Saturday, September 24, 2005

"Learning Chinese Vital"

This writer has spent a great deal of time lamenting the poor standards of English among many of our Malaysian graduates (irrespective of overseas or local). However, it should not be taken that English is the ONLY language of importance, and that the education system need not place emphasis on the other key languages in Malaysia, namely, Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese.

Bahasa Malaysia is important purely because it's our national language, and it's the language of the majority of Malaysians. The language will play a huge role in ensuring national integration and unity amongst Malaysians of various races.

Chinese however, is important for other reasons. For those of Chinese ethnic origins, it's important obviously because it helps us trace our roots and understand our culture - or what is commonly regarded as "mother tongue education". Today, on top of that, as highlighted today in the Star, by MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting, "Chinese [language] has emerged as one of the important international languages after China started to play a prominent role in the global arena."

Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting was discussing the merits of a Chinese education at the media launch of the Tiger-Sin Chew Chinese Education Charity Concert.
“Chinese education has also progressed well due to the immense contributions of the Chinese community and other supporters over the years,” he said. He described the move to support Chinese education as “worthwhile”, saying that such efforts must be continued.
Currently, the chairman as well as a major shareholder of my company is a Chinese national based out of Zhuhai and Beijing. The company has begun placing a greater emphasis in the Far East, now that we have operations in Hong Kong, and clients in Guangzhou as well as Macau. However, due to the total absence of the English language competence amongst practically all Chinese businessmen, it was absolutely critical that I was at least marginally competent in the spoken and written Mandarin to build the necessary close rapport and relationship with my chairman, business partners as well as clients. Hence I can definitely attest to the importance of a decent "Chinese education".

However, it is critical for the authorities and policy makers to maintain the necessary balance in our unique education system. While I support the provision of Chinese education, I must say I've yet to be convinced that the current vernacular school system is the best way forward for both the Chinese community, as well as Malaysians in general. While the Chinese educationists (and to a certain extent the politicians) have done commendably in protecting and entrenching the Chinese vernacular school education system in Malaysia, it is my belief that this has come at the unnecessary expense of both English and Malay language competence.

Many may argue that the ability to do business in China, makes Chinese education the greatest priority relative to other languages and subjects. However, it should be noted that the likelihood of a person born in Malaysia to "do business" in China, in one form or another, is going to be very small. We are probably talking about at best, 5-10% of the Chinese population. Most Malaysians will first have to gain employment locally before even the opportunity to venture overseas arise. Hence it is critical for the Malaysian students to have a decent command of the Malay and English language to ensure that they will be able to secure bright prospects in Malaysia, or even Singapore.

No doubt, a Chinese education needs to be pursued and provided by the Malaysian education system (although not necessarily in its current form and structure). However, my argument has always been that over-zealous emphasis on a particular language and the neglect of the other languages will not, at the end of the day, be in the interest of our Malaysian students.


Anonymous said...


If you only knew Chinese but no English do you think your Chairman would have any interest to invest in your company?

-- Old Man

Anonymous said...

People who master three languages well must master one language first.

-- Old Man

Anonymous said...

"Important purely because"? You know that you just betrayed your bias and deep feelings don't you? I know and I believe most people understand where you come from. However the deep insecurity of the Bahasa language nationalist is not to be underestimated. If you think that since someone like Dr. M endorses English that we can now just take Bahasa enough to get through school, then you are sorely mistaken. Their zealousness may have suffered a setback with Dr. M endorsement but they will come back. When a whole bunch of Malay start mixing English with their Malay, these people will use get more vocal and no one will dare stop them. Your endorsement of Chinese so strongly here but yet betray your Bahasa apathy, just lost you a few points with Bahasa symphatizers..

Golf Afflicted said...

Err... Anon,

I couldn't understand what you are talking about, so obviously, I can't really answer you...

How did I betray my "Bahasa apathy" which resulted in my losing a few points with the Bahasa "sympathisers"?

Did you mean that I am giving Bahasa too much importance or too little?

Irrespective, the argument I have in the above post is that there needs to be a fair balance between the teaching of languages. The current heavy slant towards a particular language, both in our national and vernacular schools, is not the right way forward, in my humble opinion. This is independent of, and irregardless to whatever opinions Tun Dr M & co. may have.

:) Tony P

John Lee said...

Tony, this site is a godsend. I just Googled for "Malaysia" on Google Blog Search, and this blog came up. As a student, I myself have blogged quite a bit on our schools (there are a bunch of them on my blog). I've actually drafted a 100-page manuscript of a book I've tentatively titled Why Your Kid Hates School. A 15-page excerpt is available online. Perhaps we could collaborate on the book or something. It does seem that this blog is a bit higher education-centred, though, and most of the other stuff seems to focus on the controversy surrounding English in schools. In any case, we should discuss this stuff. I have a lot of opinions on our education system. Maybe I might even end up blogging here.

