Sunday, February 26, 2006

Going 'Banana'

I'm probably threading on thin ice here, so I can only hope that readers will take this discussion in the most open manner. Where disagreements persist, and I'm certain they would for some, lets politely agree to disagree. :)

I believe that a substantial number of readers of this blog are Chinese readers, and they have expressed their strong opinions (sometimes politely, others offensively) with regards to the importance of learning Chinese to preserve one's racial and cultural identity. The comments have included here:
It is indeed shameful when you bare a Chinese surname but do not know any Chinese.
And here:
I totally agreed with the argument that every chinese must at least have six years of chinese education. Personally I do not agree to send my kids to international school at the primary level just because want to master in English, as you still can learn english even you are stufy in the local school. Remember, do not be proud if you are fluent in English and it is really shameful if you know nothing in Chinese ('banana' man).
Hence when Anita Anandarajah-Lee wrote in the New Straits Times on the 21st February about "Losing Our Tongues", I thought it relevant to pen down some of my personal thought about the issue. By the way, February 21st is the International Mother Language Day as observed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. It is celebrated to promote the recognition and practice of the mother languages of the world, especially those of minorities.

I remember when I was 15, I actually laughed at a friend, a fellow Asean scholar for not being able to even write his Chinese name properly. And I believe I was as patronising as some of the quotes above, that a "banana" (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) man is to be looked down upon.

Looking back, I clearly regretted the incident and I'm proud of the fact that I no longer have such bigoted opinions. While I do not yet think that we are living in a world without borders, I do think that framing the context of our society and community purely in terms of race and language (and religion) is a decidedly reactionary view of us as a nation. I strongly believe that these same views contribute significantly towards preserving the way politics is shaped in our country, whereby parties and government positions are distributed by "race" factors.

Make no mistake, I do believe that my kid should pick up the Chinese language and be as proficient in it as she possibly can. However, that doesn't mean that she must attend a Chinese primary school. Neither does it mean that other Chinese children who do not pick up a Chinese education is any less Chinese, or worse, any less "human". In fact, the yardstick in which I would judge a person as a "worthy" Chinese is purely in his character and deeds. If a person is generous, kind and contributes immensely to the society in a just and equitable manner, then he or she will be a model Chinese, and not his or her proficiency in Chinese.

Parties who are particularly militant with regards to preserving the language and culture also fails to take into consideration that culture evolves over time constantly infused by new practices as a result of globalisation and changing trends. One only have to pay a visit to different parts of China to realise how "different" these Chinese are from one another and from us in terms of cultural practices or even languge norms. I, for one, am a believer of "culture" being what we want to make of it, rather than what should be shoved down our throats. I am certain we can all cite a fair few "Chinese" practices, cultural or otherwise, which we are more than happy to see dumped to pages of forgotten practices.

For Malaysian Chinese, we just so happened to have been "migrated" from China in large numbers to be able to "preserve" a larger portion of our cultural and language practices. How about those Chinese whose ancestors migrated to further a far where a Chinese education is non-existent - Europe, South Africa, America etc.? Are they then not Chinese?

There are clearly those who believe one should receive no less than a 100% Chinese-based education for six years (actually, why not the full 12 years or more?) and there are of course those who are not as rigid in terms of Chinese requirements and there are obviously those who think that there is no such need at all. My personal opinion obviously lies in the centre but that is not to say that there is a clear cut right and wrong answer to the above question. What's probably more important is the availability of Chinese language education to Malaysians.

To quote Anita:
It is vital that the learning of another language is not seen to threaten our national language. Preserving the multitude of cultures would create security amongst the races who know that theirs is a caring government.
To put it simply, the quality of education (and that's not just purely academic) which my child will receive will definitely be more important than if the education is purely in Chinese. See also my post on "The English Language Debate Continues (II)".

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is something which we must get over with.

I find it distasteful for one to ridicule another for not knowing chinese. It's just childish to do so.

If you can use the language, good for you. You don't need to go around as if you are in a crusade forcing the language on to any chinese you meet.

There are many jews in the world who can't speak hebrew, and yet they are still regarded as a jew, someone who has the right to return to Israel just like that.

dbslht said...

The person who wrote the second comment has an inferiority complex and is obviously very BAD in English (look at his grammar). Maybe that is why he is going the other way and propogating Chinese at full throttle-to cover up his weaknesses.

Oh btw...having gone to high school in Hong Kong, I am fluent in Chinese (mandarin, cantonese, written and spoken) so don't that person who wrote that try to play the Chinese card with me. And I think my English is not too bad either.

Anonymous said...

Speaking/reading the chineses language doesn't mean one knows the Chinese culture anymore than one who can speak/read English language who knows the English culture.

-- Old Man

Anonymous said...

What in the name of the Queen's fiddlesticks!!!

English culture? Since when?

Anonymous said...

I would say that mother tongue is important as it define our identity. Even if we dont know our own dialect, ie Hokkien, Cantonese, etc, at least we can communicate in Mandarin, as a common language among the Chinese.

Firstly, if you think that learning more languages has no harm at all, so why dont you master your own language in the first place?

Secondly, why would someone give up his/her own mother tongue and learn others instead? Does that gives you the sense of being "superior"? It's a pity if you dont know your own, whereas others are learning yours!

However, i do agree with Tony that it is not whether when you learn mother tongue. It is whether you want to learn or not! For instance, I studied in an English environment since kindergarten, and yet i can communicate fluently in Chinese because i want to!

