but he simply be "Intellection" and have a very, very deep understanding of his subject. A 4th teacher may have none of the abovementioned traits and yet be an outstanding teacher because he has found some way to utilise his natural strength in the classroom. Eg maybe even plain old "Command". Military-style discipline, make all the kids study hard, no nonsense.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"You can't enter JC without Additional Maths."

--> See what I mean? This is another example. Suppose your strength is in the Arts and you want to go to JC to study History, Literature, Chinese Literature and Drama.

However, you didn't take Additional Maths. So you can't go to JC.

Another example of meaningless penalisation.

Anonymous said...

"You can't enter JC without Additional Maths."

Nonsense.

In today's internet age, what's so difficult about verifying facts first before sprouting a myth. Go www.moe.edu.sg and read it up.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Well, thank you for the correction. I assumed that Piper was right.

Anonymous said...

--> See what I mean? This is another example (of meaningless penalisation).

No, I don't see what you mean :)

A. It is absolutely meaningful for Germany to expect Beethoven to acquire a minimum standard in German - his mother tongue - before he can specialise solely on Music studies. That's called a well-rounded education. All countries demand that of their students, at the 12 years general education level. Those who want to fail science, fail language, fail math but just specialise in music would have to opt out of the public school system to go some private specialised school.

B. It would, however, have been meaningless if Germany expect Beethoven to pass English - a foreign language - to an even higher standard than his mother tongue, before he can study music.

So the crux of the matter is simple: is Chinese our mother tongue? (nevermind which dialect group, since we are talking about reading, writing and much more, not just illiterate-type of speaking/listening skill and you would agree that they all share more or less the same grammar and script, and hence a dislike in one (say, Mandarin) is not going to translate into a liking for another (say, Hakka))

If u ans yes, see A. If no, see B.

Clearly, anybody, not just Mr. Wang, who finds Chinese language requirement a penalty, cannot run away from the fact that it all boils down to them treating Chinese as a foreign language.

And that's the point, I am trying to make - chinese difficult, unneccesary penalty, hokkien versus mandarin blah blah blah, are all excuses! Bulls! It all boils down to the attitude - is it our language or is it a foreign language.

"I or my parents or my grandparents have given up on my mother tongue (reminder: written/reading, not just verbal) long ago. And that's why I find it a penalty" - saying that and recognising that it is one's own attitude, rather than the inherent problem of the language or the problem of the govt is important; It's call facing oneself in the mirror. It helps us face our "inner-self" and understand what we really am thinking subconsciously (foreign language) and understanding our psychology better is what this post is about :)

Btw, with regard to B, even such "meaningless" standard are expected of students applying to many top universities in USA: some expect student to have studied a second language other than English, before applying for admission. Others demand of it, before students can graduate. And some, demands that phd students in some discipline pass a foreign language before they are allowed to get a phd! All in the name of a well-rounded education.

Oh, some may argue it's "many top universities", not all. Sure! That's because it's foreign language, remember? If it is mother tongue, it would be pt A :)

jun said...

You can enter JC without A Maths!

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang asked: "What's wrong with penalising a student for failing his Chinese?"

I answer: nothing wrong because (1) nobody is really being penalised - In the previous policy before it was abolished, they say on paper that you have to "pass" Chinese at E8 at 'AO' level (which actually means you can fail, just not F9), before you can graduate from NUS (which means you can get admitted to NUS with an F9 in Chinese, contrary to your assertion) without passing an internal chinese examination (which means you do not need to pass AO-level chinese. You can still remain F9 at AO-level). But even then, it's on paper. In practice, they will let you attend a "chinese camp" during uni holidays, and virtually everyone will get to pass the chinese "exam" given in this camp, since there is no way the calculating govt is going to subsidise your uni ed for 3 years only to kick you out due to chinese. So it is a fake "penalty" meant to get pple to learn their mother tongue, to appease the chinese-educated elites etc. Nobody is really penalised in reality. (2) Chinese is our mother "tongue" (different pronunciation but still the same language).
-----------

Now I ask: "What's wrong with penalising a student for failing his English?"

And I ans it myself: Very wrong! Failing English means cannot go beyond O-level, and less than 50% passed O-level English before mid 1990s. The country is facing structural unemployment with a glut of O-level holders and below, all because of this terrible and unnecessary penalty!
-------

Bottomline? Talking abt chinese and its penalty is missing the real problem. It is a small "caste" of english-speaking people obsessed with a "virus" that it thinks infect the entire nation, but which in reality is confined to its small group (passing rate of Chinese: > 95% each year for past 40 years). On the other hand, an entire generation has been penalised by English, not Chinese. Their voice is not heard. They are now the unemployed uncles and aunties in their 40s to 50s.

Anonymous said...

Singapore system still keeps failing to focus and develop its people's strengths.

You are absolutely right. And the reason you gave is right too:

There are various ways that Singaporeans can be pushed to study various things. For example.. you can cut the number of available places in universities for "non-desired" disciplines and boost the number of available places in universities.

But, if we want to talk about language as a culprit, it is English, not Chinese. By cutting "the number of available places in universities for 'non-desired'" students, namely penalising those whose English is not up to the high standard of passing GP, we restricted A-level and Uni education to less than 10% of each cohort in the last 40 years.

That's why we ended up with what you called: mediocre non-scientist who is neither fluent in English, nor fluent in Chinese.

Now the people from China come to study at NUS, and as you correctly pointed out in one of your earlier post, they need not pass GP! These Chinese are articulate, since they are not forced to be schooled in a foreign language since young. They reach a very high standard in their native language, and are able to understand the math and science taught in their native language. Now they are here to compete with our mediocre non-scientist, many of whom never understood literature, history, even science, during their psle and o-level days because their english standard is too poor!

So yes, the govt failed "to focus and develop its people's strengths". And the culprit is its ridiculous 180 degrees language policy of unrealistically wanting to turn english from a foreign language to native language in 1 generation!

Anonymous said...

anon above wrote
> And the culprit is its ridiculous 180 degrees language policy of unrealistically wanting to turn english from a foreign language to native language in 1 generation!

Well, it succeeded more or less. Except that it sacrificed 20 cohorts of students to achieve it. lol

Mr Wang Says So said...

There's a lot of arbitrariness in the system. Back in my day:

if you wanted to study medicine at NUS, you had to take Biology at A-level

if you wanted to take Biology at A-level, you had to take it at O-level

if you wanted to take it at O-level, you had to take it at 15 years of age.

if you wanted to take it at 15 years of age, you had to be in a school that offered Biology (not many did then)

if you wanted to enter such a school, you had to enter after your PSLE (which you take when you're 12 years old)

So if you missed the boat at 12 years of age, you had no chance of graduating as a doctor at age 27.

But then suddenly, they realised that there's a shortage of doctors. So they changed the requirements.

It is no longer a pre-requisite to take Biology at A-level, to study medicine at NUS. Which means you don't have to take it at O-level. Which means that you don't have the PSLE problem at the 12-year-old stage.

whybegay said...

The Singapore style of education was the exact type Einstein received and rejected.

Mr Wang, for your on-going research, remember to compare Singapore to Japan as well, rather than some far off country in the west. Since the people of both asian island countries have the most similar asian cultures and both have problems of people jumping onto train tracks.

simplesandra said...

It still boils down to the relevance of the subjects themselves.

Beethoven would've been required to pass his German, because his courses were conducted in the native language. That's a basic requirement.

Now, a local Beethoven would've managed just fine even if he fails his Chinese, if English is the language used. But a certain level of Chinese will be needed if his course of study includes Chinese (or oriental) music--and most of these material are in Chinese. In that case, the Chinese language would be a plus (if not requirement).

Still, in both cases, does it matter that our two Beethovens here are fluent in their respective languages? No, they're not linguists; they common language is music.

A one-size-fits-all education obviously won't work. It's more down to identifying real talent and trying our best to accomodate them. Naturally, schools have a responsiblity to do that (along with parents), but how many of them are really willing to go through this tedious process?

And about the 12-year-old Malay footballer Mr Wang brought up, yes, it's a real pity--especially when you consider that football academies in UK enroll kids based on their footballing potential above all else (not that an "all-rounded" education is neglected, but the latter shouldn't be the deciding factor whether a child makes it or not).

Here's a glimpse of how they work.

simplesandra said...

whybegay wrote: "Mr Wang, for your on-going research, remember to compare Singapore to Japan as well, rather than some far off country in the west."

And your point being? Mind you, Japanese education have always been more "all-rounded" than ours. For a top R&D nation, their education hasn't neglected humanities and arts either.

Japan didn't become a key exporter of pop-culture by accident, you know. :-)

Mr Wang Says So said...

Not sure why some people are now referring to Germany or Japan as role models.

I have made a point about S'pore insufficiently focusing on people's strengths. Either you agree or disagree.

It isn't necessary to compare the situation with Germany or Japan. Were they ever particularly known as countries which focus on individuals' strengths? Certainly not Japan - whose culture heavily stresses conformity.

Anonymous said...

> if you wanted to take Biology at A-level, you had to take it at O-level

That was never the case, during your time, which means during my time :), which means mid 1980s to early 1990s - I know, 'cos I had classmates who did A-level bio without O-level.

But yeah, I agree with you that requiring a-level bio to study medicine is arbitrary. In UK, they require chemistry only, which is educationally sound since the human body is abt chemistry of the blood, of medicine chemically interacting with cells, of liver converting 1 chemical to another etc.

Actually, it is not right to let only those who aspire to be doctors to take bio at 15 yrs old. At that age, we should have an all-rounded education - everybody should take some bio, some literature, history etc. We should train enough bio (and lit, and history) teachers to allow for that.

Key to survival of a species is diversity, as any biologist will tell you. I would argue it's the same for a nation. The way we charge forward into engineering, and then now change course 180 degrees to charge into life sciences is ridiculous. Likewise, the way the entire nation switched from one language to another in order to attact MNC, and now all starting to learn chinese when china is rising, is absurd! Maybe if tomorrow India becomes number 1, we would make passing Tamil/Hindi compulsory for studies beyond O-level?

Such "specialization" make us inadaptable to change. Now if only we had, all these while, placed equal emphasis on bio and physics, arts and music, today, we wont be in deep shit for not having enough life science pple (or not enough people who can do business with china in chinese, or not enough musicians etc).

Also, at an individual level, a lawyer should know something abt science and arts. It will help in his work and his outlook of life and in case he want to switch field etc. Interdisciplinay knowledge, ideally acquired thru school (and not just by readingg widely outside school) is impt for success in new economy. All great economies (USA for eg), emphasise on the importance of a general liberal arts education.

Hence, Beethoven and Maradona should be encouraged (though not forced) to learn more abt other fields first, before specialising. And such "encouragement" can only come from having some "penalties" for those who refuse to be well-rounded. And thus, it become a case of how much penalty is too much. I would say we were too extreme in the past - not so much with chinese lang, which affected only a very small minority - but with demanding a pass in GP, with bio needed for med, with not studying enough humanities etc, all of which affected a majority of the population.

