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Mandarin Oranges?

I was reading Berita Minggu this morning when the section on Malays taking Mandarin as their 2nd Language caught my attention.  Such an interesting yet mind-provoking read. I didnt know that there are so many Malays out there who took Mandarin as their 2nd language in school… and succeeded.  Wow! I wonder though whether they can speak and write just as well in Malay. Ahh, so that’s the issue that I will like to bring up in my entry this time round.

Are our kids compelled to take up Mandarin as their 2nd language in school?

Honestly speaking, I WAS tempted to do so for my girls because I thought it would be an advantage to be able to converse in Mandarin as far as jobs are concerned.  So yes, I was thinking more about their future and without me realizing it, I did not even think about their interests, their capabilities, and the problems we would face in the long-run. After all, education is really a life long process, and we cannot just hope for the ideals without weighing the pros and cons.

Sure, I understand Mandarin. I cannot really speak Mandarin that well. I have Chinese blood in me. Bla bla bla. I think this is the case for almost everyone out there in Singapore. Somehow or rather, we can all understand Mandarin because of the multi-racial country we are living in. BUT what happens when my girls learn Mandarin as their 2nd language in school and come back home almost everyday, struggling to do their homework? Will I be there to coach them? Will I be able to help them? Will I be able to monitor their work? NO. And what if they do not do well in their Chinese paper? What if their below average results bring down their overall results? Do I even have the right to scold them or be disappointed in them? NO.

As it is, I am already struggling to introduce Malay to them, and that’s BAD enough.

I converse in English with my husband 90% of the time. I have been talking to my girls in English ever since I was pregnant with them. And until today, everyone in the household speaks to my girls in English. So who to blame?  The parents, or circumstances? I have never thought of the consequences before because to me, it is important to focus on just one language when I am communicating with my girls. A mixture of two languages will result in them encountering problems in both languages. Rojak language is not even an acceptable language. Let me tell you a secret – my ideal plan was for me and my husband to communicate in English with the girls, and my parents in Malay with them. However, my plan backfired.  Haha to me!

I tweeted and put this as my FB status at the same time this morning.

“Our kids taking Mandarin as their 2nd language in school. Your take on this, fellow Malay mummies? Share your views! :)”

The response was overwhelming. Almost everyone had different views on this topic. Regardles,, I really love all the views shared by my friends in Twitter and Facebook! They are pretty insightful! Here are some of my favourites. Have a read!


Preschoolers taking Mandarin is a plus point as they are able to absorb language fast before the age of 10. If you’re considering Mandarin for pri sch, its a good choice too. But you yourself must be well equipped with the language, the hanyu pinyin,strokes, etc.. home-teaching guidance is still needed for the kids :)) -Amy Lara, FB

If they took mandarin as their MT. Den what abt malay language? Wondering. They master other languages well, but when comes to malay, down the drain? – Putri Mayang Ain, FB

:))) I used to have Malay students who took CL as their 2nd L ….. Some were struggling cs their parents dun speak mandarin ….. Even some of the Chinese students were struggling themselves esp wen they reached in sec school ….. However there were some malays who were doing well cs they have a Chinese tutor n one parent actually took up lessons to learn mandarin as well so she too can teach her child n communicate in mandarin wit her child as well …. This is definitely a great advantage for e child …. There are pros n cons to it …. Hope this helps ….. – Nazreen Bramsha, FB

All I can say is this. IT’S EXPENSIVE!! My kids have been taking mandarin since kindergarten. We only converse in English at home. Daddy’s mandarin sucks big time. So we had one to one chinese tuition for the kids. The eldest is in Sec 1 now. I think if I accumulate all the fees from P1, I can get myself five full leather guccis. ha. – Lynn Sajian Lim, FB

I took mandarin till k2 cos there wasn’t a choice but took Malay frm pri sch onwards. Ive been watching chi shows since young and I can speak d language fluently and write the characters cos I learn at my own time. I have students who “suffered” taking mandarin tho they’re Malay-chi mixed and they u-turned at p5. From my own pov, I think we shldnt let d young ones forget their own MT. You can always let them take on the language outside of sch 🙂 my 2 cents…- Nur A. Juliet, FB 

 Here’s my take. Learning Chinese is super tough. Even the Chinese kids from Chinese speaking homes are struggling, especially in Primary school. In kindergarten it’s still ok as it’s not that stressful. I studied it in kindy as well. Now, I feel so sorry for my pupils as they are really struggling. You might end up spending all your time coaching your kids ONLY in Chinese. The other subjects will be neglected. It’s just too tough in schools. This is my suggestion. Get your girls to learn Chinese only as an enrichment, where there aren’t all these killer tests. Look for private enrichment schools and they can learn for fun. And anyway, I seriously don’t think we will lose out if we don’t learn Chinese. English is the most important language. Even the Chinese in China are learning English fast!