So, to all banana man out there. Give a reason why you cant speak your own tongue.

Anonymous said...

Not all jews speak hebrew either....

Anonymous said...

It's the economics, stupid!

SoNaR said...

On the other hand, isn't it common to hear these bananas who look down on those who speak chinese?

These bananas walk around thinking they are superior because they speak english.

They don't mix with those who speak chinese and look down upon them as speaking mandarin is low class.

Anonymous said...

Let's put it that..

A language opens a new world view to the learner..

and it is by going into the foreign language that we can understand what make them tick!

For instance, despite years of "Look East Policy" being implemented, I think we will never catch up or on par with them.

Learn their language, spend some time in their land, and you will know why?

Words like "accoutable", "detailed planning", "scheduling", "being responsbile" have never been the backbone or conerstone of our language.

But to them, these are the very fabric their society or people-to-people interaction is founded..

They have their of share of problems, but in aggregate, as a society, they are a force that keep on pogressing, adapting foregin know-out with fast manner, together with built-in check and balances, and meritocracy that ensures resource allocation is given to the most qualified students to their institutions,
Equality and transparent..

Personally, I feel the time to debate whether to learn vernacular languages is long over..

today, it is the time whether one must possess more than that...

the more languages one is equipped,
the more quality of life one can enjoy..

Mark my words!


Msian taxpayer

Anonymous said...

Can we ignore a language that is spoken by one-fifth of the global population ?

If this language is accessible to you (you can learn it with almost negligible cost)

If this language would open up to you possible windows to other cultures like Japanese and Korean?

Think about it?
From economics point of views..

Can we ignore it ? Mmmm..

Anak Merdeka said...

The choice of which school we go to during the first 6 yrs are really not our choices at all but rather that of our parents.

So, if we ended up being a banana (as I am), it is really not our fault but I am also not about to blame my parents for making that shortsighted decision (my opinion). They made that choice based on the economic realities of that era.

Similarly today, a lot of parents are enrolling their kids in vernacular schools probably also due to economics and the reality of a borderless world with China and its huge untapped market casting its shadow over us.

It sure isn't due to the tons of homework these schools dish out to the kids, the long hours of compulsory tuition and the "botak" haircut for boys and no long hair rule for girls which is really archaic mentality of those Chinese school custodians.

I believe if we really want to learn something, it is not difficult. I don't know how to read & write in Chinese because I am not motivated enough to put in the effort to learn BUT I have no problem speaking the language because I managed to pick it up by interacting with people who speak the language all the time. And that to me is a proud achievement and important to my identity as a person of Chinese origins.

To me, Chinese-medium schools are indispensable if you wish to really grasp the language because you need to immerse in it fully for a number of years in order to make it work for you. This necessitate long hours reading and writing plus communicating in it on a daily basis.

National schools have tried to incorporate the learning of vernacular languages into its syllabus but unfortunately it has failed miserably. The reason is pretty obvious.

I was a product of the POL classes and I know that it cannot work. None of my classmates in the national school I went to who participated in the POL lessons came away with any useful knowledge of mandarin at the end of our 6 years there.

With the current prevailing attitudes of national school administrators, I cannot imagine a solution to the problem of making it attractive to parents who seek the best of both worlds for their kids.

nUtZ` said...

I am typing this as a semi banana. I can speak cantonese and hokkien but i can never write in chinese. I understand mandarin but i can't speak fluently.

From my point of veiw. I never had any use of Mandarin in my life. My line of work do not require me to speak a line of Mandarin. However I am picking up Spanish because 50% of my company's business revolves around South America.

So should i equipt myself with Mandarin? Probably so. I don't really have the time to take up Mandarin. I do agree that ignoring 1/5 of the world population is pretty stupid. However do not forget that indians constitute another 1/5 and thanks to the British, English is the language for international trade.

[sarcasm]
So what am I going to do? I think i should take up Tamil because 1/5 of the world population are indian and hey they are becoming leaders in IT.
[/sarcasm]

Cultural superiority is plain stupid. Get along with the times and equip yourself with nessesary tools to get ahead in this world. Language is nothing more than a tool.

So am I less chinese because I don't speak the mother tongue?

Anonymous said...

Dear nutz,

In case you havent realise, Tamil isnt the primary dialect in India anyway.

nUtZ` said...

so? Same with Mandarin. There's so many dailects too. It is so happen Mandarin is the offical language of China..

Anonymous said...

To Cik Amoi and nutz,

I share your comment very much..
we cant unplug what has been done..
No offence. We can always seek jobs that do not require the commands of that language.

But end of day, we pick new language where it is needed -- in work place, to make us more functional.

Just like a stem cell needs to adapt itself to different function
depend where it is placed in the body!

But the question here is, if we do have a chance to design a stem cell..

why dont we give this stem cell a headstart by giving it additional platform like the ability to interface in vernacular language.

Just my 2sen..

Msian taxpayer

Anonymous said...

im chinese and i cant speak any chinese - mandarin, hokkien, etc.

so?

Anonymous said...

so?? very funny!

Just be yourself ! Since you are so unique in all sense of the words!

Anak Merdeka said...

To anonymous who is Chinese but can't speak any chinese - mandarin, hokkien, etc and asking ... so?

That is really not the issue, you not being able to speak any Chinese at all. But is this stopping you from interacting with people who prefer to converse in Chinese or for that matter, in "broken English or broken Malay"?

