Monday, November 15, 2004

Beauty of Language Learning

During my secondary school days, I was surrounded by classmates who became suicidal if they didn't score an 'A' for Chinese.

I managed to blend in, though barely, since my own grades were quite decent too, at least during my secondary 1 and 2 days. It helped that I had a young and pretty Chinese teacher.

But another teacher, older, sagging, and hardly attractive, took over when I went on to sec 3 and 4. My morale and grades sagged.

Being the only student who had to attend every single remedial class of that Chinese teacher, we quickly gave up hope on each other (she was a completely hopeless teacher).

So when, by some kind twist of fate, I got a 'C' for my mid-year 'O' level Chinese paper, there was great rejoicing and relief for the both of us. While the guy sitting right in front of me was actively volcanic because he got an 'A2'.

I had to face Chinese torture again when I went into Junior College for 3 months. But it wasn't so bad there, since the Chinese lessons were actually quite interesting (interesting-looking tutor too). But still, I had already developed a deep phobia for learning the Chinese language, so I came to Ngee Ann Poly. (Chinese wasn't the only reason though; I hated the pressure-cooked JC environment and culture.)

In poly, most of my classmates have been Mandarin speakers, and the only English they know is Singlish. As long as I didn't reveal my past Chinese scores, I could blend in quite well, since my spoken Mandarin is passable (I speak exclusively Mandarin with my family), and I can speak Singlish like any native. But somehow, they would always find out that I was not quite like them - a wolf in sheep's clothing. Maybe it was how I never used Singlish when I argued with the lecturers, or how my technical reports would always be filled with unnecessarily cheem and sesquipedalian words (to impress and depress the lecturers).

Eventually, an interesting phenomenon would always set in. While I was perfectly comfortable using Mandarin with my classmates, more and more of them would start speaking to me in English (Singlish). Soon, they were speaking to me in English, and I would reply in Mandarin, and that would be how we communicated. And we were perfectly comfortable with that. I wonder if the linguists have any term for that phenomenon.

Anyway, every now and then, someone would call me a "kantang" (literally a potato; figuratively a pejorative term for a Chinese person who does not know the Chinese language or culture, just like the stereotypical Westerner who eats potatoes).

The comment never really bothered me, I guess because I'm comfortable in my own skin. Talking about skin, I'm sometimes called "banana" too - yellow on the outside, white in the inside.

I found out later that blacks who try to be like whites are called "oreos" (after the famous black cookie). You can imagine why.

But these days, things are getting confusing. Some Chinese want to be like the Japanese, others want to be like Korean, and some even want to be black. More Malays and Indians particularly seem to want to be black too, like this Indian friend who greets me using "Yo homie!" and I tell him to "cut the fake nigger crap".

And now, I'm wondering if I should learn another language. I can almost hear my mother's expected response (in mandarin of course), "Another language?!? You can't even master your own mother tongue, and now you're thinking another language?!?"

But before that happens, I have to decide if it's going to be German, French, or Japanese. It's really hard to decide, because I hear that all 3 have pretty lecturers, which is a crucial factor for me when it comes to language-learning.

Unfortunately, I probably can do only one. Very tough choice - it will probably end up a photo finish. That's if I can even get hold of their photos.

Oh well.

P.S. Here's Eddy's entertaining post about his experience being a kantang.

24 Comments:

Blogger Bubblemunche said...

Given your history of correlation between pretty lecturers and good grades, I say go for the language course with the most droolsome instructress :)

6:17 PM  
Blogger Preetam said...

I wish they had Korean and Vietnamese courses too. Vietnamese would be handy as a lot of investors here are putting money over there. Maybe, the students don’t perceive Vietnamese as “cool” as Japanese or Spanish. But, then again, we just need some lovely instructors.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Fat Fingers said...

Do you know what's a white trying to be "chinese" called? A hard boiled egg! hahaha

I love learning new languages too. It's fun! I speak a little Japanese. I'm hoping to learn another language too.. probably Spanish..

And i like your blog btw! :)

10:05 PM  
Blogger fruitsyrup said...

heh, i think i use english most of the time outside. i used to master both languages well but of late, due to lack of use, my chinese definitely deteriorated but ... i still remember my "Chuan Qian Ming Yue Guang ..." which i believe to be the most integral part of our chinese culture :P You recite that, everyone says you still keep your chinese roots.

6:48 AM  
Blogger calm one said...

Daaang... today's papers (Straits Times) just announced a massive overhaul of Chinese language teaching in the schools. If only they did it earlier, I wouldn't have been so dependant on the beauty of my teachers.

Bubble: Of course... all I need to do now is some research...

Preetam: Hey, I totally agree with you! Korean may stand a chance here, but Vietnamese... the administrators first need to be enlightened. But before they can be enlightened, there has to be some high-profile visits from ministers, loads of media coverage and hype about the prospects of Vietnam, etc etc before they'll even consider teaching it here. And yeah, Vietnamese is seen to be somewhat of an "inferior" culture, so even if they offer it here, the students may not bite. I actually have a lot more rants regarding language learning in NP. Maybe another post...

Fat Fingers: Hey the hard-boiled egg is a great one! A naked hard-boiled egg would be more suitable though...