But alas, all these are like talking to a wall - lky's specialty is in extreme specialising. He saw no value in a broad based diversity. If he did, he wont have come up with streaming, which is basically a way to slot pple into vocation asap. To him, it is best to put all eggs in one basket.

But Singapore's education scene is now changing to accomodate such diversity, as you have rightly observed. This in effect is an admission that singapore's previous way of doing things in an extreme fashion, is wrong.

But too late. Hence the current structural unemployment.

Anonymous said...

students who do not offer additional mathematics are usually severely penalised in the JC education system. For example most Junior Colleges require that students in the science stream offer C-Maths, of which builds off much of the foundations from Additional Mathematics.

It all depends, if you are interestedin the humanities, then it probably doesn't matter. One of my friends who recently graduated from Oxford and Harvard is plenty a failure in mathematics, yet extremely brilliant in history and literature.

With too much preference that is accorded to the scientific disciplines in Singapore, its ironic that the ivy league universities usually give a stronger preference towards the humanities and liberal arts rather than the hard sciences.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, I'm not so sure about your point with regards to the subisdy of university education and how the government will not let one fail out of university just for the case of doing poorly in the 2nd language.

For me, I failed my Chinese at O'level twice. Its kinda hard to even pass when you're on shaky ground, when your Oral examiners are from Chinese High and Raffles Institution and hand you a nice hearty "ungraded" for oral. I was admitted to JC provisionally on the condition that I pass my Chinese with a D7 grade at O level.

I took the AO level exam and flunked it with a wonderful F9 and an ungraded for oral. Again my oral examiner was from no other than Raffles JC! Even the listening comprehension was impossible. I retook the O level Chinese examination and got an E8 this time round - after a tremendous deal of tuition, hard work, uncessing memorisation and studying - after all, I didn't want to be kicked out of JC just because of my 2nd language requirements that everyone found easy.

I studied for the next round and got a resounding E8 again. With no D7 in sight, the junior college was sending me, my parents warning letters that the very next moment that I failed the next O level test, I had to leave. My parents were making arrangements for private schooling at that point of time. It was immensely depressing.

Here I was, studying double mathematics, economics and physics. And languishing in Chinese. Then Lee Hsien Loong came and saved the day with a story about how his song managed to get 8 A1s and an E8 for chinese and could not get into JC, thus there was the introduction of Chinese Syllabus B. The equivalent of Primary Four Higher Chinese.

Needless to say, I did pass. But I shudder to think that had that not been introduced, I would really have been kicked out of Junior college and basically fucked up my future attempts to get into University.

Today, Mr Wang, I'm a student at one of the top universities in America (not ivy league, but definitely way up there) and I wonder if I ought to be grateful to the current prime minister or just wish that the system was not so rigid. I have many friends from my O level days who went to Poly because they just could not fulfil the 2nd language requirement and did not want to deal with AO Chinese. And guess what, today they have graduated from poly and are either jobless, or doing a job that is not even related to their discipline - IT, BioMed, Engineering and so on.

Most readers will be able to guess what school I came from. I'd just like to clarify that I really did study my best and really did put in the best that I could - after all, who wants to be kicked out of Junior college after completing a year there, having to restart in a private school or even worst, fall out of the education system in Singapore forever. The one straight route that marginalises all who fall by the wayside.

I love my culture, I love chinese history, I am a deep reader of chinese civilisation, history, and seek to understand both my roots and identity, its just that I was pretty much never very good at the language. I love the heritage, the modernisation and westernisation of the East, the music of chinese pop singers and so on. But I just couldn't make it and I wish that the system did not penalise me for that.

Anonymous said...

simplesandra,
No lah, I don't agree that "it boils down to the relevance of the subjects".

It boils down to whether you treat a language as your own native language or not. If you do, you will want to learn that language, even if you dont need it to make music - because you need it to communicate with your friends, to access your cultural roots, to have a sense of who u are, blah blah blah. In fact, dont even need a reason - it is your language, you automatically want to learn it. The concept of penalty will not arise :)

Conversely, if you regard a langauge as a foreign language, then sure, you will start calculating: do I need it to make music? will it be too torturing to learn? will it be an asset or a liability? blah blah blah. That's when the idea of "penalty" arises.


> does it matter that our two Beethovens here are fluent in their respective languages? No, they're not linguists; they common language is music.

It matters. Beethoven need to learn and to pass his own native language, regardless of whether he is a linguist or a musician or whether it will help in his music. And why so? because it is his native language. Period. This idea that one need not learn one's native language if it is of no help to one's profession is, pardon me, quite perverted. No country, no race, no culture, ever has such a thought. You learn your native language the day you are born, and you learn it as a matter of fact, not as a matter of whether it helps advance any futher cause.

It all boils down back again to the same thing: do you regard a particular language as your native language/mother tongue? if yes, it will never be a penalty.

Anonymous said...

with reference to the above post, I'd like to add that whilst I went through my O level years studying a wide variety of topics, it was sad to note that many schools were dropping or discouraging the study of literature because it would lower the school's rankings. This was the same in many of the Junior colleges - which set ridiculously tough promotional and probational exams and encouraged students to "drop to 3 A level subjects" in the hopes that this would provide better grades and thus a better ranking for the school. After all, we don't want a few rotten C grades spoiling the crop for everyone else.

Just because NUS only needs 3 A levels and a GP and a chinese grade doesn't mean that that is the be all and end all of the world. I came into my university with pretty much NO advanced placement whilst many of my peers had already an entire academic year's worth of advanced placement credit.

What applies to one university should not be the arbitrary benchmarking standard for the rest of the world. Because the world is globalising and really, if the goal of education is to truly educate the people, then why discourage them from learning somemore, even if they're not so good at a particular subject or topic? Why do we boast so much about our world class education system, yet discourage the further or additional study of subjects that might end up lowering the school's ranking?

While the MOE no longer ranks the schools and JCs, its not too difficult to take the data from the respective school's websites and to piece together a picture of the rankings according to one's own criteria. I feel that for the most part, Singapore has sold its artistic, musical, dramatic and creative soul out for the economic rewards and predictability of the hard sciences.

Yet surely, columbia, princeton, yale, harvard, stanford, penn must be doing something right when they emphasise the need for a broad range of interdisciplinary subjects in the humanities, social sciences and sciences as core requirements for an education. Life certainly should be more than just S-papers in Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry or Economics. Tharman has probably done the best job as an education minister in a very long time, by putting forth much needed changes in the monolithic system. Its interesting too to note that he is NOT a scholar, and thus perhaps sees things from a very different perspective.

Streaming might sound great an idea of economic efficiency, yet it marginalises many of the students, enhances the self-esteem of some, whilst crushing others. Enforcing a social hierachy of pride whilst condemning others to self-fulfilling prophecies of failure. Its interesting to note that many of the friends that I had in normal technical (now "stream for the technically gifted") were great at bowling, computer games, sports, music, art, design and so on and they aren't given opportuniites to flourish in Singapore. It is very lamentable inideed.

Anonymous said...

If it was any comfort to know, the only JC of my time that I knew that offerred O level students opportunities to study for FOUR A level subjects and attempt disciplines that they had not studied at O level was PIONEER JC. While the students were not of the highest academic calibre, it is good at least, to see that the JC gave them a chance to at least try things out and pursue perhaps a hope of the future.

It seemed like other JCs at that time, during those provisional first three months when we would PON class like crazy would tell us how their respective JCs limited them to 3 A level subjects based on their L1R5 or discouraged taking up subjects that students had not already touched upon at the O-level. While it is not necessary to offer biology to apply to med school, it is somewhat useful at least have a foundational O level knowledge in biology before coming to study it at A level. Same logic would probably apply to chemistry as well.

There needs to be more flexibility and tolerance for people who change their minds, rather than to continually enhance a self-selection bias within the education system that leads humanities students in secondary school to invariably pick the arts stream in jc, with many obstacles should they desire to switch to the science stream. It might not be that practical, but hey, at least let's try to offer our children a choice right? We work hard for a better future for them and at least for them learning how to make up their minds and chose in order for them to be happy and thus a better future might not be too far fetched indeed.

Instead of attempting to filter out the elites of the education syste just like the imperial chinese civil service examinations, wouldn't it be wiser if we could take on and build upon the strengths of our people. If Denmark, a nation of 3 million people can send a great team to the world cup, have a great research university and extremely high standards of living, along with support for the arts. Its not that far or impossible a dream for Singapore to aspire to. There needs to be more flexibility in the system - for people who can really play soccer but can't study to go to the sports schools, for students who are great at music but might need to defer NS to much later or even to give opportunities for hands on research to those passionate about science.

Anonymous said...

anon of 7:10pm,
> I love my culture, I love chinese history, I am a deep reader of chinese civilisation, history

Very funny! A person who love his culture will speak his culture's langauge everyday. And if you speak a language, any langauge, every day dawn to dusk, you wont fail it. And how can anyone call himself a "deep reader" of any civilisation, if he is not reading text writtin in the language of that civilisation. People learn latin, sanskit, mayan languages etc to become "deep reader" tho those civilisations!

My pt is this: with all your so-called "love" and "deep reader" talk, you make it sound as if you have tried your utmost, but chinese is inherently a difficult language. That's not true. Chinese is no more difficult than English. If my hunch is right, you didnt even speak the language at any time of the day/weeks/months except while studying it formally. That's why u didnt do well in it :)

> I have many friends from my O level days who went to Poly because they just could not fulfil the 2nd language requirement and did not want to deal with AO Chinese.

The number of people who went poly becuase they dare not take GP is at least 1000 times that. Not that two wrongs make one right, but simply, I find it very sad that the nation refuse to help the majority who has suffered under the "english number 1" stringent criteria, and yet make a mountain out of a mole hole, for the very small minority who suffered under the "chinese number 2" requirement. Well, I guess being vocal does have some clout compared to being the "silent majority" :)

piper said...

I'm sorry for the misinformation (re A Maths). The information I got was from my colleagues, who apparently have the wrong idea.

Anonymous said...

Hohoho, I see that this post attracted lots of comments, once the discussion started to focus on languages, a forever-hot topic in singapore!

Let's face it, our problem with languages started the day LKY decides to artificially turn our native language from Chinese/Malay/Tamil to English. Two problems immediately:

- those who are not able to adapt to English, suffered in schools since they couldnt even understand what the F their teachers are mumbling about in English.

- those who adapted too well, also suffered, since they started speaking only English to their children at home, and their children now cannot pass chinese in school, since it is no longer their native langauge.

There are other problems too, eg.

- those who struggeled in english and succeeded now feel very "unbalanced" when they realise that PRC students are required only to pass O-level english to enter NUS

- those parents who gave up Chinese and speak exclusively in english, now feel very "unbalanced" too, when they realise their kids are at a disadvantage now that china has opened up.