Has this anything to do with the general perception of the "ugly" Chinese habits displayed in public that embarrasses us? We all know what those are.

Still ...

The unwillingness to embrace people who are different from you using the language barrier as an excuse is no excuse at all. There is actually some truth in the observation that some (not all) Chinese who speak good English and nothing else view themselves as a class above the rest who can't string a proper sentence in English to save their lives.

In fact, a Chinese who speaks no Chinese and do not see the need to learn or at least try to have a basic understanding of the language for the sake of understanding their own community better is, to my mind, merely displaying his arrogance and disdain for his race.

This is not a blanket description of all the "bananas" out there, so please refrain from "hantam"ing me on this view.

All I am saying is, if you don't wish to learn anything about the language or culture of your own race, at least try not to look down on those who are proud of it.

Anonymous said...

i once worked in a pharmacy at damansara as a general worker while waiting for my high school results. during the chinese new year, s'poreans flock back to good old m'sia to visit relatives etc, and also to stock up cheap m'sian drugs. one s'porean couple, bringing their 6 year old daughter, approached my pharmacist to have their prescription filled. they spoke perfect english to the pharmacist, but spoke mandarin among themselves, including to their daughter. then, my pharmacist, being chinese and wanted to be friendly, spoke mandarin to them too, and asked them why they didnt speak mandarin with her in the first place. what the couple replied really stunned me and the pharmacist, "oh, we didnt expect to meet a mandarin speaking malaysian chinese in kl, so we started off using english with you."

can you imagine this?! malaysia had the best platform for mandarin education in SEA for so many years, earlier than our southern little brother, and yet, we(malaysian chinese) are now stereotyped to be unable to speak mandarin by s'poreans!

i'm a chinese educated fella, since kinder times to high school, and i'm thankful for my parents for sending me there. tony said something bout the american, south african chinese not having the opportuinity for chinese education. thats right! they dont have the proper encouragement nor the guidance for learning chinese, not only the language, but the cultures, literatures etc, but not in malaysia! unlike our bigger southern neighbour where any chinese related stuff was oppressed, the chinese in malaysia enjoy the priviledge of full freedom to pursue our own roots and culture, language, customs, and yet, they are ignored by some overzealous students(or their parents) who are the proponents of "the ways of England are the ways of the world". this is a sad sad situation indeed. while the world is picking up mandarin, we might have a situation in 20 years time that our chinese children or grandchildren receiving mandarin classes from the whites, the koreans or even the japanese.

with chinese parents refusing to send their children from attending chinese schools is totally beyond me. do send them for AT LEAST the first six years of chinese primary. give them the chance to embrace an important language, not only for the economics, but also, it is the right thing to do, they are after all, chinese. if they arent gonna learn them, who would? the argentinians?! GENERALLY,a chinese who does not know mandarin is not inclined to study subjects that are ralated to the chinese- chinese literature, chinese history, even temple rites and folklore. this is true. ask 100 bananas out there how many chinese classics they've read and how many chinese (taoist)gods and goddesses they know. i wont say they are especially vital to their future careers, but these are some of the items that the chinese ppl gave birth to many years ago, and these are the things that shaped the characteristics and lifestyles of many chinese around the world. they are a part of our history, i must say. an ancient europe without the Pope wouldnt be the same europe we see now, south america without gold wouldnt be that attractive to the europeans who started voyages to "the new world". and now we have chinese who dont even know who confucius was, yet alone know what he did to the chinese ppl. sad, really. if some ppl say reading chinese classics in english is ok, then some ppl are missing something big as reading shakespeare in japanese or mongolian.

i know i'm getting really longwinded here. this is the longest post i've ever written to a blog. but there is something that i must say. it is true that some national school chinese(most probably bananas) are actually proud of not knowing chinese. they have this mentality thinking that they are closer to their british lords than their chinese educated friends. hence the "more sophisticated" "more savvy" "more civilised" attitudes they have.

anyone who wants to quote me, just refer me as jay. i'm 20 years old, by the way, doing my pharmacy degree in australia!

nUtZ` said...

First of all about china. sorry for my ignorance. i would dare say 99.9% of China's population speaks mandarin in the first place. I was thinking towards different dialect chinese around the world.

Anyway, I guess this revolves around cultural ego among groups of chinese. Should Chinese learn about chinese literature when they are in other parts of the world? Does that make them less chinese? Do we need to cling back to a country that we have not set foot at all? Shouldn't we learn more about Malaysian history and Malaysian literature than China? We spend all our life in Malaysia, why do we need to cling so tightly of our chinese sense of identity? Shouldn't we see ourself as a Malaysian (or your country of origin) first before a Chinese?

Language is just a tool to communicate with fellow human beings. It is how our parents communicate with us. It is how our friends and relatives communicate with us. It is how we pass ideas to each other. Nothing more nothing less. A French could pick up any books and learn about chinese culture and chinese language. So do you define the french with blond hair and blue eyes a chinese? Oh wait he doesn't have black hair hazel eyes and brown skin so the french is not chinese.

This is the problem with Malaysia. From this post itself, it shows how each ethanic groups wants to cling so tightly to their "motherland". Us vs them mentality. Everyone is affraid to give up their ties to their ethinicity and unwilling to share what is good in Malaysia. Everyone wants to feel superior to each other. Like joe's singaporean experiance, the family has a superiority complex issue. In other words "kia su" syndrome. Same with people who stick banana and ah beng lables around.