  Hadia Roohi, FB

And I don’t get this theory about the Chinese Language being very important or useful in Singapore. People keep saying it but is it really? Singapore is a multi racial country. If everyone learns Chinese, where’s the regardless of race and LANGUAGE? Learn your own Mother Tongue well and the language to really master is the English language. You can always learn any other language as a third language later and should have fun and enjoy it. English is the most important language and the language of LOVE. Heh heh…. Wish we had that in schools. It’s soooo lacking here 🙁  Hadia Roohi, FB

 My son too taking mandarin, frm nursery. Its good that they knw mandarin frm young. He speaks more english tho, lesser malay in school cos lesser malay frens to converse with. Heh. And he do understand & speaks mandarin even at hme. Amazing how kids can absorb so fast. – Mona Haniem, FB

Our command of Malay is sometimes half past six, so in that respect, no thank you to Mandarin classes for my kids… -@PujanggaMalam, Twitter

Husb is cina but he wud rather the boys take up Malay as 2nd lang. Mandarin will be learnt thru weekend classes -@Themummyjournal, Twitter

I feel tt my chn have to master our bahasa ibunda perfectly before mastering other lang. Tt’s why I send them to a malay orgn cc – @Suteraanggun, Twitter

Tkg ur child to a conversational Mandarin class is sufficient enough.But Mandarin as 2ndLang a big no. Bahasa menunjukkan bangsa! -@creamofcrete, Twitter

We can’t ignore the fact that being proficient in Chinese gives someone an added advantage. Just look at @fallagain!  @rynaque, Twitter

I won’t let my kids take mandarin as 2nd language. However, will send them to pvte classes for that. Easy to find job -@Fizan22, Twitter

In an employment point of view, being multilingual is really beneficial. I speak mandarin, malay n eng – @FaraAdam, Twitter

Uh uh not 4 me. Jawi lom champion nak step write Chinese characters konon. (speaking 4 myself too) Bahasa Melayu -@NuraJEsman, Twitter

I would rather they focus on their own mother tongue, but Jon wants them to hv a career advantage later in life. -@rinosque, Twitter

i wun let my son take mandarin as 2nd language cz even Malay itself He’s terrible nt 2 mention -@andriyaherlisha, Twitter

i think to be proficient, lang has to be acquired not taught & 2nd lang in sch is also about learning values, culture & history. -@samedamnthing, Twitter

so interesting. Wadeva e language, juz rmbr, mother tongue counts at psle. So juz make sure ur kids can pass their mt. -@rocksteadycafe, Twitter

En’s 3 nieces is all learning mandarin since young. they r in Rosyth now. father cn speak mandarin & even wrote a bk in mandarin. -@lennyrayn, Twitter

But to each its own ah. Some find it unnecessary. Maybe malay as 2nd language and send them for chinese classes? -@fallagain, Twitter


The bottom line is this, we cannot forget our roots. Put aside the pressure we face from the society for a minute, and just think about the best for your children. If the best for your children is to learn Mandarin for their future at the expense of them struggling in school, then go ahead if you can be there for them when they need you. There is really no point at all if you cannot coach them from home and give them the support they need. Sure, there’s always an option called tuition but most of the time, even home tuitions cannot guarantee results.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that your kids cannot take up Mandarin as a second language in school. They should, if they have been exposed to it since young. They should, if they prefer the Mandarin over Malay language.  They should, if their parents already have the background. Otherwise, they can just take up a 3rd language for the fun of it. Not as a second language. It’s like, “Hi my name is Siti, my race is Malay, I must eat rice with lots of belachan at the side but I can only speak Chinese. I tak faham Melayu.” Weird enough?  Besides, it is really not that easy to master Hanyu Pinyin, speaking from my experience as a teacher. I remember my P1 Indian student struggling with Mandarin, and failing every single test and exam. How to when she did not even understand what she was writing all the time? As a result, she was often caught copying her friend’s work. 🙁 So to those of you with kids taking Mandarin as their 2nd language and are coping well, thumbs up! Go all the way! 🙂

 If you ask me, I am definitely going to send my girls for Chinese classes outside curriculum time because like I said, it is always good to know more than just two basic languages. But first, they need to be really strong in their 1st and 2nd languages. Or else, they can forget about learning a 3rd language.


I say we should all embrace our own language first. I am looking forward to the day when I would be able to type a full entry in Bahasa Melayu, if you must know. But yes, I still love my Mandarin oranges very much!

TO EACH HIS OWN. After all, what may seem like the best choice for your kids may not neccessarily be the same for others.

For now, the Nadyas need to stop treating it like a big joke each time I speak to them in Malay.

It’s not gibberish girls, it is your MOTHER TONGUE!!

Tolong hormat sedikit yer.


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