And I've always wondered why anyone wants to learn Spanish. I must have overlooked something...

Dollie: I remember the "Chuan Qian Ming Yue Guang ..." too, believe it or not! And I didn't even learn it in school! But, I'm still a kantang... *sigh*

10:35 AM  
Blogger Zen|th said...

For me, my chinese experience was just was bad. The teacher was really boring and everybody just did their own thing at their class.

I'm not Chinese and taking the language was harder for me. So when I got a C6, I celebrated!

3:00 PM  
Blogger Bubblemunche said...

Zenith: I got C6, and was damn happy too :D! I'm Chinese though... gosh, I feel ashamed :(

7:30 PM  
Blogger lexie said...

hi.. came from bubble's blog.. haha i've got that "channel 5-channel 8" thing going with my friends too.. but it works the other way for me.. they talk to me in chinese and i reply in english.. i'm a sad case but we don't really mind conversing like that..

take french take french!!.. its such a nice language.. i took a course called french language and diction.. but wasn't really in depth enough to use in conversation.. only pronunciation and translation for singing.. but i did learn grammer and stuff.. it was interesting though the professor was somewhat old and musty in the noggin..

8:52 PM  
Blogger calm one said...

Zenith & Bubble: Yay! So I'm not the only C6er! =))

I'm supposed to be the calm one, but I have to admit - when the teacher announced my name, followed by the "C6", I actually shot up from my seat with my arms raished and shouted out "YESHHH!!!"

lexie: So that dual language communication isn't such a rare thing.

And yeah, French may be a good idea - the French lecturer we have is supposed to be this cute blonde =)

10:11 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

French is like sooo classy and i heard japanese is like the hardest subject sorta thing.

Ah yes, talking about chinese - my most dreaded subject. I was like made the chinese representative by default because i always help the class by hiding the books when it comes to chinese spelling, you know the TING XIE (pardon me, i suck at han yu pin yin). HA.

I know where you can find losta "kantangs" - ACS and MGS and in Ngee Ann? FMS - mass commers especially. You will then feel superior in chinese. Haha.

12:17 AM  
Blogger adrock2xander said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:38 AM  
Blogger Zen|th said...

I did exactly the same thing as you, Calm! Haha.

Hmm.. I suggest you take french. The way it sounds is just nice.

1:03 AM  
Blogger lexie said...

yup i say french.. the pretty blond's a bonus.. german sounds as if you're spitting.. a bit rough sounding.. but must admit once you get the pronunciation of words it more or less applies throughout.. french on the other hand has a no. of discrepancies though much more pleasant to the ears..

7:50 AM  
Blogger Bubblemunche said...

Oh, with regards to Spanish, it's very useful if you're planning to work in South America or Europe, for obvious reasons ;)

9:32 AM  
Blogger calm one said...

Melissa: No language is too hard if you've got the right teacher =))
And oh I'm a hanyu pinyin expert - I could read hanyu pinyin faster than I could read the chinese characters!
Not all the masscommies are bad actually - RadioHeatwave has Chinese programmes, Tribune even has a Chinese section. Of course the bad ones are really bad =)

Adrock: Sorry dude, I suddenly had this uncontrollable urge to click on the trash icon after I read your trash. Keep commenting - pressing the icon is great fun! =)

Zenith: Yeah French sounds nice, especially if you're whispering sweet stuff to a girl and she's doing the same to you =)

lexie: One reason I like German is because it's rough-sounding - great language to use when you're shouting at a guy and he's shouting back at you.
And another reason German is appealing to me is they have some great books that I'm interested in. But I doubt I'll reach that level - it'll take decades *sigh*

Bubble: True for S. America, and even for parts of USA, but is it that common in Europe? I'd think French and German are more widely spoken there...

10:05 AM  
Blogger JellyGirl said...

Hello calm one, am enjoying reading your blog and reminiscing my good old Ngee Ann days. Yes, I used to study at Ngee Ann. From that 'kantang' course. ;) And you're right, not all the mcm-ers were that bad.

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How long more before you graduate and serve your nation? :) Listed your blog in mine.

www.livejournal.com/~nilsinelabore

5:31 AM  
Blogger calm one said...

JellyGirl: Nice to have you here =) I know quite a few ex-masscommies, although I doubt you're one of them =)

Anon: Not everyone gets to graduate you know =) Thanks for linking me =)

9:24 AM  
Blogger JellyGirl said...

Yah I doubt we know each other. The age gap is probably too far, bwaaa. :P

4:29 PM  
Blogger calm one said...

The oldest ex-masscommie I know is 31 this year =)

lifeatngeeann.blogspot.com

11:22 AM  
Blogger Daryl said...

The phenomenon of talking in two languages according to your audience is known as code switching (specifically bilingual code switching; code switching can also involve talking in Singlish to your taxi driver and more 'proper' English to your lecturers). Very common in Singapore, but also in other parts of the world.

5:17 PM  
Blogger calm one said...

Actually I know about code switching and registers etc. But I'd like to know if there's a term for this scenario:

Speaker A and speaker B are talking to each other.
Speaker A is speaking in language X;
speaker B is speaking in language Y.

Any idea?

8:12 PM  
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