I guess to conclude my argument. Not knowing a language does not make a lesser person. Language is a tool. Like any tool you can learn how to use it. And if you don't use it, you'll loose it. All these banana, ah bengs and mat rempit are basically racist lables to make each other feel good about themselves at the expanse of the others. I find this really sad that this is really pervalent in Malaysian society. I am a Malaysian. Not a malay, not an indian, not a chinese, not a banana, not an ah beng and not a mat rempit. When we can knock this into our head than we are truely a unified people.

To Msian Taxpayers.

To give a head start, the language that i felt i should learn would be Malay. Why? Cause I live in Malaysia and 90% would be able to speak malay. English and chinese would come in as secondary language. If I were to give my kids a head start I would teach them Malay (home country), English (business language), Chinese (most used), and French/German (Europe 2nd biggest economy in the world)

lyl said...

Dear jay,

I agree with your part where
some national school chinese(most probably bananas) are actually proud of not knowing chinese. they have this mentality thinking that they are closer to their british lords than their chinese educated friends. hence the "more sophisticated" "more savvy" "more civilised" attitudes they have.

I attended a private secondary school for my lower secondary studies, a famous one in Sentul, with the principle self proclaiming it to be the best in KL. *ahem ahem* While that is very much debatable, I would like to give a general picture about the people there.

Those from national primary schools normally hang together, and converse in English. They view those from Chinese schools as Ah Bengs and all. They act all sanctimonious and holier than thou art, because they speak English.

The medium of communication is predominantly English. Hence, the Mandarin speaking people normally end up bunching together. This obviously, is a form of segregation. Chinks themselves dont mix due to dialect problems.

Anwyay, these bananas think they pwn the language, until someone from a chink primary school kicks them in exams. Then their world collapses. :)

I think there is no harm in picking up a new language and its dialects. To Nutz, Tamil isnt the national language in India too by the way. The national language is Hindi, while that and English are the official languages of communication for the national government.

However, nutz, please keep in mind that Hindi and Tamil are two total different things. You can ask any Tamil educated person whether they understand Hindi, chances are, No. However, if you as a Mandarin educated person about Cantonese, Hokkien/Taiwanese , Hakka, etc dialects.. they can pretty much understand it although they dont speak it.

Put it this way in the POV for economics - Mandarin education = gateway to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc.

As for the Chinese culture and everything, face it, every culture now is getting eroded and juxtaposed with others. But not learning the language doesnt mean not upholding the culture. Bananas still celebrate Chinese New Year.

So, I dont see any harm in picking it up frankly. :) 6 years of primary education that will help you for life. For Tony, is the quality of education compromised for Chinese schools? I dont think so, and it is almost an unspoken fact that it is actually better.

nUtZ` said...

lyl..

Hey i have no qualms about learning chinese. For now, I do not see the point of learning it yet. My work do not involve any China contact. I was trying to point out that there is the other 4/5 of the world.

What I do have a problem is that "China" Chinese are up in arms and labling "Western" Chinese as banana (and vice versa) because they can't speak chinese (or proper english). Why can't we just appreciate individual branch of culture rather than seggregating it? Both sides are to be blamed.

I have lost my roots from China and I am a Malaysian. Why should i learn Mandarin just because I'm chinese? When I need to speak Mandarin I will learn. What is the big deal about it? If swahili suddenly become a main stream language, I will learn swahili

Anonymous said...

Arent we too economically-oriented? Everything we say so far is about the economic benefits from learning the language.

Yes, there's a 4/5 world left to explore, with more than 50 over main languages. Are you going to learn them all? Why not just that one language from the 1/5 of the world? After all, we can learn it without any trouble at all, as it is readily available to us.

It is really sad when i read that our down south neighbour think that Malaysian Chinese cant speak Chinese.

Also, as we can see from other neighbouring countries (Indonesia, Thailand and Phillipines) we should treasure our own heritage. Chinese there dont even have the opportunity to touch their own roots!

We are lucky enough to be in touch with our own culture and languages.

Anonymous said...

to Cik Amoi,

when i said "so?" i meant "so, whats the big deal?". i can tell u one things for sure that i do not look down at people of any race. i can also assure u that i know more about the chinese culture than the majority of malaysian chinese, and i even dare say you as well. being unable to speak is not a reason to hammer the so-called 'bananas' and branding them as egoistic superior people.

in all honesty, from the reply you gave, i can see that u have had such experiences with these "people" - arogant chinese that don't speak their mother toungue language. but seeing u label me as one of them shows how u think and perceive of others.

a group of friends and i actually had such a discussion a few weeks back. one of them, a chinese (if it even matters), remarked that the chinese are the most racist of all races. how true.

grow-up and be a global citizen.

p.s. - btw, i can speak german, english, BM, and i'm currently learning Mandarin. and mind you, i have many friends who are purely-chinese educated and speaks with "broken English" as how u put it and i have no problems with them. in fact, i find their company rather joyous over tea at chinese coffee shops on weekends. so get your facts straight and think before u speak. it might make u look like a fool.

nUtZ` said...

anon 27 feb 9:30pm

Let me repeat myself. I never found the use of learning Mandarin in my line of work. I do not interact with Taiwan or China or Hong Kong. HOwever I do interact with WHOLE of South America and we are starting up in South Africa. Economically I can gain way more by learning Spanish and later Portuguese compare to Mandarin.I will not learn chinese just my great grand parents are from China. However I will learn Mandarin when I have a need for the language.

