Sunday, August 10, 2014

National Day & National Language (Part 2)

I did not think that I will write on this again so soon barely 20 hours since my last post. But I just experienced or had an encounter that proved my point. I was asked by a counter sales-girl at a busy 7-Eleven to listen in her mobile and helped her made sense of the English instructions given therein. I tried to explain to her with my limited Mandarin, perhaps got through 50% of my faltering Mandarin. She could not speak a single word in English, except thank you and sorry. I have met many Chinese nationals who are now Singaporean citizens and PRs but they know little English. Perhaps I always put on my friendly persona with strangers and I got to know quite a few uncles and aunties who could not speak English but happy to put up with my broken Mandarin.

So in Singapore, since English is widely spoken and a significant minority of the population cannot speak English, it won't do nation building and national integration much good even if English is almost the default national language. Worse still if we tell these purely Mandarin speakers that Malay is actually the national language of Singapore and they may think you are speaking gibberish. I would think that every new citizen must at least undersand every word in our National Anthem, Majulah Singapura not just lip service, and not just singing along without understanding.

I watched the highlights of National Day Parade, and the climax was reciting the pledge in English and singing the National Anthem in Malay. I know of Western educated Singaporeans born and bred in Singapore but not understanding half the Malay words in the National Anthem unless they look at the translation. All these make me wonder that indeed a common tongue is needed for social and national cohesion, not just saying we tolerate and respect one another but the use of a national language by one and all cannot but help shape national identity and belonging.

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