Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Struggle With Mother Tongue

Mother tongue. Mandarin, to be precise. Have you had any trouble with the language? I did, back in school and now, the occasional conversation I have with foreign talents and school teachers - not so much with the general Singaporeans.

I was born in a speaking English family, during the early 70's. Not a word of mandarin was spoken until I was exposed to the language in kindergarten.  My 2 older brothers took 'Bahasa Melayu' as their second language right from the start. As for me, the option to switch the second language subject was given to me when I was in primary 2. However, as soon as I was given the opportunity to try at the Malay language, I backed out. Somehow, I was just afraid I would be worst off. Furthermore at 8 years of age, I was thinking how cool it would be when I would be the only one in the family that knew the chinese language and my family will not know when I am sharing a secret over the phone!

And so my struggle with the language was apparent ever since. The only time I got to use the spoken language was when I was playing with my neighbors and thanks to them, I picked up the conversation part fast. 99% of the time, my test scores hovered between D and F. Which was really bad. Thankfully, though my dad was a teacher himself, he had never once pushed me to master the language or had high expectations of me. But I can also see why. He knew I was not a slacker when it came to school work. He knew I worked hard and gave my utmost best. He knew I was a responsible student. I had no stress, so to speak. I only wish I possess this positive trait of him so that I can also exercise the same with my children now.

Mandarin has gotten difficult to master, in my opinion. There's more emphasis on oral to see if you can express your thoughts with more "flowery" words these days. The things my children learn in school is a far cry from what I learned. Though I help them in the language department at home, many a times, I find myself fumbling with the words they don't understand and in the end, we find them out together. And I learn new words.

A sample of what Brandon is learning in secondary one. Now seriously, if there wasn't any interpretation in English here, I wouldn't even know half of them nor have heard any of my friends using them in our conversations!
Brandon did pretty okay with mandarin in primary school. He had gotten his share of A's', B's', C's', D's' and F's' as he climbed the levels. Like Megan, Brandon has had enrichment in the language since primary 1. As one who struggled with mandarin, I identified the need to reinforce on this subject for the both of them since we too, speak English at home, 80% of the time. Both of them dislike doing their chinese homework but there is truly little we can do but to force encourage them to stay focus as much as possible because we all know, how a mother tongue subject can make or break you, if you are taking the path to junior college.

Do you know primary school kids with learning disabilities, like dyslexia, can apply to be exempted from exams on this language? This one, I am totally supportive and agree that another language will impede their learning. Children who have been away from Singapore for an extended period of time and rejoining the local school's system, can also be exempted from the subject on the basis that they were not exposed to the language. So, even though these kids will take 3 subjects instead of 4 during PSLE, their aggregate will be adjusted accordingly to be on par with those who take 4 subjects so that they don't lose out.

First thought : unfairness. That's because I know MANY children in Singapore are struggling with their chinese language, yet, they are penalized if they score low on the subject. If they barely pass or fail their paper in PSLE, their T-scores will be grossly affected.  Yet, those who can be exempted on terms other than having disabilities, are able to obtain even higher aggregates with 3 subjects, versus a child that takes 4 subjects and fail one. I do know of some who managed to be exempted after spending a lot of money to take a series of tests by psychologists, be identified as being 'slow learners' in the language thus disadvantaged if they take a 2nd language.

Though Brandon's PSLE is over, next year will be Megan's turn. This is the only subject that I see my children struggling with which they are encouraged to embrace. How then, can we instill the love for this language to our children if all they see is a stumbling block in their academic pursuits? If only the weightage of the second language is not as high as the other subjects, perhaps it would lessen the burden for those who struggle.

As I type this post, there is a tinge of heaviness in my heart to see Brandon having a harder time with his mother tongue at secondary school. His teacher will be recommending that he goes to a 'CLB' syllabus from next year onwards. If we accept this change, it would affect his entry to a junior college (JC) if he decides to take that route. Because it is not a standard chinese paper, it won't be considered as part of his total aggregate though it is still a criteria to pass the chinese paper to apply for a place in JC. According to his teacher, it will not be difficult to obtain a pass in CLB syllabus. The only disadvantage is that the ultimate scores will have to come from the rest of the subjects. In other words, he will need to score A's'.  If we decide against taking this recommended syllabus, he may not pass and will hate the subject even more. As much as I wish he can pursue the standard paper, I think the right thing to do is go with the flow and pray that he will be led to where he needs to go.

This matter has taken a toll in our relationship of late. The expectations. Losing patience. The raging teenage hormones...put them altogether and you get a volcano just waiting to erupt at 10 on a richter scale. But we will all stay positive during trying times. Life is about crossing hurdles. Whatever the outcome may be, I will keep the faith that it will all turn out well and for the better. More importantly, I just want my babies to be happy!