Pardon my language but who gives a f*** of what Singaporean thinks about us?

I'm sorry my roots are in Malaysia, not China. I am a Malaysian not Chinese.

Anonymous said...

The real issue in Malaysia is not so much what or how many languages can you speak, but rather what languages do you know in order to identify with society as a whole or group within society. Often, language is used in cultural nationalism (e.g. 19th cenury Germany), or ethnic groups. I believe the later is the real reason why Chinese is learnt in Malaysia, not so much for economic reasons. This is neither a good nor bad in itself; as it is good to preserve different cultures. From personal experience in Australia, people of different ethnic groups feel somewhat closer towards you when you speak in their own language, e.g. greek. It feels better than just speaking in english.

I believe economic reasons are good reasons, but are also somewhat limiting. If one learning for communicating in business is the primary reason, where does classical chinese fit in?

On another track, Cantonese, Hakka, and Mandarin are considered as seperate but related languages, linguisticly speaking, since there is little mutual intelligibility. Without learning thse so-called dialects, it is difficult to understand them. There is a better chance for a Portugese speaking person understanding Spanish, or a Belorussian understanding Ukrainian, than for a Cantonese understanding Shanghainese.

johnleemk said...

I agree with nutz`. Don't get me wrong -- despite my banana-ness, I want to learn Mandarin (and hopefully more Hokkien than the few words I know now) because I feel it will be useful, but I don't feel the need to be proud just because of my mastery (or lack of it) of a certain language. Mandarin is a useful language, no doubt, but English is even more useful. While I and my banana friends (there are some half-bananas from national schools who speak good Mandarin, though) don't necessarily look down or ostracise our peers who are more comfortable speaking Mandarin than English, there is the feeling that you've lost more by sacrificing proficiency in English/BM in return for proficiency in Mandarin. After all, BM is the national language, and English is spoken/written nearly everywhere around the world (as opposed to Mandarin, which is mostly limited to China).

Still, I see no need for bananas to look down on "pure" Chinese nor "pure" Chinese to disdain bananas. Just be who you are, and accept it. I also see no need to label people as traitors to their own race. (That's one thing that really pushes my buttons, regardless of what race we're talking about.) Just label them as stuck-up idiots, because that's all they are.

I think POL classes should be reformed. We have plenty of dedicated Mandarin teachers in SRJK(C)s, so why not hire them to teach Mandarin in SKs? There is no need to place one's child in what is essentially a segregated school. The benefits aren't worth the cost, IMO. With tuition centres everywhere these days in urban areas, parents can just send their child to Mandarin tuition. Believe it or not, you really do feel like there's a Bangsa Malaysia in most SKs. Of course this perception is rapidly eroded by the time one reaches SMK level, but I think this will only be good in the long run -- we'll have more people recognising there's a problem with dividing Malaysia along communal lines, instead of blindly accepting it, as I find some people from SRJK(C)s and mostly-Malay SKs.

Anonymous said...

from what u c this discussion is going no where...

y don't just learn mandarin as your mother tongue...is that so hard for most of you?

u can learn mandarin without really sacrificing your proficiency for other languages as well...I managed to score As for 3 of them and I don't c the difficulty at all...to those who give such a lame reason is because they don't have the desire to learn your mother tongue...-ends-

Anonymous said...

Phew after reading so much of the comments I dont even see what seems to be the real problem here anymore.

Language is a tool = totally agree
Do we need to learn it?
To be practical, depends on situation on what you want to use it with. If heavilly related to your line of work, sure you need it. Heck I learn Chinese just so I can read those novels or comics. I learn it for fun. Do you do computer programming,namely in C language in Chinese? Do the world's math literature written in Chinese? In my opinion, nope.

Is it worth learning?
If you are passionate, sure why not. If you are not passionate and not in a hurry to use it, no biggie.
You can always pick it up along the way though you might be slower.

Do you absolutely have to send your kids to Chinese school at age 6?
Absolutely not, human can learn regardless of age, it is just about the speed and adaptation. If your parents wants you to be a good foundation in Chinese, go ahead. By all means lay the foundation for your future.

Do you get the economic benefits out of learning Chinese?
Well this depends, where you work at, who are you working for and what market is your company aiming for. Not up to you to decide,70%(rough estimate) of the time. Like one of the fellow bloggers mentioned, he deals with South American so he is being practical and honest by saying he needs Spanish.
If you have it, it is a plus. If you dont, learn and learn. Is it absolutely a must? Will you 'die' without it? Heck no.

In terms of culture, with language it adds the spice and elegancy of the culture. Does Mandarin actually influence culture? I think this topic is simply too general to discuss. For every example given there can be a counter example.
If you look at the American Chinese, they can speak Chinese fluently but does their culture reflect that they are totally oblivious to Mandarin? No, culture change with environment and time. Let's look at China, Shanghai for example, do they speak Chinese? Yes, is their culture still traditionally 100% same and pure as 50 years ago? The answer is absolutely no. The culture is being changed. If you go in deeper or mainland China they are more traditional with their way of living.

So as a whole, I dont really see a threatening problem here. Will you 'die' if you are a Chinese that doesnt know how to write or speak in Chinese? No, maybe once in a while you get ridiculed at but that is just it and that doesnt justify whether you are high or low class. As a Chinese if you are not proficient in English will you 'die' or are you higher or lower class than anyone? Heck no.