Anonymous said...

I am not disagreeing with your view on balance of language. Personally I take Dr. M view that English will be the language of the world whether we like it or not. I don't buy the idea of Chinese or any other language ever coming close. I buy the idea that to take advantage of the China phenom, its only competitive to know the language well for the forseable future.

What I am saying is that the Bahasa symphatisers will never accept anything that don't make Bahasa the primary language. Because of this, the ugly rhetoric will rear itself again and again. To them, people such as yourself that lack enthusiasm for their cause is an enemy and will attack people like you - that you have an ulterior agenda to undermine the Malay, their culture, their 'special rights' etc. We Chinese have to learn Malay, English and Chinese (most of us at least) but the Malays now will say they also have to learn Arabic so something must give and no way it will be Malay or Arabic and what will happen to them if you know Chinese and they don't? It undermines their supremacy and it will be unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

Dear Globalsan,

Here are my quick view on Education for my Child, out from the Malaysian context:

-- Old Man

John Lee said...


I have already written a letter in response to Malaysiakini. For your benefit, here is the letter in full:
Metis and HW Wong have written in to criticise my letter regarding vernacular schools, implying a lack of research on my part. While I do agree my letter could have made several points clearer, I feel that Metis and Wong imply that I hold certain opinions which I do not.

Metis asks whether I have talked to my Chinese school classmates regarding the issue of Chinese schools. The answer is a resounding yes. I have several friends from Chinese schools, and have discussed Chinese education with them on more than one occasion. Surprisingly, most of them feel no affinity for Chinese education, and cite discipline as the only reason they would send their children to Chinese schools. As such, it is not surprising I feel a tremendous opportunity to encourage interaction between students from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds is being squandered.

Unlike the implication of Metis' letter, I never stated that Chinese schools intentionally bring about the attitudes I ascribe to their students. I do not believe Chinese schools intentionally indoctrinate children into avoiding those of other races. Rather, it is a systemic side-effect of the parochial nature of Chinese schools. When your childhood is spent talking in Mandarin with students of similar beliefs, culture, traditions and worldviews, it is not surprising you would continue doing so well into secondary schools, whether consciously or not.

I do not blame the administrators of Chinese schools for the behavioural patterns I have noticed. They do not intend to cause such polarisation. Nevertheless, I feel that the fact remains that such polarisation indeed does occur. To gauge this, I polled several of my friends, from national as well as Chinese primary schools. They all agreed that students from Chinese schools have a tougher time relating with Malay and especially Indian students. All of us can recall situations similar to the ones I outlined in my earlier letter.

Wong and Metis are correct to point out that vernacular schools are far from the only cause of racial polarisation. However, this is a straw man; I never indicated I believe our problems with national unity would magically vanish if we eliminated vernacular schools. The classification of Malaysians into "Bumiputra" and "non-Bumiputra" and just plain racist parents, as both Wong and Metis point out, do play their own roles in dividing our nation. (I have mentioned the second-class citizen problem as an aside before in my letter to Malaysiakini concerning the correct date of independence.)

However, I firmly believe that fostering interaction between children of many races is a crucial step towards building true national unity. For example, Metis points out children born into families with racist parents will remain racist, regardless of where they are educated. This is not necessarily so; although it is likely they will retain some stereotypes passed down to them for the rest of their lives, if they attend national schools, seeing flesh and blood Malays and Indians will bite into the racist propaganda they have been fed. Eventually, it will reach the point where the racist attitude of the family will have completely vanished, diluted over the generations by friendships with those of other races.

And likewise, as I pointed out in my earlier letter, Malays will find it harder and harder to justify the overt discriminatory policies of the government as they build stronger and stronger bonds with those of other races. The rhetoric of UMNO politicians will have less and less effect as Malays become unable to stomach remarks about spilling the blood of their friends who oppose certain privileges afforded to the Malays.

I never said eradicating vernacular schools would be a magical panacea for national unity or that the presence of vernacular schools is the one and only factor for the growing divide between Malaysians of different races. There is never an easy answer to a difficult problem, particularly that of uniting a divided nation. Nevertheless, it is my strong belief that unless something is done to foster interactions and friendships between children (and not just youths) of many races, combatting the onslaught of racial polarisation will be a fight that progressively becomes harder and harder to win.


I hope that answers your question. ;-)

John Lee said...

I like the idea, but I believe it will have difficulty gaining currency in the land of Ketuanan Melayu. (Especially since it might evoke comparisons to Singapore which already has such a policy, and we all know about our inferiority complex towards the Singaporeans.)