Now, won't everything has been much better if we did not do social engineering? If we had not tried the impossible task of changing our language artificially from one to the other, would all these problem be there? Take hong kong? they din do things as drastically as us. They are doing fine in attracting western investment, their cultural scene (including film-making) are much better than ours because language is everything in the industry and they are very fluent in their native language, unlike us who are "mediocre non-scientist who is neither fluent in English, nor fluent in Chinese".

Anonymous said...

Read the comments.. i wanna highlight some stuff

-->
It matters. Beethoven need to learn and to pass his own native language, regardless of whether he is a linguist or a musician or whether it will help in his music. And why so? because it is his native language. Period. This idea that one need not learn one's native language if it is of no help to one's profession is, pardon me, quite perverted. No country, no race, no culture, ever has such a thought. You learn your native language the day you are born, and you learn it as a matter of fact, not as a matter of whether it helps advance any futher cause.

and this -->

Very funny! A person who love his culture will speak his culture's langauge everyday. And if you speak a language, any langauge, every day dawn to dusk, you wont fail it. And how can anyone call himself a "deep reader" of any civilisation, if he is not reading text writtin in the language of that civilisation. People learn latin, sanskit, mayan languages etc to become "deep reader" tho those civilisations!

Now, for my 5c (plus 0.0035c G.S.T) worth:

Just because you are Chinese, Indian or Malay, or "others" (heheh), it doesn't matter if you study the language or not. C'mon man, Look at those AMERICANS. They aren't ENGLISH and they learn and use ENGLISH, and they don't penalise themselves for NOT doing well in AFRICAN, SPANISH, IRISH, ITALIAN, GREEK, etc etc etc.(heck, they dun even study it!!) Doesn't matter what. Relaks la bradder. Its just a matter of PRIDE. People just look at you funny if you can't speak your own native language.(So what?) Then again, "native language" or "mother tongue" is kinda abstract concept too.

Got period meh?

One more thing. Do those Ang Moh in UK. i.e. the ENGLISH have 100% pass in English? Surely, not. Yet they "speak a language, any langauge, every day dawn to dusk". Funny eh? All should pass what? How to explain those who dun pass? Just plain dumb issit? You good lor, say people like that..

I like my maths and science. I hate my languages. I can't grasp them. And I've given up trying to do well in them. People can master a few things at one time; it doesn't have to be their mother tongue you know. Not so automatic as some would assume.

Yah correct, people study the language to study the culture more. But if i dowan eh how? Still must study ar? If YOU got interest and strength in that subject, study all you want lor, dun force me can?

Please hor, The world has many examples for you to see lor. No need a simple bloke who play guitar under block like me to tell you that.

GorBlock
(as you can see, my ENgrish not so good. Pardon the spelling and grammar)

Huang said...

Got any place where we could try a free trial of the Gallup Strengthfinder? hehehe...Interested in taking it for a trial...

paranoia said...

fyi, u hav a bro or sis http://mrwantsayso.blogspot.com/index.html

X said...

My interest in the Gallup Strengthsfinder was piqued after reading your entry, especially since I just received a newsletter from Kinokuniya promoting the latest version, Strengthsfinder 2.0. Think I will go check out the book tomorrow. Reviews at amazon are mixed (actually there are only 2), but from the looks of it, it seems you have little else to gain by buying this book if you've taken the test previously already.

To Huang: Unfortunately there's no trial version, so to speak. You have to buy the book, get the code inside, and paste it into the website to take the test. It's selling at Kino for $48.25, though if you are a member, you get 20% off for the month of March.

whybegay said...

Mr Wang said,
"I have made a point about S'pore insufficiently focusing on people's strengths. Either you agree or disagree.

It isn't necessary to compare the situation with Germany or Japan. Were they ever particularly known as countries which focus on individuals' strengths? Certainly not Japan - whose culture heavily stresses conformity."

Exactly. This is why Singapore has to be compared with Japan because they are both alike. And the comment of research was for your previous article, not this article.

Jimmy Mun said...

1) Did you know that PRC students, whose Chinese standards are miles ahead of the best Singaporeans, struggle with our Chinese exams? The insanity of our Chinese exams is without peer in China. I myself was traumatised enough to drop Chinese after I passed my Higher Chinese at O levels, even though I love the language. My wife flunked her AO Chinese 3 times. At a ripe old age of 30, she still prefer to keep quiet and be thought a Chinese illiterate than to open her mouth and speak her drilled to pitch perfection Mandarin. We are all scarred by the insane system, but let's be glad the nightmare is over, and pledge not to let it happen to our children again, ever. Learning Chinese can use a lot more carrot and a lot less stick.

2) O level biology is not a pre-requisite for A level biology, but to do so during my JC days meant that you have to talk to a lot of people who will repeat the usual litany against Biology, like hard to score compared to F Maths, futility of the subject if one cannot make med school etc. One of my classmates braved through the barriers and was allowed to transfer to triple science, but only months later. He gave up and returned the very next day because he was waaaaaay far behind. Education delayed is education denied.

3) Some of you may have heard of one MarkEleven complaining that Singapore is not meritocratic because NUS Med does not admit females, which we know, is not really true. But I know where he heard it from, because I heard it myself, as part of the welcoming comittee for ASEAN scholars. Officials from PSC told the newly arrived Malaysians not to waste time studying Biology because NUS Med school doesnt want to waste taxpayer subsidies on foreigners and women who may leave the workforce after pregnancy. According to the PSC officials, foreign women in particular have no hope in entering the local med school. That was of course, during the Engineering craze, long before the life sciences mania. Now it doesnt seem a waste of taxpayer money to start teaching life sciences at primary school. Now it doesnt seem a waste of taxpayer monies to fund foreign scholars who may not stay after graduation.

Anonymous said...

Haha want to compare with Japan? Sure, Japan got to where it is today without the need for foreign talents. That is something for our govt to think about. Actually it is already very obvious, our govt does not trust S'poreans and has never really invested in its own people.

cannotsleep said...

Would it more appropriate to say that the government wanted Singaporeans to achieve a competent level of bilingualism?

I think it is very difficult to define a person's native tongue. Literally speaking, a person's mother tongue should refer to the language spoken by his/her parents. Following this argument, an English speaking Chinese family (say an ABC family in the US)should rightly refer to English as their native language.

Another example would be African-Americans. I'm sure very few of them would actually speak the original languages that their ancestors spoke. I don't think their inability to speak their "native tongue" is such a issue over in the US is it?

Perhaps we should be questioning the feasibility of forcing students to master 2 languages at the same time instead?

7366 said...

To Anon 7.34

Unfortunately, you are not me, and I did speak mandarin well on a regular basis. I just couldn't write it very well or read all of the characters on a page. Perhaps its like being able to speak in coherence to most people in the english language, yet faltering when it comes to reading things like the classics or attempting a verbose argumentation in english literature. One's ability to speak a language may not be well correlated with one's ability to read and write it. For example, there are certainly many number of individuals in Singapore who can speak a language or dialect of a language relatively well - yet whom are illiterate.

Indeed, you are not me, so you probably would not know how much time or effort I spent attempting to do better in a subject that would have basically damned me. I'm damned if I work hard to improve my chinese and I'm damned if I don't. I've learnt a great deal about chinese history, not from reading about china's history in mandarin, but from vast swathes of books in my university's East Asian library. May I recommend to you a great book - "Rescuing History from the Nation" by Prasenjit Duara - a Professor of History at Harvard University specialising in modern china. Who is Indian and apparently can't speak, or read, or write the language very well - prefering to work upon previously translated historical documents.

Resucing History from the Nation is one of the finest books in history ever written about modern Chinese history as it seeks to question the narratives of the nation. Oh yes, does it take an Indian professor to help us realize that one can be well versed in the historical, literary and cultural aspects of a civilization without knowing the language at a high level of fluency? One does not need to be an expert in a subject in order to love it.

May I give the case, that one of my best friends in JC was the ultimate failure in mathematics. Rock bottom scores every single time. He was retained, forced to drop to 3A'level subjects and insisted on taking further mathematics anyway. He loved the subject, even whilst doing poorly in it, and even after putting great effort into it. After all, why get retained one year for doing poorly in a subject one could drop? Its love.

If what mathematicians say about mathematics is anything to go by, that the equations are just a universal language of communicating ideas in many disciplines, should that not reside in an understanding that one does not need to be extremely brilliant, can be rather hardworking and yet not do very well in something?

Remember, Michael Jordon did give up basketball to play minor league baseball for a while. But did anyone fault one of the world's greatest sportsman for giving up the discipline he was great at to improve and try himself out at something else? At the end of the day, the language policies in Singapore have severely penalised the population and really, even a President's scholar that I know of cannot get an A1 for English and an A1 for chinese at the same time. 10 A1s but an A2 for Higher Chinese.

Its not wise to constantly marginalise individuals based on their weaknesses in state-selected criteria. Rather it would be better if things like streaming focused on spotting and developing the strengths of our youth, that they can be, all that they can become. The Best is Yet to Be.

Fox said...

Oh, by the way, should Germany be faulted for requiring Beethoven to study (note: NOT pass, just study) the German language in school? And not as 1st language, but just as a 3rd language, with electronic dictionaries allowed in exam, and for which a pass is NOT required to enter university?

Dude, Beethoven's family was of Flemish descent. If his mother tongue was to be the language of his forefathers, then that would have been Flemish/Dutch, NOT German.

In fact, Beethoven is a good example of how a person's mother tongue is not necessarily that of his/her forefathers but that of his/her linguistic environment! One's mother tongue has nothing to do with one's ethnic origins. For example, because our English-speaking environment in Singapore, it is no surprise that many families have adopted English as their mother tongues.

In other words, your mother tongue is simply your first language.

geriatric_eunuch-ation said...

Well Mr. W, it appears that even after 40 years the pain of that arbitrary language edict from our Lord High YingYang still rankles deep in the Singaporean psyche. I concur with you that "Most Chinese Singaporeans are Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew or Hakka" i.e. dialect speakers and I would add that the resulting schism created between the generations by the dogmatic insistence that Mandarin be the ONLY acceptable version of the Chinese language has caused, and is still reason for, deep (unspoken) angst.

I was raised in an English/Teochew household where both languages were used with equal fluency and I regard spoken Mandarin as the alien language and certainly no mother tongue of mine - does that make me any the less Chinese? As has been pointed out, the written form is no different, just its articulation. I still recall with pleasure accompanying my grandparents to our little local church where the entire service, sermons as well as songs, was conducted entirely in Teochew. Dialect has an emotional pull, a centuries-old cultural backdrop, that no amount of official bullying has yet managed to entirely suppress.

The person who wrote "if you have difficulty/disgust for Chinese taught by a teacher pronoucing in mandarin, you would still have nearly the same difficulty/disgust when the SAME language is taught by the teacher pronoucing all 250 idioms (and not just low-level peasant-like babbling used by our farmers ancestor) in your mother tongue, be it Hokkien or Hakka..." makes a sweeping statement that I disagree with, entirely. Particularly offensive is the contemptuous dismissal of dialect as 'low-level peasant-like babbling' (by inference his ancestors were high-level elite Mandarins of the scholar-class, yes?). It seems to have escaped his attention that Hong Kong residents are taught in Cantonese (yuk! a dialect), proudly use Cantonese as THEIR mother-tongue, dominate the economy of southern China AND export their vibrant Canto-pop movie and music culture around the world.