I am a human being, I have my own dignity and pride myself to be able to adapt and learn new things and languages from other people. I am humble to learn the things I dont know and I seek those who knows more than me to patch up my inadequacy.

So be it you are Chinese who do or dont know the language, so long you have the will there is always a way.

Pur.Boy

Tony P said...

Phew! I did expect this to be a fairly hot issue, but I sure didn't expect the type of response I will get from it.

My personal views are pretty much in line with Pur.Boy's above. But views are views, and let's learn more about one another through them.

Let's keep the discussion civil and lively and not get into the inclination to point fingers, make accusations or allegations which may not always be well supported as well as getting too personal with the remarks.

Thanks for reading :-)

Anonymous said...

to johnleemk:
in case you dindnt know, chinese schools in m'sia are already understaffed. the scenario is even worse in SMJK's(government-linked chinese schools). many of the schools' elite teachers, with plenty of experience and expertise in their areas of teaching, are dubiously transferred to SK's in return of junior teachers from teachers colleges. the independent chinese schools have a better fate, since they fully control the flow of staff. the number of chinese teachers in m'sia is simply not enough. and the gov policy of not recognising degrees from the chinese speaking world like peking uni, tsinghua, fudan, national taiwan, etc is not helping to increase commpetant chinese teachers either.a diabolical plan? i dont know.

to the general population:
there is a reason why s'pore encourages its citizens to learn the chinese language. perhaps their gov knows that their citizens have a higher possibility in doing business or other activities with the chinese speaking world than the spaniards or latin america, no offense to those who have connections with those countries though. however, i totally disagree with the sole idea of measuring the need of learning ones mother tongue with the economic benefits that go with it. there really is no need to identify the pros and cons of learning a mother tongue. to me, its just something that i think i must possess, as an identity of who i am, who my parents are and how ppl(not only malaysians and singaporeans) will identify me. IF english was not the international language, but arabic is. would the english or americans say,"oh, who cares bout english, i dont feel sorry abandoning the english language, literature, etc!" unfortunately, there are some m'sian chinese who think so. i had one college friend(a chinese banana) who boasted her ability to speak spanish and japanese. then her friend(a tamil speaking indian girl) rebuked her "why are you learning other ppl's languages if you dont even know your own?" that remark left her silent for the next few minutes.

study in chinese school= bad in english? NO!i'm a product of 100% chinese schooling, from kindergarden(yes, chinese kinder) to high school. i got A's in my malay, english and chinese paper in SPM and an A in my 1119. i speak cantonese at home and with my neighbourhood friends, mandarin with my high school pals, and english with uni mates(duh, in AUS)some of my high school classmates have gone overseas to study, cambridge,carnegie mellon, technical university of munich,all requiring a good lvl of another language other than mandarin. they are, like me, products of 100% chinese education and obtained A's in all language subjects, and no, we arent snobs in school who form an english group among ourselves, in fact, nobody in school ever heard me speaking the language. i know many national school (prominent ones like BBGS, Maxwell etc) students who's english is far worse than ours (which gave a me a fright). no intention to boast here, but just to prove a point that chinese schooled folks dont necessarily speak broken english.

Anonymous said...

oops, the above comment's from me, jay again. (^_^)

Bigjoe99 said...

I am someone who learned Chinese later in life out of necessity and base on experience, let me add my two cents worth

1) It is much harder to learn Chinese when you are older. Chinese have a lot of memorization especially in writing. Also the sutleties of pronunciation and strokes requires a lot of practise and if you are used to another language before you learn Chinese, then its harder.

2) The Chinese language and culture has a very long history and complex one. While its content is very rich, the context of the language for a long time, did not change. There is a theory among historians that one of the reason that contributed to Chinese isolationist policy for so long (literally hundreds if not thousand of years - think of when Marco Polo first when to China) is because of its language.

3) It takes a lots and lots of effort to understand Chinese literature which is key to understand what it really means to be Chinese. I would say even among Chinese especially among Strait Chinese, most of us have superficial ideas about it. Simple test: Ask how many people you know can explain Tang Poetry to you.

So to me, part of the problem of Chinese education issue is that those who understand it knows how much is required to pass on the heritage and richness of it and yet non-advocates of the Chinese education don't have a clue.

We now live in a practical world and things like heritage and culture are secondary to immediate material gains. What people don't understand is that Chinese education through over a thousand years of practise have its inherent rigidity and hence making compromises is no less than asking for dilution of its learning and its richness.

For me, long a student of anthropology, learning the language, history and living and experiencing cultural China for a number of years was an incredible awakening of my heritage. It made me understand who we are - our practises, our strengths and weakneses. I fully recommend every parents to send their child for 6 years of primary Chinese education but I would caution them to make sure they learn English and experience the English speaking world, so that they may understand who they are, the challenge of their heritage, and more importantly make conscious choices on what they value, want and how to deal with it.

Shah Andrew said...

Your mother tongue is the language you think & dream in. I'm half Malay and half Caucasian. My mother tongue in English. Malay is my second language.

And in the spirit of being different and unique, I'm learning Arabic! This is for religious purposes more than economic.

If you're Chinese but can't speak Chinese, then what a waste. If you're Malay and can't speak Malay, then what a waste.

It shouldn't matter what language your mother tongue is, but you should be able to speak the language of your race & religion.

Anonymous said...

I concur with Jay that having a chinese ed background does not automatically equate bad English. However, I concede some of them do not have good command of English.