 
Till the next post, have a blessed week!

Linking up with :

 SANses.com's Talkative Thursdays

15 comments:

  1. I have my fair share of struggle with mother tongue too. I was given a choice to choose between Malay & Chinese language when I was transferred from JB's convent school to Singapore for studies. I nearly hated my mum for forcing me to take up chinese in the beginning coz I was always punished by my teacher for poor writing and lack of interest. Luckily under a guidance from a very good Chinese school teacher in Primary 3, my Chinese excelled and I never look back since :)

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    1. I guess, it also boils down to meeting the right teacher. A pity, my children have not found "the one" that can motivate them on the language! :p

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  2. eh i thought 青葱 means spring onions? I translate the word in google n it says scallion. I searched the online dictionary and got this;

    ver·dant
    [vur-dnt]
    adjective
    1. green with vegetation; covered with growing plants or grass: a verdant oasis.
    2. of the color green: a verdant lawn.
    3. inexperienced; unsophisticated: verdant college freshmen.

    I did a google translate for scallion and it shows 葱, ahhh~~~ so no need to put the word 青.

    Anyway, we are Chinese speaking family, but of course uses English more often and we are struggling with DinoBoy's Chinese too! Headache lah! I decided to close 1 eye for the rest of the year.

    PS : Ya you talkative I also talkative in your comments section lor :D

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    1. Aiyo see. You got confused there. What more, my kids and I? My kids used to scored As for chinese in P1 & 2. Then the grades started to fall. Thanks for being so talkative to me today! :p

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  3. Oh dear, do stay positive and don't let it affect your relationship, ok? For my case, it's the opposite, I'm born into a Mandarin speaking family, I love the language since young and so it's not a surprise it's one of my best subjects and I decided to take a minor in Chinese in Uni as well as become a part time Mandarin teacher. So now, Angel's Mandarin is so much better than her ang moh until the teachers complain to me that I must brush up her ang moh. Haha. =) PSLE, I dread to think that day it will come, again, in my life, but worse, it's now for the kids! Jia you, Ade and I'm sure you all can overcome all hurdles!

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    1. hehe... yes Summer. I'm not a perfect mum but I try my best to keep calm. :) Ahhh... like the proverb in chinese, there are always issues in every home... right?

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  4. I am similar to Summer. Born in Mandarin-speaking family, spoke and love the language all my life. In fact, I had a culture shock when I got into Tangong Katong Girls' School and almost everyone only spoke English. =.= My girls are good at speaking the language because we speak alot of that at home, but I've realised whether your foundation in Mandarin is good or not good, the kid will still struggle a little in school because it is simply a very difficult language to master especially the writing part. I will remember to keep calm when my challenges start. =P You jia you, Adeline!!

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    1. I think, if its easier to pick up, English would be it. Maybe I am bias. haha! But I agree, to remember the chinese characters is a difficult task. Best to remember them with a photographic memory but not all of us can do that if we don't start it off at the right note with the language itself. IF you time comes, I'm all ears. :)

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  5. Sheesh Ade, I'm not very good at Mandarin either so I'm very afraid of how it will be with the girls go into the formal education stream. Wow at B's fluctuating exam scores!

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    1. Yaaa... but eventually, Brandon got a B in his PSLE haha! What a far cry! It is very nerve wrecking to imagine what he could have scored after his exams... phew! And maybe it's about time you can start exposing them to the language. At this age, they absorb like sponge!

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  6. Sigh - this is my worry too, and "worsened" now that we are in Syd, Jay's level of chinese has dropped! Yikes...

    Praying for the wisdom of God to be with you guys - jia you!

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    1. Thank you Sandra! I think, you should get some chinese DVDs to let the kids watch them. Just so that there is mandarin and not ang moh all the time. :p

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  7. Just caught up on this post and thanks for sharing your experience. I do hope that I'm stronger in the language myself. I only scored a B for my Os and my Chinese teacher actually told me that it's a good score and not to resit for it again. Now we try to make a conscious effort to teach Sophie Chinese and hope that she will enjoy the process as well.

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  8. Hi, my daughter is struggling with Mandarin too so I when I was looking for other parents in the same predicament, I came across your article. Thank you for sharing, it's very insightful.

    Did your daughter manage to overcome the difficulties of Mandarin when she did her PSLE?

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    1. Hi there! I'm glad that you can relate to my article! It's always normal for parents to worry about their subjects and exams. My daughter has always been better at the language than my son - I think it's the boy vs girl thing - boys are usually better with the technical/maths stuff. Eventually, my daughter scored an A for her PSLE. At the end of it all, whether or not the PSLE papers are difficult, MOE will adjust the marks accordingly, which is the T-score system. Hang in there, if you are also facing a similar issue as I was. Am sure all will be well when the time comes for your child.

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