I've not noticed Hong Kong's economy floundering and having to play second-fiddle to Singapore's, have you? As a matter of fact, by comparison the latter is a Chinese cultural desert despite the Mandarin emphasis, having to import all manner of talent in an increasingly desperate attempt to provide some semblance of an arts 'n' culture lifestyle. When was the last time you were moved by a speech in Mandarin by our great 'n' good? Or for that matter, in English? Thrilled by Tharman? Bowled over by the dinosaur's masterful way with words? At least Low Thia Kiang certainly caught my attention with his closing remarks in Teochew at the last election.

However, this isn't intended to be a Mandarin vs dialect diatribe - I merely wish to point out that social engineering has consequences impossible to foresee and is generally A BAD THING to be avoided if at all possible.

As for Anon's risible assertation that: "It matters. Beethoven need to learn and to pass his own native language, regardless of whether he is a linguist or a musician or whether it will help in his music. And why so? because it is his native language. Period." might I then gently ask him to explain how passing exams in their native languages helped in the successes of:
Booker Prize Winner (English) "The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro (a Japanese), George Michael (a Greek singer-songwriter composing in English), Yehudi Menuhin (Russian-Jewish violinist famed for his interpretations of German works), V.S. Naipaul (an renowned Indian novelist writing in English), etc, etc, etc. The list is endless in every facet of human endeavour. All these folk would have crashed and burned had they not passed their native language exams. R-i-i-i-ight.

To return on-topic: "Intellection" in the Gallup Strengthsfinder simply means that you have the ability to think extensively for a long time.
Oh dear, and to think I'd been using the word 'concentration' all this time! Excuse me Mr. Wang, but do you not detect the whiff of old wine in new bottles and a restatement of the bleeding obvious here? Communication = good at presentations, Arranger = a good coordinator, Focus = er, good at focussing on a project, Woo (really!) = somebody with charm, Meh = somebody with negative vibes (I made that one up). Too late to run this Strengthsfinder past John DeLorean and Kenneth Lay but Jeffery Skilling (Enron) and Bernie Ebbers (WorldCom) are still up for grabs. I wonder how they'd fare? MY guess is Triple A Platinum Corporate Management material.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Well I'm not here to defend the Gallup system but basically you would hardly expect it to be truly new wine in truly new bottles. The raw subject-matter is still the same - human beings, and how each of them thinks.

Their methodology has been to interview top performers across different industries, nations and cultures -

eg teachers; executives; doctors; journalists; IT programmers; lawyers; accountants; scientists

and find out their "secret to success", so to speak.

The first discovery, as I have mentioned, is that highly successful people become highly successful not by overcoming their natural weaknesses, but by developing their natural strengths -

in other words, the discovery is that a highly successful person is usually a person who has taken certain natural patterns of thinking that he already had, in his early years, and not only stuck to those patterns, but used and developed them more and more, over the years.

This is a "one-up" over MBTI. MBTI will only tell you, for instance, that INTJs are extremely self-confident, to the point of being arrogant or stubborn. An INTJ, upon learning this, may perhaps resolve to change himself - to be less confident / arrogant / stubborn.

Gallup's discovery is that this approach is not optimal. Firstly it takes a tremendous amount of effort to eradicate or suppress such a deeply-ingrained pattern of thinking. Secondly, even if the INTJ succeeds in this task, he will only become "normal" or "average" in this measure.

What we learn from Gallup is that for greater success, what the INTJ should do is find ways to use and develop his natural self-confidence / arrogance / stubbornness (it's a trait, you can call it what you like) more and more.

Actually, this basic idea has many applications. No doubt you've seen, for example, some young kids who are, say, naturally very boisterous, or some kids who are, say, very quiet and withdrawn.

The parents of the boisterous kid will usually try hard to make him a more "well-behaved" boy. The parents of the quiet kid will usually try hard to make him a more "sociable" boy.

Gallup's study will suggest to you that these are lousy approaches. The optimal approach is to channel the boisterousness appropriately; and for the other kid, to channel the introvertedness appropriately.

At a slightly older age, the boisterous kid may become the outstanding Boy Scout or NCC leader; the quiet kid may become the deep thinker. Etc etc.

What's also key is that people stop blaming themselves for their own perceived weaknesses. You may very bad at X, but you are naturally good at Y. Your mission therefore is not to become average in X, but to become utterly outstanding in Y.

This, IMO, is one of the most valuable contributions of the Gallup system.

Incidentally, "Positivity" is the top trait of the CEO in that previous organisation of mine. "Positivity" is the ability to get a team of people and fill them up with energy and optimism. This is exactly what this CEO does best. He was always setting targets and strategies that, on paper, look ridiculously ambitious and unrealistic. But I'm told that the people who work directly with him (he's an angmo based overseas) always end up believing that it's possible, and then they really succeed in making it happen. Because their CEO has "Positivity". He is fun, exciting, energetic, and he makes the people around him feel that work is just one big exciting game, and it's fun to play hard, it's fun to win. So they do.

Of course if this CEO had been told from young to stop being "so unrealistic" and "stop being so noisy" and "be more serious", and if he had tried to obey those admonitions, this "Positivity" theme would have been suppressed and wouldn't have been allowed to come into full play.

Anonymous said...

Anon of March 8, 2007 9:24 PM,

> Just because you are Chinese, Indian or Malay, or "others" (heheh), it doesn't matter if you study the language or not.

It matters. A Frenchman studies French, an Italian woman studies Italian, a Korean boy studies Korean, and so on. It matters to them because it's their language. It doesnt matter to you, because you gave up your own language, and now regard it as a foreign language.


> C'mon man, Look at those AMERICANS. They aren't ENGLISH and they learn and use ENGLISH

The white Americans were English and came from Britain. USA gained independence from UK. Do you not know the history? English is their native language. It matters to them, and so they learn and use it. They did not give up on their native language, and they do penalise those who do not do well in it - English. As for:


> they don't penalise themselves for NOT doing well in AFRICAN, SPANISH, IRISH, ITALIAN, GREEK, etc etc etc.(heck, they dun even study it!!)

Here, your "they" refers to the new immigrants from Spain, Ireland, Italy. When they emigrate to USA, they have no choice but to give up their own language and culture to accomodate the ruling class (from Britain) who get to keep its native language. That's a shame. But you seem to find it a good example to justify a Chinese singaporean voluntarily losing his native language in his own country, even without emigrating. I don't know where your logic lies.

> People just look at you funny if you can't speak your own native language.(So what?)

So it is bad and embarrasing and a shame to have people "look at you funny" -- your USA eg showed clearly that native language matters and where possible, people keep their native language (i.e. the ruling class from Britain). It is only when they cannot help it that they gave it up (i.e. the later immigrants from Italy, spain etc). They "cannot help it" because they are emigrating to another country. We are in our own country and we give up on our own native language. That's incomprehensible to people around the world, who feel that the ability to speak native language does matters. And that's why these people "look at you funny".

> Got period meh?

I can always give you a full-stop if you prefer :)

> Do those Ang Moh in UK. i.e. the ENGLISH have 100% pass in English?

They will pass it if it is at our Syllabus B standard, and they speak it from dawn to dusk.

> People can master a few things at one time; it doesn't have to be their mother tongue you know.

Go tell that to the French, German, Korean, and yes, the white americans who were originally from Britain. If they agree with you, they wont have "look at you funny". To repeat: it matters :)

> But if i dowan eh how? Still must study ar? If YOU got interest and strength in that subject, study all you want lor, dun force me can?

Emigrate to Germany, tell the Germans "dun force me" to study German in school. See whether they say "can" or not? Tell that to koreans, French, Americans too. Ask them "still must study ar?". See how they reply you. The fact is clear: you regard chinese as a foreign language, and not your native language. And that's a shame.

> Please hor, The world has many examples for you to see lor.

Indeed it does have many examples. And every example show that the ability to speak one's native language matters. I have named German, French, Korean, and used your America examples. What more do you need? :)

Anonymous said...

cannotsleep of March 9, 2007 1:47 AM,
> an English speaking Chinese family (say an ABC family in the US)should rightly refer to English as their native language.

Yes they should. They have to give up their original native language (chinese), and adopt English as their new native language. That's the inevitable outcome when you emigrate to a country which has a diff native language from yours. It's a sacrifice. The shame however is when one gives up on one's native language in one's own country, and adopt a foreign language unnecessarily and for no good reason, all in the name of attracting MNCs.


> Another example would be African-Americans. I'm sure very few of them would actually speak the original languages that their ancestors spoke.

Yes. Again, it's the inevitable result which occured when they were been shipped barbarically from Africa to USA to serve as slave. They didnt give up their native language and culture voluntarily. They were forced to. They do not need to feel shameful. The shame again, is when one gives up one's own language in one's own country unnecessarily....


> I don't think their inability to speak their "native tongue" is such a issue over in the US is it?

Of course it is not an issue: The original ruling class from UK doesnt care, since their native tongue is English and not african languages. The descendants of these slaves also don't care, since the extermination and genocide of their language is complete, and they dont feel the loss anymore.

Is this what you want for Singapore's Chinese? You have simply given an example to show how scary, shameful, and bad it is for a stronger race to exterminate the language and culture of a weaker race, so much so that the weaker race's descendants have become completely assimilated that it no longer matter to them?!I fail to see how this example can support your argument abt singapore's case. You think singapore's elite english ruling class should do the Chinese Singaporeans heartlanders, what Americans White masters did to their slaves, culture and lanauge wise? :)

Anonymous said...

anon of March 9, 2007 4:01 AM,
> Resucing History from the Nation is one of the finest books in history ever written about modern Chinese history

Finest? From your perspective, maybe! And that's because you have no access to better books written by people who can speak and breathe the language of people they are researching on. So yeah, no meaningful comparison for you to make :)


> does it take an Indian professor to help us realize that one can be well versed in the historical, literary and cultural aspects of a civilization without knowing the language at a high level of fluency?

No, it does not take. All it takes is some common sense to know that one canNOT be well versed in anything abt a civilization unless one knows the language of that civilization.

Why else would Bible researchers learn Hebrew (to a high level of fluency), shakespeare researchers learn ancient English, Mayan culture researcheres learn Mayan, Ancient Egyptian culture researchers learn Ancient Egyptians, and America now trying to recruit Arabic-speaking people to understand the Arabs better?

All it took for me is to some common sense, plus, since I have not given up on my native language, i do not need to defy logic to console myself thus: "oh, it doesnt matter. It is always possible to learn something in depth without knowing the language of that thing" :)


> even a President's scholar that I know of cannot get an A1 for English and an A1 for chinese at the same time. 10 A1s but an A2 for Higher Chinese.