This could be due to several reasons:

(1) Lack of good training during the school-going years;

(2) lack of self-study to improve one's mastery of the language (since all attention is put into BM in order to score at least a Credit at SPM level);

(3) lack of exposure to English besides school lessons. No habit of reading anything written in English (novels, periodicals) or even listening to tv news;

(4) the level of English textbook used in Malaysian schools; and

(5) the chance to listen to proper lectures conducted in English by way of invited speakers to school.

I suspect those most students lack of reading habit.

To aggrevate the problem, with the SPM level English set by our Lembaga Peperiksaan, no way would one pay attention to improve oneself. Passing English is not even made compulsory.

Language, after all, is something that is acquired via interaction, usage (i.e. reading, listening, writings), observation, thoughts, etc.

This is just my general observation, and if they think they lack of the command, do put doubly hard in those activities to improve themselves.

No offense to anyone. I also have a chinese-ed background.

Trust me, if you make the additional effort, you can make it.


Msian Taxpayer(MT)

Anonymous said...

To Anon 9:51 Feb 27

You have every right to disagree with the opinion posted here but your malicious attitude is totally uncalled for. Maybe you should do some growing up yourself and learn to be civil in a discussion forum.

Anonymous said...

I concur with Jay that having a chinese ed background does not automatically equate bad English. However, I concede some of them do not have good command of English.

This could be due to several reasons:

(1) Lack of good training during the school-going years;

(2) lack of self-study to improve one's mastery of the language (since all attention is put into BM in order to score at least a Credit at SPM level);

(3) lack of exposure to English besides school lessons. No habit of reading anything written in English (novels, periodicals) or even listening to tv news;

(4) the level of English textbook used in Malaysian schools; and

(5) the chance to listen to proper lectures conducted in English by way of invited speakers to school.

I suspect those most students lack of reading habit.

To aggrevate the problem, with the SPM level English set by our Lembaga Peperiksaan, no way would one pay attention to improve oneself. Passing English is not even made compulsory.

Language, after all, is something that is acquired via interaction, usage (i.e. reading, listening, writings), observation, thoughts, etc.

This is just my general observation, and if they think they lack of the command, do put doubly hard in those activities to improve themselves.

No offense to anyone. I also have a chinese-ed background.

Trust me, if you make the additional effort, you can make it.


Msian Taxpayer(MT)

Anonymous said...

It is often said liberal arts students have better quality of life... because they comprehend and appreciate their surroundings and heritage..

Likewise, like Shah Andrew and bigjoe99 have said, learn the language of your cultural background would enhance your understanding the subtleties
of the culture.

Likewise, could one imagine Japanese that cannot speak their language. I believe 100% of them speaks their mother tongue.

With their cultural backbones and scientific endeavour, they make many breakthrouhghs in their own way.

See, do they need Russian to help them launch their satellites?

http://www.jaxa.jp/missions/projects/rockets/h2a/index_j.html

rakyat said...

Perhaps this little article would help put things into perspective. Even in China, less than 60% can communicate in Mandarin (putonghua).


http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-12/26/content_403419.htm
Greater numbers speak Mandarin
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-26 22:56

More and more Chinese nowadays are able to communicate with Chinese Mandarin, says a survey that indicates that 53 per cent of the population can communicate with the language known as putonghua.

Conducted by the State Working Committee of Chinese Language, a nationwide survey on the use of the principal Chinese language was released yesterday in Beijing after six years of hard work.

Over 470,000 people in 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities across the country responded to the survey, which is "the first of its kind in the history," said Tong Lequan, head of the survey group.

The coexistence and different uses of Mandarin and dialects are a unique proclivity of the current Chinese language, said Tong.

As a standard language, Mandarin is widely used as the communication medium during public activities while people use the dialect native to their area or province when communicating within their family or with other native speakers.

Only 18 per cent of those surveyed speak Mandarin while talking to the family members, while 42 per cent speak at school, work or play.

Sixty-six per cent of the urban residents speak Mandarin, a 21 per cent higher rate than rural residents.

The survey also showed that the young have better Mandarin fluency, with just 31 per cent of those aged 60 to 69 able to speak the language,while the figure has more than doubled among those younger than 29.

Among many Chinese, speaking Mandarin is perceived as a sign of good breeding. The survey showed only 10 per cent of the illiterate can speak Mandarin while those with 87 per cent with college degrees are fluent.

Tong said with the change of generations and the spread of the education, Mandarin will gain more ground.

Hu Hongguang, a middle school teacher who speaks Mandarin in class in Central China's Hubei Province said there are three criteria to judge the popularization of the language: how it is used in schools and whether it is used as a working language and as the mainstream tongue on social occasions.

The main difficulties about speaking putonghua, the answer "no situation the putonghua is used" and "hard to change the accent" came out as the main obstacles.

Many parts of China are now seeing a situation of what linguists call diglossia, where there is one public language and one local language that is used among friends and family.

"I never speak Mandarin at home though I speak it all day in the office," said Yin Yu, 25. "It is so strange when you speak Mandarin while everybody else is speaking a dialect."

Moreover, Yin said her dialect gives her a feeling of home, however, she said the use of dialects will not decrease the influence and popularity of Mandarin. "It is a complementary to Mandarin," she said.

Use of dialects may even be strengthening in some areas, said Wang Chengxi, 27.