Anonymous said...


If you wish your proposal to see daylight,
have our ministers to learn a couple
of languages (other than the given)
the rest will follow.

-- Old Man

Anonymous said...

Hi everybody

I stumbled into this site whilst trying to get some info for my cross-cultural communication course.

Very interesting "pros" and "cons". However many of you seem to be talking about the past impact and not looking at the present happenings?

On the issue of racial integration, do you know that many non-Chinese parents send their children to Chinese primary schools and that a certain percentage of available places are kept for non-Chinese. That's why my daughter was not able to get into the first school she was registered since she was three. (We were told that we had to register her then!!??)

Nowadays, there are lots of non-Chinese who speak fluent Mandarin and they integrate well. The children mixed together oblivious of race!

Therefore, what's the difference 1) Chinese primary - majority Chinese, minority other races; 2) National schools = majority Bumiputeras, minority non-Bumiputeras.

At the school my daughter is currently in, 50% of the children in her batch (400-500)did not understand Mandarin when they 1st entered. They are from Chinese as well as non-Chinese families.

BTW, anyone know what is "wang wakaf" for? Do children in national schools have to pay for this? Children in Chinese schools have to. The Malay clerk was unable to tell me why - Ministry's request.

Ever wondered why we go on and on about national schools being medium of national integration, importance of nat.language etc but the ministers and top officials' children are educated overseas. Perhaps they will be more exposed and "open" minded.

I'm not sure how well or poorly children from vernacular or national school will fare in the other languages but as a number of you have observed, a fair bit depends on us as parents to ensure that the children do well in other languages especially English (we are writing in English, here)?

Ray said...

I would like to recommend My First Chinese Reader. It is a good chinese learning textbook for kids. Really Helpful

Ray said...

Another chinese language learning book is the Champion Chinese. Pei-Pei Champion has enabled students not only to learn and memorize (pronounce, restate and write without assistance) the most important sounding systems (including thirty seven phonetic Zhuyin/BoPoMo symbols - the most basic and common components of both traditional and simplified Chinese characters, Japanese Kanji, classical Korean Hanjia and romanized Hanyu Pinyin) but twenty-six English lower-case letters in only two to five hours of intensive learning.

Anonymous said...

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1. To be a well-informed global citizen, to lean more about the Chinese Language to avoid being turned into a joke by people who hold special political and personal agendas, please view Pei-Pei’s PowerPoint file (Save the Chinese language/ The beauty and crisis of the Chinese language) and check the following comments:

l. Save the Chinese language (The beauty and crisis of the Chinese language)

2. About Pei-Pei Champion

3. Pei-Pei, the Chinese language Champion
A 1 to 2 years curriculum at most Chinese language schools or American public and private schools can be obtained and even mastered in only 20 to 40 hours using Pei-Pei’s Champion Chinese Program©.

4. Pei-Pei helps students win medals and government and college grants by teaching them the true Chinese using her self-created Champion Chinese Program, traditional phonetic Zhuyin/BoPoMo sounding symbols and traditional Chinese characters.

* Pei-Pei’s comments on New York Times

debate #146 (page 6)
a. Destruction of 5000 years ancient Chinese civilization caused by China Communist Government’s language reform (using Pinyin-based on Latin alphabet and Russian phonics, and using logic, meaning and structure distorted simplified character to teach the Chinese language).
b. Simplified characters ( noodle麵 à面, behind後 à后) have turned hand-sliced noodle (刀削麵) into hand-sliced face (刀削面) and have also turned the Queen’s face (后面) into the Queen’s behind (後面)!

c. more shocking examples about the differences between traditional characters and simplified characters: saint聖 vs 圣, justice義 vs 义, love愛 vs 爱, dragon龍 vs 龙)

debate #257 May 5th & debate #266 (page 11)
Simplified Chinese script has turned all Chinese people into dog's descendants!!!

Simplified dragon「龙」 has turned 龍的傳人(Chinese people, the descendents of dragons「龍」.) into 龙的传人 (Chinese people, the descendents of the creatures transformed from dogs「龙」.)

debate #287 May 14 (page 12)
Yes, simplified Chinese script has been used dated back to Song Dynasty; but, it is for pond shop clerks, waiters from street bars and street peddlers…!

debate #293 May 20 (page 12) 2009/05/02 /chinese-language-ever-evolving/?apage=12#comments

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“Pei-Pei has changed our entire life in few hours!”

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* Hartford Courant

* Epoch Times

* Article about Pei-Pei by Judy Aron, Hartford , CT

* Article about Pei-Pei from a BoPoMo defender (in Chinese)

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Pei-Pei Champion