So? Meaning? I also know of geniuses who fail to learn foreign languages. But I have NOT known of any resonably educated person (outside of Singapore) - scholar or otherwise - who cannot read or write their own language,and feel proud of themselves, after psychoing themselves that their native language is inherently difficult (and so even president scholars cannot do it), or that it is not their native language to begin with.


> Its not wise to constantly marginalise individuals based on their weaknesses in state-selected criteria.

As I told another anon, you should tell that to Germany, France, UK, Korea, in fact, any country in the world, who marginalise their students who cannot do well in their native language. Or perhaps, you should simply tell these countries: "hey, drop your German, French.. language, all of you should adopt English to become your native language and margiinalise those who dont do well in your new adopted native language instead".

Anonymous said...

Fox of March 9, 2007 5:46 AM

> In other words, your mother tongue is simply your first language.

Correct. And in Singapore, it is Chinese/Malay Tamil, not English. You can refer to the statistics yourself - right now 50% of each pri 1 cohort speaks English at home and the percentage is rising every year. The corollary is that for the past 40 years till "right now", a vast majority of Singaporeans speak Chinese (in its vaious dialect)/Malay/Tamil as their first language.

English is indeed a foreign language to most Singaporeans. Unless one insist on using one's own sheltered elitist experience in one's "caste", to judge the entire Singapore :)

Fox said...

It matters. A Frenchman studies French, an Italian woman studies Italian, a Korean boy studies Korean, and so on. It matters to them because it's their language. It doesnt matter to you, because you gave up your own language, and now regard it as a foreign language.

You obviously know nothing about the history of the Italian language or the French language in France or the Chinese language in China.

Allow me to explain.

In pre-revolution France, the majority of people in France couldn't speak or write French. Most people living in Alsace (where German was spoken), Brittany (where Bretonese was spoken), Provence (where Provencal was spoken), Nice (where a Northern Italian dialect was spoken), Corsica (where Corsican was spoken), etc simply did not speak/write French. Literacy in French only came about as a result of compulsory education. In other words, French speakers were in the minority in France before the revolution.

Before the unification of Italy, most people spoke the language of their home regions/cities. Sicilian, Venetian, Neapoliton, Sardinian, are not mutually intelligible with Italian. Again, the Italian-speaking Italian you see today is a result of compulsory education in Italy.

In pre-revolution China, most people did not speak/write Chinese as we know it today. The written language was Classical Chinese for the educated minority. If you want to know what Classical Chinese (Wenyanwen) is, just read the Analects or any of Confucius' work. It is an utterly different language from today's standard written Chinese.

Before the revolution, everyday people spoke a vernacular Chinese language, which varied according to the region they lived in. For example, people living in Southern Fujian would speak Hokkien while people living in Beijing would speak Beijing Mandarin (which is the ancestor of today's Putonghua and written Chinese) although the educated class would have been able to speak Beijing Madarin out of necessity and to write in Classical Chinese.

There is a very important point I wish to make. Hokkien and Beijing Mandarin are very different from one another and from Classical Chinese, in terms of grammar and vocabulary. If you do not believe me, take an article from Zaobao and recite it in Cantonese or Hokkien to someone who speaks only Cantonese or Hokkien and has never received any Chinese education, and see how much of the Zaobao article that person can understand. Or transliterate traditional Cantonese opera into Putonghua, character for character - it will sound very strange in Putonghua.

The mass adoption of Putonghua and modern written Chinese came only about after the Chinese revolution in 1911. Before that, the mass of Chinese people in Singapore, like the Chinese in China, spoke their home dialects and, if they were educated, wrote in Classical Chinese.

It was only after the Qing dynasty was overthrown in 1911 that non-Mandarin speaking people in China were taught Mandarin Chinese in school and a new literary language based on Vernacular Beijinghua was formulated. It took root in Singapore because vernacular education in Singapore back then closely paralleled China's. In other words, the Chinese that Chinese Singaporean students learn to read and write in school today is entirely a contrived product of the twentieth century based on a linguistic standard formulated in a country far far away.

The argument for Chinese Singaporeans to learn modern Chinese falls apart for the descendants of 19th-century Chinese immigrants in Singapore because modern Chinese as we know it didn't exist in the 19th-century.

Anonymous said...

geriatric_eunuch-ation,

you seem to be chiampioning dialects over mandarin. That is what Mr. Wang would call a strawman's attack:

The issue: Is learning Chinese a penalty versus learning English? Is Chinese our native language, compared to English? etc

Deliberate diversion to become: Is Mandarin our mother tongue or dialect? which is better?

Strawman Attack: Dialects are our mother tongue. My opponent is wrong. I chiampion dialect over mandarin.

Eh? What happen to the original issue? haha, diverted away.

Com'on, no need to hide your dislike for the Chinese language = reading, writing, idioms, grammar, and so much more, to become only a verbal pronunciation diff bet mandarin versus cantonese.


> The person who wrote "if you have difficulty/disgust for Chinese taught by a teacher pronoucing in mandarin, you would still have nearly the same difficulty/disgust when the SAME language is taught by the teacher pronoucing all 250 idioms (and not just low-level peasant-like babbling used by our farmers ancestor) in your mother tongue, be it Hokkien or Hakka..." makes a sweeping statement that I disagree with, entirely.

Oh really? So answer us straight in the face:
1. Did you love Chinese language when you were in school? Did you do well in it?
2. If no, would you have love it and/or do well in it, if the SAME syllabus (SAME book, SAME composition, SAME writing, SAME reading SAME everything) is now taught pronounced in Cantonese, instead of in Mandarin?

Ans that honestly.


> Particularly offensive is the contemptuous dismissal of dialect as 'low-level peasant-like babbling' (by inference his ancestors were high-level elite Mandarins of the scholar-class, yes?).

That's twisting things out of context. Of course dialect can be "high-level" and the in-context statement is to imagine that dialect is taught in school at such high-level including 250 idioms. However, tt is a fact that our uneducated illiterate peasants/farmers ancestor speak dialect at a much lower level, and so there is a need to point out that if Dialect is taught in school instead of Mandarin, it is not going to be at such low level, but a high level (hence the capitalised "SAME" in my question to you earlier on).


> Hong Kong residents are taught in Cantonese (yuk! a dialect), proudly use Cantonese as THEIR mother-tongue.

Yup. I know that. And I think it is hypocritical for anyone who dislike Chinese taught in mandarin in our schools now, to say that they will absolutely love to study the SAME Chinese syllabus if it were tuahgt in cantonese.

Commonsense tell me that this cannot be so. When one dislike Chinese in school, it has much more to do with reading and writing - which are the same for both mandarin and cantonese, save for minor variation - and much less to do with oral skill.

So since the dislike is going to be the SAME either way, why launch such strawman attack? :)


> this isn't intended to be a Mandarin vs dialect diatribe - I merely wish to point out that social engineering has consequences impossible to foresee and is generally A BAD THING to be avoided if at all possible.

Of course it isnt a mandarin vs dialect thing. i am glad you realise it: it is a CHINESE (never mind how it is pronounced) vs ENGLISH thing - i.e. which is our native language? which is a penalty?

yes, I agree with you, social engineering is bad, very bad. But do you not realise that the most extreme social engineering that has occured in our country is the engineering to turn this foreign languge called English to become a native language? This social engineering means cohorts after cohorts of students do not understand what their teachers were talking about, resulting in lowly-educated workers in their 40s now, resulting in structural unemployment. This clearly is much more important than squabbling about mandarin versus dialect. No?

Fox said...

Correct. And in Singapore, it is Chinese/Malay Tamil, not English.

If your family speaks Malay at home, then your mother tongue is Malay. Even if your name is Tan Ah Kow and you enjoy Tiger and Bak-Kwa.

If your family speaks English at home, then your mother tongue is English. Even if your name if Ali bin Mohd.

Your mother tongue is simply your first language. That's how linguists use the term.

simplesandra said...

anon wrote: "It doesnt matter to you, because you gave up your own language, and now regard it as a foreign language."

In all honesty, this hype about the Chinese language started only after China became an economic hotspot.

Despite what LKY wrote about his fervour for the Chinese language in his book, he had been hostile towards not just the Chinese language, but its education and culture in the past. For fear of "chinese chauvinism" the Chinese-educated were marginalised.

Pretty ironic than that it's suddenly become our "native" language for Singaporean Chinese, and one that we ought to do well in. :-)

Anonymous said...

If the psychometric test is used for pre employment evaluation, it does have a function. Once engaged, employees should know the values of "Who you know and not what you know" and "work smart and not work hard". These are not perversions of work ethics but practical wisdoms of perverted society!

Mr Wang Says So said...

The reason why some Chinese Singaporeans struggle with Mandarin is very simple.

It has to do with the development of the human brain - specifically the way it acquires language.

There are plenty of scientific studies on this.

When young children learn language, they learn it using a certain part of their brain. At this stage, they acquire language (any language) quite easily.

As they grow older, they lose the ability to acquire language through those parts of the brain. The adult, learning a new language, has to use other parts of the brain, that are less efficient in acquiring language.

That is why you can get very outstanding students, who score A's quite easily in Maths and Science and History etc etc, who still struggle to pass their Mandarin.

It isn't because they are lazy. (They are not, for they want to score straight A's in everything).

It's simply because they were not exposed to the sounds of Mandarin at a sufficiently early age.

In other words, it wasn't their mother tongue. They didn't grow up in that kind of environment.

When they were babies, they didn't get to hear their mother (or father or grandmother) speak Mandarin. When they were toddlers, they didn't get to hear their mother (or father or grandmother) hear it either.

They only started hearing it when they were six years old, and only during one particular class called "Mother Tongue". By then, their brain had started going past the stage when it could acquire language naturally and easily. The exposure came too late for the Mother Tongue to really be their mother tongue.

There are other interesting studies that illustrate how, if an adult studies a foreign language, acquires a large vocabulary and perfects the grammar, and apparently -

he's still going to struggle a lot with the subtler aspects of the language. For example, he may have a lot of difficulty getting the language right; his accent may never sound native; and he will often fail to understand jokes told in that language (especially puns, that rely on sound effects in the language).

It all comes too late; the brain has been hardwired, and it's impossible to rewire it. Human beings were supposed to have only one mother, and she wasn't supposed to change her tonhue halfway.

Anonymous said...

Fox,
I understand everything you say. But I do not get your point i e. what is the pt you are trying to make after telling us "The History of the Evolution of the Chinese Language - from Wen Yan Wen to Bai Hua Wen, from non-mandarin to mandarin"?

I will try my best to speculate what your points are and rebut them. Correct me if I am wrong :)

Your point:
1. "Since wen yan wen (ancient chinese grammer) and bai hua wen (modern chinese grammar) are different, my pt is that we should learn ancient chinese instead of modern chinese?"

My ans:
Sure, if you prefer to study to do that. But it would be like studying shakespeare type of English. Impractical. More practical to study the modern form.


Your point:
"...(same as above)... Therefore, my pt is that we need learn neither ancient nor modern chinese".