As a boy grew up in the northern part of the country, Wang speaks wonderful Mandarin but he began to learn the Cantonese when he started to work in Shenzhen in South China's Guangdong Province in 2001..

He said the prevalence of the local dialect have excluded outsiders from social networks. "I am learning Cantonese because I want to better integrate into local society," he said.

Adam said...

Other Chinese would often make fun of my friend who doesn't know Mandarian and can't read or write Chinese calling him a banana. Yellow on the outside, white on the inside. He would have a nice reply but I won't put it down here as it contains a lot of juicy words in hokkien.

YUanWu said...

Come on, Adam. Don't spoil the fun. Tell us what it is.

I think it doesn't matter if your are a banana or not. What matters is whether you appreciate your own culture, what does it mean to be a Chinese. Being a semi-banana, i think in English. However, I appreciate the Chinese literature and culture. It's how much you know about your own culture(literature being part of it) that makes you a banana or not.

How Chinese(or non-banana) can you be when you don't read Chinese classic novels (e.g. Journey to the West...)and Tang poems? If that is the case, then you are only a person that happens to speak Mandarin. You are no more Chinese than the 'bananas' you so often tease.

YUanWu

rakyat said...

Must a chinese read,write,speak Mandarin. Is a cantonese or hokkien speaker not chinese?

Must you read Tang poems? Is listening to recitals of cantonese or hokkien poems sufficient?

Are illiterate chinese peasants not chinese just because they can't read or write chinese? Are children of such illiterate people chinese or not chinese?

If you are cantonese or hokkien, what do you consider is your mother tongue?

Anonymous said...

I am not the Anonymous you people are familiar with. I am new here.

I was raised in Selangor, where the so-called "bananas" live. I studied in a Kebangsaan school, and English is my primary language (though it's debatable that Malay is every Malaysian's primary language). I have a weak grasp of the Chinese Language, but I can still understand and speak basic Chinese nonetheless. Anyway, I shifted to Johor Bahru 2 years ago, the land where banana trees cannot thrive. I was in Form 4 then and 90% of the Chinese in my new school spoke Mandarin... and ONLY Mandarin. So yeah, you might have guessed by now that I had a tough time communicating with them. But in truth, I got along with them quite well, though every now and then the term "banana" was thrown at me. What I noticed in JB was, segregation among the 3 main races was and is very, VERY obvious. Almost every Chinese in JB goes to SRJK(C) schools, whereas the Indians and Malays go to Kebangsaan schools. The Indians are fluent in English and Malay, but the Malays can only speak their mother tongue language. So language really separates the three races here in JB. In Selangor, I actually thought that all those stuff we learned in Moral and History about preserving racial unity were outdated already, as I rarely saw any racist situations. The people there talk with other races... and the language they all use is, not BM, but English. BM has always been praised as the language that can usher racial harmony. But for me, I believe that the language that's really capable of doing that is none other than English... and I'm saying this out of personal experience. I mean, hey, we're using English to communicate in this blog now!

Anonymous said...

i know i'm digressing, but here are some fun observations i found: in JB, the chinese speak mandarin, and some hokkien. many chinese from kebangsaan schools who knew peanuts bout mandarin pick up the language(spoken part only) when interacting with chinese students "migrated" to SMK from SRJK.

in the klang valley, although known in malaysia as a cantonese speaking haven, it is only among the working population, not the younger generation who are more to "bananas". in fact, the banana phenomena here is so widespread, even ah bengs and ah lians here only speak english(so high class!).

in ipoh, it is the "hong kong" of malaysia(true!).EVERY chinese here speaks canto, even kebangsaan students! although the medium of chinese high schools here is mandarin, ppl seldom use mandarin outside of school(in fact, ppl who only speak mandarin but not canto here are regarded as only book smart, and tend to be cheated by taxi drivers).

penang, some mandarin,mainly hokkien, but it is following the the klang valley rage of "losing your culture" game.

negeri 9, many chinese here speak canto.

i also found that many chinese in sabah sarawak speak hokkien.

-xiaoern

Anonymous said...

i am a malay and im a fan of your blog despite some "things" stated here that i found quite offensive.
about "losing your tongue"- the same goes to malay. some of them do not even know the proper way to speak malay language. when i was in highschool(im 18, btw), we found it more difficult to score in bahasa malaysia.

Anonymous said...

So sad. We are still obsessing over such issues. The way I see it, the dichotomy of our education system is not promoting any unity among Malaysians.

So much for 'perpaduan'

Culture is important but it is also just as important that we truly gel as a nation.

Can we combine both the Chinese and kebangsaan streams?

Anonymous said...

I'm a banana but not to a very 'critical' level. I did not attend Chinese Primary school but I'm a bit luckier than most of my friends because communication in Mandarin is never a big problem for me as I grasped it from my family. Once I've gone to a local Uni, I have to speak in Mandarin as not many friends of mine understand Cantonese, the dialect spoken at my home.

I dare to say that not all 'bananas' are really proud with the fact that they do not know Chinese that well. I've a senior who have difficulties in mixing around , especially among Chinese students as she feels inferior due to her bad command in Mandarin.

What I'm stressing here is that
we ought not look down on people who are not conversant in their own mother tongue. It is really painful having to face criticism and I dare to say that this is not a fault of us to be handicapped in it. (Well, put it this way, did we have a choice as to which school we have to go when we were just about 7 years old? And can we blame our parents for that???I think we should not)

I'm trying my very best to learn the Chinese characters now and I hope many will follow suit too..