My ans:
This is as strange as telling the Brits that since modern English is not shakespeare english, they need learn neither ancient nor modern english. They should just give up on English?!?


Your point:
"The grammar of Hokkien and Cantonese are diff from PuTongHua. This is how it evolved. So my pt is that we should study Hokkien/Cantonese in school instead of PuTongHua"

My ans:
Sure we can do that. Hong Kong did that. But, i doubt that those who currently dislike studying Chinese (taught in mandarin) in our school, is going to like it when the same chinese syllabus is taught in cantonese. It's just a strawman attack, a diversion. It defys common sense.


Your point:
...(same as above).. So, my pt is that we should neither study Cantonese/Hokkien nor Mandarin.

My ans:
This is again as strange as saying that since the English language has evolved to much, from one dialect to another, with grammar and spelling changing over the centuries, therefore, Brits should just give up on their native langauge and start learning German instead?!?!?


So which is your point? :)


I should also add 1 thing: It is not true that hokkien and mandarin's graamar and vocab is so diff that taking a zaobao article and reciting it in candonese/hokkien will result in confusion. Do you listen to the hokkien news on radio? They read directly from chinese script. Do you get to hear those hokkien people in China (Xiamen, Fuzhou) speak? The grammar are very much alike. That's the high-level hokkien I was talking abt in earlier comment. That's what the real educated hokkien speaker speaks. Sure, you are correct that someone (in singapore) would not understand the zaobao article. That's becuase we are speaking low-level hokkien, passed down by our uneducated peasant ancestors. You answered it yourself when you wrote: "has never received any Chinese education". Same for cantonese. while the hong kongers like to invent new words, that's slang/informal. On formal occasion, they can and do speak directly from Chinese script that doesnt have much diff from Mandarin grammar. Again, not so in singapore, 'cos our cantonese is also low-level type for the same reason as for Hokkien. But hey, again, what's the pt of telling us all these? Not as if you would suddenly switch from a Chinese (taught in mandarin)-hating student to become a Chinese (taught iin cantonese)-loving student. Would you? :)

Anonymous said...

simplesandra wrote: Pretty ironic than that it's suddenly become our "native" language for Singaporean Chinese and one that we ought to do well in. :-)

Nope. It did not suddenly become. It (in its various pronunciation) has always been the native language all these while for 50% (now) to 90% (40 yrs ago) of Chinese Singaporeans. And no, we ought NOT to do well in it for economic reason. We ought to do well in it for the same reason why Brit should do well in English, Germans should do well in German etc.

But yes, it did "suddenly" become the native language for those who learn languages only when they are "relevant" to their making money.

> In all honesty, this hype about the Chinese language started only after China became an economic hotspot.

You would be more accurate if you say: In all honesty, this hype abt the chinese lanuage is started by those "banana" who hated chinese previously only after China...

For those of us who has always regarded Chinese as our native language, there was never a hype. It has always been our mother tongue - the language we hear since the day we are born - and we learn it happpily hype or not. And we think everybody should learn it (even if they dislike it), just as every German....

Fox said...

. Do you listen to the hokkien news on radio? They read directly from chinese script. Do you get to hear those hokkien people in China (Xiamen, Fuzhou) speak? The grammar are very much alike. That's the high-level hokkien I was talking abt in earlier comment.

Yes. I did listen to Hokkien news on FM95.8 when I was in Singapore.

What they were speaking is strictly not Hokkien but modern Chinese pronounced in Hokkien. That is not how people speak Hokkien in their daily lives in Xiamen, Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, Taiwan, etc. Take the Mandarin phrase 'Fu Jian Ren'. Transliterated, NOT translated, into Hokkien, it is pronounced 'Hok Kien Jen' although every native Hokkien speaker will prefer the phrase 'Hok Kien Lang' to describe themselves.

It's the same situation in Hongkong. The news on TV is just modern Chinese read out in Cantonese. The spoken Cantonese they use in their daily lives is different. In linguistics, this is called a diaglossia which basically means that the written language is not the same as the spoken language.

Strangely, the last time I was in Fuzhou, I noticed that most people in Fuzhou don't speak Minnanhua (Hokkien).

If you have cable, watch the Taiwanese shows and compare spoken Taiwanese with the Chinese subtitles. They are obviously very different.

Obviously, you're ignoring the fact that people's command of any language is dependent on their linguistic environment.

My point:

Suppose someone is from a Teochew/English-speaking family. Learning Chinese is going to be difficult because there is minimal linguistic support from either Teochew or English because Teochew and English do not have very much in common.

It's no big deal that there are Chinese Singaporeans around who dislike learning Chinese. It's just like learning a foreign language and we know that not everyone can be bilingual.


As I told another anon, you should tell that to Germany, France, UK, Korea, in fact, any country in the world, who marginalise their students who cannot do well in their native language.


Did Germany marginalise Beethoven because he couldn't speak his 'native' Flemish (despite the fact that his grandfather was Flemish)?

Does France marginalise its Algerian minority because they cannot do well in Arabic?

Does UK marginalise the Prince of Wales for not being able to speak his 'native' Greek tongue despite his father being born a Prince of Greece in Greece?

With its former Mother Tongue policy, Singapore was marginalising people who could not speak/write their so-called mother tongues, never mind that the mother tongues were never used in business or government in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Mr wang,
you are absolutely correct that there is a time limit. But time limit to what? It is impt to be precise - most of these research are meant to ans one question: at what age can our brain no longer learn to speak and to listen to a foreign language up to the native speaker standard?

Two things:
1. "speak/listen": It does not refer to learning grammar rules or written script.

2. "native speaker": i.e. it is possible for adults and even old people to learn a language resonably well, except that (a) it will be more difficult and (b) they will never reach the native speaker standard (in speaking and listening).

Our chinese syllabus is not at a native language level. The title of the subject says it all: Chinese as a 2nd language. Furthermore, writing a composition and parasing it thru some memorised grammer rule and writing memorised script is not the same as learning to speak/listen.

Thus I do not think such scientific studies are applicable to singapore's case.

I think it has to do with how much time one spend on a language. Lots of people all over the world learn foreign languges as adult. Sure, they do not reach native speaker level in speaking/listening. But they are of decent standard - enough to pass our 2nd lang exam. We too, can go learn Japanese or French and pass it, if we are committed enough.

Furthermore, in Singapore, literally hundreds of thousands of kids who never hear a single english word till they enter pri 1, managed to pass English and GP at first lanauge level.

Why? I think that's becuase they force themselve to eat and sleep and live the language day in day out because they know their future depends on it. I do not think the same can be said of students trying to learn chinese. Going for tuition is not the same as living in the language. They dont live in the language, not to the extent the former do.

Unless, one is suggesting that such chinese-to-english kids are cleverer than the english-to-chinese kids? Or that chinese is inherently a more difficult lang than english? There are no basis for both - eg. while chinese scripts are more difficult to learn than ABC, the grammar (no past tense, no gender diff (dog/bitch, bull/cow etc) etc) is much easier compared to English.


btw, I think you too pessimistic abt age leh (you said "6 yr old"). Another camp of scientists seem to think that while 7 yrs old represent optimal cut off, the absolute cut-off is puberty -- somehow, the hormones that cause puberty will also change the brain and make it less plastic/adaptable to new languages.

Anonymous said...

Fox: Suppose someone is from a Teochew/English-speaking family. Learning Chinese is going to be difficult because there is minimal linguistic support from either Teochew

Your speculation doesnt tally with facts. Fact: dialect-speaking Singapore student do not have problem passing Chinese in School (though of course they may find it more difficult compared to a Mandarin-speaking student). The problem is with English-speaking students.

Source of fact: just go thru our dept of stats census, or talk to enough heart-landers and ask them how their kids are doing in chinese in school? (also make sure to ask how they are doing in english)


>Did Germany marginalise Beethoven because he couldn't speak his 'native' Flemish (despite the fact that his grandfather was Flemish)?

In Germany, German is the native language of most people. There is nothing wrong with the german MOE "marginalising" Beethoven if he cannot speak german. And they do, do that - students are expected to pass German. I dont know why you talk about Flemish.

Similarly, in Singapore, the chinese lanauge is the native language of most Chinese. There is nothing wrong with singapore's MOE expecting students to pass Chinese, just as Germany...


>Does UK marginalise the Prince of Wales for not being able to speak his 'native' Greek tongue despite his father being born a Prince of Greece in Greece?

No, UK does not, because in UK, English is the native language of most people.

Does Singapore penalise you for not being to speak your "native" manchurian tongue, despite your father being born in manchu? No, Singapore does not, because in Singapore, Chinese i the native language of most Chinese Singaporean.

Get the logic? :)

Fox said...


Unless, one is suggesting that such chinese-to-english kids are cleverer than the english-to-chinese kids? Or that chinese is inherently a more difficult lang than english? There are no basis for both - eg. while chinese scripts are more difficult to learn than ABC, the grammar (no past tense, no gender diff (dog/bitch, bull/cow etc) etc) is much easier compared to English.


It is easier for the chinese-to-english kids because all subjects are taught in English and the linguistic environment is predominantly English. Obviously, it is easier to pick up English than Chinese in Singapore if you know neither languages.

If you cannot see how that is the case, go ask people who studied in Chinese schools in the 60s and 70s how well they did for English. English was taught in the Chinese schools but getting a mere pass grade for English back then was already considered an achievement, accoding to my father who went to Chinese High.

Anonymous said...

fox: it's no big deal that there are Chinese Singaporeans around who dislike learning Chinese.

I read abt those English monolingual Singaporean writing to straits times complaining and complaining non-stop year after year about the "atrocious" and "delporable" standard of English among our youngs. Why?

It is human nature that we are concern abt the standard of our language in our society. It affects whether we have quality play and drama to watch, whether there will be a market for books written in our lanauge, the standard of tv programme produced in our language, newscaster's standard etc.

i think it is a big deal, except that my language of concern is diff from those of the vocal minority hogging the Straits Times forum page :)

Fox said...

In Germany, German is the native language of most people. There is nothing wrong with the german MOE "marginalising" Beethoven if he cannot speak german. And they do, do that - students are expected to pass German. I dont know why you talk about Flemish.

Beethoven's grandfather is Flemish.

According to your logic, he is expected to know Flemish. If the German MOE had applied that logic, his education would have been stopped at high school because he cannot speak/write a word of Flemish, never mind that Flemish is not used in Germany.


Does Singapore penalise you for not being to speak your "native" manchurian tongue, despite your father being born in manchu? No, Singapore does not, because in Singapore, Chinese i the native language of most Chinese Singaporean.


Why should Chinese Singaporeans be penalized for not being able to speak/write Chinese if Manchurian Singaporeans cannot speak/write Manchurians?

Anonymous said...

fox, but of course I can "see how that is the case". Wasnt it I - and not you - the one who wrote:

"they (the chinese-to-english kids) force themselve to eat and sleep and live the language day in day out because they know their future depends on it. I do not think the same can be said of students trying to learn chinese. Going for tuition is not the same as living in the language. They dont live in the language, not to the extent the former do."

Arent you regurgitating what i already pointed out? :)

Anonymous said...

fox: Beethoven's grandfather is Flemish. According to your logic, he is expected to know Flemish.

That't not my logic. I wrote two paragraph, you quoted only one and twisted it. For clarity, I reproduce the two paragraph here again:

In Germany, German is the native language of most people. There is nothing wrong with the german MOE "marginalising" Beethoven if he cannot speak german. And they do, do that - students are expected to pass German. I dont know why you talk about Flemish.

Similarly, in Singapore, the chinese lanauge is the native language of most Chinese. There is nothing wrong with singapore's MOE expecting students to pass Chinese, just as Germany...


Putting the 2 para together, you can see that my logic does not involve what you put in my mouth.

Anonymous said...

fox: Why should Chinese Singaporeans be penalized for not being able to speak/write Chinese if Manchurian Singaporeans cannot speak/write Manchurians?

To borrow your example, I ask you back: "Why should the Prince of Wales be penalized for not being able to speak/write English, if Greek Briton cannot speak/write Greek?"

If you can answer the above, you can answer your own question.

Fox said...

Ahhhh, allow me to rephrase

In Germany, German is the native language of most people. There is nothing wrong with the german MOE "marginalising" Beethoven if he cannot speak german. And they do, do that - students are expected to pass German. I dont know why you talk about Flemish.

Similarly, in Singapore, the chinese lanauge is the native language of most Chinese. There is nothing wrong with singapore's MOE expecting students to pass Chinese, just as Germany...


as

In Germany, German is the lingua franca, the language of education, business and government. There is nothing wrong with the german MOE "marginalising" Beethoven if he cannot speak German. And they do, do that - students are expected to pass German.

Similarly, in Singapore, the English language of Singaporeans is the lingua franca, the language of education, business and government, not Chinese. There is nothing wrong with singapore's MOE expecting students to pass English, just as Germany...

----------------------------------

Where does Chinese come into the picture? English is the lingua franca in Singapore, never Chinese. People are expected to speak and write German in Germany because it is the working language there, not because of some ethnic loyalty idea.

Anonymous said...

aiyoh all off topic liao ~ lol

Anonymous said...

Jimmy,
> We are all scarred by the insane system, but let's be glad the nightmare is over, and pledge not to let it happen to our children again, ever.

Can you pray tell us what exactly is this unique part abt our chinese learning system that is not found in our other subjects (eg. English) learning system that makes it "insane"?

I ask, 'cos I went through the system without finding it any more or less insane compared to English, Math, Physics. I would like to think that the insanity comes from the students themselves treating their native language as foreign langauge, rather than from the system itself. But I will reserve my judgement till you tell me more abt the uniquely "insane" part of our Chinese learning system.


Also, you wrote:
> Learning Chinese can use a lot more carrot and a lot less stick.

I would like to think that this should apply to English, Chemistry, Math.too But you singled out Chinese, as if there is something perculiar to it such that it requires a change in carrot/stick ratio whereas the other subjects need not.

i.e. can you tell us how the previous system applied too much stick to Chinese and only chinese, compared (and this is a key word: "compared") to English or Math, and so we must add more carrot to Chinese, but need not do so for other subjects?

Meng Chong said...

To all that are arguing about which is whose mother tongue.

From the looks of things, all of us SHOULD BE penalised for not being able to communicate clearly using animal sounds because a few thousand years ago our ancestors communicated in that fashion.

Piss fight and off topic. Please just agree to disagree and move on. Remember ultimately it is a choice. All choices come with a result/consequence. Be ready to deal with it.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Just to be clear, I think that English can be very difficult for some Singaporeans too.

For example, if they grew up in an environment where family members mostly spoke some other language/dialect, eg Cantonese or Teochew.

So yes, they would be similarly disadvantaged in English, as would be predominantly English-speaking Singaporeans are disadvantaged in Mandarin.

IMO, there is however a stronger basis for, say, insisting that a student pass GP, before he can enter a local university, than for insisting that he pass 2nd Language.

The reason is that undergrad courses in Singapore are taught in English. For example, if a student cannot pass GP, one may well take the view that he doesn't have sufficient proficiency in the English language, to study Law, or History, or Chemistry, or basically any discipline where he has to read a textbook written in English.

(If he wants to enter NUS to study Chinese Literature, then that's a different story).

One key difference between English & Mandarin is that if you're bad in English, no one accuses you of being a cultural traitor, of disrespecting your own heritage or being lazy or anything like that.

But if you're bad in Mandarin, instantly you will attract that kind of flak.

I think that's what really turns off a lot of people (I mean people who are victims of that kind of flak).

Anonymous said...

fox,
it is more than lingua franca. In Hong Kong, the lingua franca is English. But the hong kong MOE expects all its students to learn Chinese and penalises those that do not achieve a minimum standard in it. And that was the case even before the return to China in 1997. Why? Because it is the native language of most hong kongers, and that's what every country/region do, when it comes to native language.

Similarly, in Singapore, our lingua franca is English. But, our MOE should expect all its Chinese students to learn Chinese and penalise those that do not achieve minimum standard in it. Why? Becuase it is the native language of most Chinese Singaporean...


I said "should". Why? You read my comment at March 8, 2007 8:10 PM.

Mr. Wang's post, apart from psychology, is abt us not penalising citizens. We should have followed Hong Kong's example, and not penalised cohorts after cohorts of chinese-speaking student who failed English at 1st language and who cannot understand what their teachers are teaching in English. Such penalisation is the mother of all of our problem: structural unemployment due to lowly educated middle age worker. Hong Kong does not have such a problem.

In contrast, harping on how people have been penalised/traumatised by Chinese, is literally making mountain out of mole hole. Go read the statistics to get a perspective of which problem is larger

Anonymous said...

> if a student cannot pass GP, one may well take the view that he doesn't have sufficient proficiency in the English language, to study Law, or History, or Chemistry, or basically any discipline where he has to read a textbook written in English.

I disagree. From an educational pt of view, an O-level pass at C6, or a pass in TOEFL (Taking of English as a foreign language would suffice. That's the standard required for admission of foreign students to US and UK universities. France, Germany etc also does not demand foreigners to have a GP level of proficiency in French or German to study in their universities.

All these countries have over the years find that such a standard is sufficient for students to do well at their university - i.e. educational pt of view.

NUS applies such purely-educational-pt-of-view standard to its foreign applicants too. You are the one who wrote that NUS requires only O-level English for foreigners to be admitted, and you lamented that Singaporeans are being penalised compared to foreigners, remember?

I dont think it should take too much "intellection" :) to jump the hurdle to the next step to realise that:

Singapore's arbitarily high English requirments for university admission is politically motivated, and has nothing to do with educational needs. Politically motivated = to convert native language of people from chinese to english. To deprive young chinese-educated radicals from uni education in the 1970s, 80s etc.


> One key difference between English & Mandarin is that if you're bad in English, no one accuses you of being a cultural traitor, of disrespecting your own heritage or being lazy or anything like that.

If you are bad in English, you won't get past O-level in Singapore. You will be called lazy for not passing O-level science, geography, history (in fact every subject) when actually it is because you dont understand much of what your science teacher is mumbling abt in English. You will be labeled stupid and put into normal technical stream, when the truth is that you failed PSLE math and sci because the math/sci teacher is teaching in a language that is not your native language! You end up in ITE or may drop put of school even before O-level. Outside of schools, people laugh at you and call you ah beng, ah lian. No "high-class" girls will want to marry you - ask around, many girls cite the ability to speak good english and to articullate well in it as a turn-on, and broken ah beng type of english as a turn off.

My point? If you want to talk about sg govt having penalised and held back its most precious human resource, you are barking up the wrong tree if you make Chinese language the scapegoat!

Not that nobody has been penalised due to Chinese. Yes, there are. But, it's missing the big/real picture, when one focus on it.

Anonymous said...

Eh, bodoh. C6 -is- a pass lah. D7 is also a pass.

Lillight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lillight said...

We did the StrengthsFinder thing as an organisation and were made to submit our results for HR to process the stats. During the office retreat, HR presented a bar chart of the 34 themes, i.e. how many employees had each theme. The HR director then zoomed in on the theme possesed by the fewest number of employees. The objective being: how to raise the count for that particular theme.

It was useless trying to explain to her how this went completely against the whole point of finding strengths. She only got very offended at being questioned, and was obviously not getting it. I gave up. Spent the rest of the retreat reading the book in detail. Love the approach. Gave it to my husband to read and he is very effectively managing his team of engineers by their strengths. My company? Just another futile exercise. But I got to know my themes and I'm already seeing fruits from building up on them. :-)

boon said...

Lillight:

Funny anecdote but all too common.

This is what happens when companies focus too much on making money out of psychological tools.

Using poorly-trained HR staff to administer and interpret psychologist tests, instead of professional psychologists. I hope no one was scarred by their results.


As for the furore over language, I just feel we have too much angst over trying to live up to an incredibly high standard i.e. fluent bilingualism.

Just take it easy, and don't be too hard on ourselves. Life goes on, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

How does this work? I am Chinese and Singaporean - I may or may not speak Chinese fluently because my aprents speak only english/dialect/ come from anoterh country where they spoke a different language (Indonesia). I fail Chinese - I am not only less "elite" on my educational records, fail to make it pass the need for a bilingual population (as defined as my MT and English), worry about its effects on my higher education - now I am a cultural traitor/sheltered elitist too.

I think I will stick with the PAP and not with Mr. Anonymous. Compared to him, they gentle and understanding.

Anonymous said...

to Anon March 9, 2007 9:21 AM,

>>It matters. A Frenchman studies French, an Italian woman studies Italian, a Korean boy studies Korean, and so on. It matters to them because it's their language. It doesnt matter to you, because you gave up your own language, and now regard it as a foreign language.

I got give up on my own language meh? Fren, I gave up doing trying hard to do something which is hard to excel in and concentrate on my strengths. My mother tongue was never a foreign language. So presumptious. YOu ELite one issit? =P

>>>
The white Americans were English and came from Britain. USA gained independence from UK. Do you not know the history? English is their native language. It matters to them, and so they learn and use it. They did not give up on their native language, and they do penalise those who do not do well in it - English.

I do know American History. You're confusing lingua franca and native language la. What if Spanish was the lingua franca?(Hypothetical hor, just for kicks) Would the English not "give up" on their language like the other immigrants i wonder? YOu learn Singapore History or not? Singapore uses English because our colonial masters used English.. which is HEY! just like the Americans. Their colonial masters WERE the BRits too right?

>>>
Here, your "they" refers to the new immigrants from Spain, Ireland, Italy. When they emigrate to USA, they have no choice but to give up their own language and culture to accomodate the ruling class (from Britain) who get to keep its native language. That's a shame. But you seem to find it a good example to justify a Chinese singaporean voluntarily losing his native language in his own country, even without emigrating. I don't know where your logic lies.

Yes its a shame. Hmm Is Singapore China? A Chinese Singaporean did immigrate from China long time ago leh. What do you mean by "without emigrating"? =)
Anyway, the Irish, Spanish, and the rest do keep their culture. Still having St Pats day, etc. They don't get penalised for not learning and doing well in their mother tongue when English is the lingua franca. Unlike here. My LOGIC isnt about losing your language, it is about the part where you get penalised la. My logic's fine thanks =)

>>>
So it is bad and embarrasing and a shame to have people "look at you funny" -- your USA eg showed clearly that native language matters and where possible, people keep their native language (i.e. the ruling class from Britain). It is only when they cannot help it that they gave it up (i.e. the later immigrants from Italy, spain etc). They "cannot help it" because they are emigrating to another country. We are in our own country and we give up on our own native language. That's incomprehensible to people around the world, who feel that the ability to speak native language does matters. And that's why these people "look at you funny".

A lot of points here. Much oft repeated. Anyway, Does people look at you funny would in any way affect your life? If I were succesful in what I do because I do well in what I can excel in, it wouldn't matter what people say or how they look at me. You keep saying that it matters, but why? What's the reason other than sentimental? Some tradition? Its who we are? We are Singaporean. Being Singaporean doesn't mean you HAVE to speak Chinese. Singaporeans aren't all Chinese. Some Chinese are Singaporeans.

>>> Got period meh?

I can always give you a full-stop if you prefer :)

Hahah.. Sarcasm leh; too bad for ya.

>>>
> People can master a few things at one time; it doesn't have to be their mother tongue you know.

Go tell that to the French, German, Korean, and yes, the white americans who were originally from Britain. If they agree with you, they wont have "look at you funny". To repeat: it matters :)

I wonder, is Einstein a master of his native German/Jewish? How does it matter?

Emigrate to Germany, tell the Germans "dun force me" to study German in school. See whether they say "can" or not? Tell that to koreans, French, Americans too. Ask them "still must study ar?". See how they reply you. The fact is clear: you regard chinese as a foreign language, and not your native language. And that's a shame.

hehehe you keep getting confused with lingua franca and native tongue.

The fact is NOT VERY CLEAR. I regard Chinese as a foreign language, and not my native language. However its not a shame: I am MALAY.

Anyway, I used singlish on purpose; doesn't mean I can't write good English. Oh, how funny.

> Please hor, The world has many examples for you to see lor.

Indeed it does have many examples. And every example show that the ability to speak one's native language matters. I have named German, French, Korean, and used your America examples. What more do you need? :)

I need you to understand lingua franca and native language. I need you to cite examples where the lingua franca and native language are different. I need you to understand Singapore isn't part of China. I need you to understand that other races exist.

See how lor.

Gorblock.
(thats me; call me by that nick. Not another Anon, confusing leh..)

PS: Anon ar, you gahmen P.R. ar?

kitsura said...

I'm studying Japanese now and am reasonably good at it. Managed to pass JLPT3 at around 80+%. Currently studying for JLPT2 and intend to only stop when I've completely mastered the language.

Can't say the same for my Mandarin though. I hated it all throughout my secondary school years and only managed a C6 for O'levels.

I suppose the love of a language or the culture related to it helps in its learning.

I see MOE now introducing all the other more obscure Asian languages. I wonder how many people will end up truly proficient and what economic purpose it will serve.

Fox said...

fox,
it is more than lingua franca. In Hong Kong, the lingua franca is English. But the hong kong MOE expects all its students to learn Chinese and penalises those that do not achieve a minimum standard in it. And that was the case even before the return to China in 1997. Why? Because it is the native language of most hong kongers, and that's what every country/region do, when it comes to native language.


What rubbish. The lingua franca in Hong Kong is cantonese. English was the language of government, law and commerce but the language people used in their daily lives was and still is Cantonese.

Mandarin is a recent 20th-century introduction to Singapore. At no time was it the language that most people used in their daily lives. Most people used either Malay or Hokkien.

But, our MOE should expect all its Chinese students to learn Chinese and penalise those that do not achieve minimum standard in it. Why? Becuase it is the native language of most Chinese Singaporean...

No, it is not strictly true. Around 45 percent of Primary One kids of Chinese descent speak English at home. The other 50 percent speak Mandarin with roughly 5 percent speaking dialect.

To say that English-speaking Chinese Singaporeans are only a small minority is a gross mischaracterization.

We should have followed Hong Kong's example, and not penalised cohorts after cohorts of chinese-speaking student who failed English at 1st language and who cannot understand what their teachers are teaching in English. Such penalisation is the mother of all of our problem: structural unemployment due to lowly educated middle age worker. Hong Kong does not have such a problem.

For goodness' sake, Hong Kong did have a problem of structural employment in the 80s. The problem is not so apparent now because they made the switch to a service economy from a manufacturing economy earlier than Singapore did.

Furthermore, failing English in the HKALE also prevented and still prevents you from attending university in HK.

Please lah, have the habit of checking your facts so that I won't have to keep correcting them.

Like assuming that Beethoven was a 'native' German.

Or that you can fail English at HKALE and still go to University in HK.

geriatric_eunuch-ation said...

Anon, Anon, what is it that truly has your knickers in such a bunch? Is it really the issue of language or is there something rather deeper that causes you such anguish? Reading your ever more hysterical reactions to perfectly polite, reasoned, non-confrontational posts, I get the distinct impression that the issue for you has far more to do with shame, loss of face, ethnicity and jingoism; this Chinese-English discourse is but a convenient stalking-horse. Doubtless you'll trot out that tired old strawman argument yet again. Give it a rest. Spice it up with a dash of ad hominem instead. Anyway, let's accommodate this particular demon.

To answer your questions "straight in the face" (sic):

1. Did you love Chinese language when you were in school?
-Nope. Why would I? Mandarin wasn't my mother tongue and was/still is alien, in the same way that English would have been agonisingly difficult for a child from a purely Chinese-oriented home to get its head around. The only facet I liked about it was that in my day we wrote from top to bottom, right to left, which meant that for an incorrigible left-hander, my usually horribly smudged work-books became pleasurably pristine. Not too flippant an answer for you I hope.

Did you do well in it?
- Yup. Eventually. And all through the endlessly patient efforts of a dear old crotchetty lady tutor of sainted memory. Doesn't mean I enjoyed the tedious rote-learning, memorising and stroke-play though - some of us just aren't built that way. Thank goodness the old harsh diktat of six-of-the-best, no-pain-no-gain, and ritual mockery of the hapless, has been shown to be counter-productive in some enlightened countries at least.

2. If no, would you have love it and/or do well in it, if the SAME syllabus (SAME book, SAME composition, SAME writing, SAME reading SAME everything) is now taught pronounced in Cantonese, instead of in Mandarin?
- Kinduva daft, no-brainer sort of question isn't it? Why would I really, really, hate lessons conducted in a language with which I was half-way at ease? Sheer bloodymindedness, perhaps?

Ans that honestly.
- And why would you presume a less than honest answer?

Of course it isnt a mandarin vs dialect thing. i am glad you realise it: it is a CHINESE (never mind how it is pronounced) vs ENGLISH thing - i.e. which is our native language? which is a penalty?
- Huh? It isn't a Mandarin vs dialect diatribe so it logically follows that it must be a Chinese vs English thing? Oh well, so be it.

If you could tear yourself away from rigidly saluting your chauvinistic flag for a moment, you might find it instructive to pay a modicum of attention to Fox's cogently constructive arguments per lingua franca and Mr. Wang's point about brain hardwiring with advancing age. Irrespective of the precise tipping point, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of folk WILL, pretty darn quickly, come up against a linguistic brick wall. To ignore this is an exercise in futility. Wittering on and on about "in-depth knowledge", "marginalising less adept students", "native speaker standards", "the problem is with English-speaking students" and so forth is, not to put too fine a point upon it, simply facile. Mandarin has been emphasised relentlessly since the 70's and, despite the focus, despite all the educational sticks and carrots, despite all the resources flung at it, has failed to make good its opportunity. How much more time do you need? You cannot possibly claim it has been disadvantaged or hobbled relative to the other official languages. Now, you may point the finger at whoever you choose to blame for this but one incontrovertible fact is crystal clear, it lost the beauty contest in spite of being given every chance to succeed, and the people have ostensibly made their choice. Tough that the ungrateful peasants didn't make the decisions YOU wanted but remember, you might drag a horse to water - but can you then make it drink? If I remind you that the phrase lingua franca means "A common language used by speakers of different languages" and that you do live in a multi-racial nation, and that western popular culture is presently the 500-pound gorilla in the room, then perhaps you'll see why English has hit the front.

Whatever your personal views are of "the banana" (your phrase, I prefer 'dinosaur': unreconstructed relic, nasty bite, and all that), the fact remains that he made a massive effort to learn Mandarin when well into adulthood and succeeded, though perhaps not by your nit-pickingly stringent criteria. His error was decreeing that if HE could manage it then every other Chinese Singaporean bloody-well ought to be able to as well - or else. I recall an even earlier similar scenario with Malay as THE national language, and heaven help your career prospects should you fail to measure up. Cue poor middle-aged school-teachers scrambling to attend evening classes in addition to all their other work and family commitments. All water under the bridge, and now it's the turn of English to become flavour of the year. SimpleSandra's point about hype is quite apt: if the economic status quo swings in favour of India over China, how long d'you suppose it would be before Tamil dons the mantle of blushing bride, eh? In other words, sir, the game has moved on and you are still tilting at windmills. Or if the penny hasn't yet dropped, save your ammunition because E N G L I S H__I S__I T. For now.

Fox said...

I should add that to see Hokkien or Cantonese as another form of 'verbalization' of Chinese is wrong wrong wrong. Think of it this way: every character in the Han script has a corresponding Japanese/Vietnamese/Korean pronunciation and you read aloud the news on 95.8 in Japanese/Vietnamese/Korean but Japanese/Vietnamese/Korean itself is distinct from Mandarin.

Modern South Chinese languages (like Hakka, Hokkien and Cantonese) are different from Mandarin and modern Chinese (which itself is based on Mandarin). They are not derivatives of Mandarin but cousins of Mandarin and one another, having evolved separately from Middle Chinese of the Sui and Tang dynasties. They have significantly different grammars and lexis.

Anonymous said...

This naturely(natural)politically interpretation is not meant to offense anybody. The mother tongue of any species is the natural language a species is born with. The written form of languages is an invention of the humankind> All other species only have natural vocalisation for communications> The worded language is for record of history< memory and knowledge as a whole> Memory of course is also done mentally and most animals seem capable of it> So to be true to nature and fidel to nature< one has to be true to his natural language which in human means the dialect rather than the written language

Anonymous said...

Just to add to the above post that human is the only being capable of artificial contraption though I very much like to believe the ability to conceptualise it is part of Human Nature. It is also the only species that attires itself for protection and aesthetics. About language again, there are some aboriginal tribes in many countries now that are without their own indigenous written languages. Most have assimilate the cultures of the main (majority)and advanced society

Mr Darren said...

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