I read 2 articles in the Chinese newspaper yesterday about languages. One about doctors who can’t speak/read Chinese competently and the other commented on the inconvenience caused to some passengers, especially the elderly as directional signages and station announcements in MRT are only in English.
In the first article, the author (doctor working in a hospital) was from a SAP school and he felt sad that a Chinese national TCM doctor in the hospital expressed surprised when the author could read Chinese newspaper. Although many of us could advance in our career without much in-depth knowledge of Chinese, we could become a laughing stalk when foreigners see us Chinese can’t even read/speak or understand Chinese very well.
The second article mentioned that announcements and signages in Switzerland are in the 4 official languages.
I’m not very familiar with the education system in Switzerland, but it seems that due to their unique demographics, they have 4 official languages (German, French, Italian, Romanic). Also, they do not have much natural resources so have to depend on human resource. All these quite similar to Singapore.
Depending on region, they have to study one of the 4 official languages as the main and 2 other foreign languages (chosen from the other 3 official languages) in their primary school years. Only in recent years that English is compulsory as one of the 2 foreign languages in the syllabus.
Quoting from a passage in the website above:
" Language teaching
In a multilingual country, the coordination of language teaching is particularly important. In March 2004, the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK) adopted a national strategy for further development of language teaching. This strategy aims to realise early and consistent promotion of pupils’ language skills in their first national language and the provision of a solid basis in a second national language as well as English, with the possibility of learning a third national language. The most important content of the strategy is incorporated into the inter-cantonal agreement on the harmonisation of compulsory education (HarmoS Concordat), according to which, 2 foreign languages (a second national language and English) are to be taught already on the primary level. The first foreign language begins in the third school year at the latest and the second foreign language begins in the fifth school year at the latest (if counted according to the new school structures as defined by the HarmoS Concordat: first foreign language: fifth school year; second foreign language: seventh school year). The question of which language is to be taught first is coordinated regionally. Regardless of the beginnings, comparable knowledge of both foreign languages is to be achieved by the end of compulsory education. The objectives are defined via the national educational standards. The cantons have begun to implement this language resolution. Teaching in the first foreign language is to be introduced by 2010 at the latest and teaching of the second foreign language no later than 2012. The cantonal language concept of the canton Ticino deviates from these specifications and envisages compulsory teaching in 3 foreign languages (German, French and English) during compulsory education."
They don’t have PSLE per se but they do stream students according to ability in the period (depending on region/state) spanning from our equivalent of P5 to Sec 2.
OK, why I bring up Switzerland? Well, I find it quite amazing that despite their language differences, they are very united as one country. Read somewhere that although English wasn’t a compulsory subject previously, majority of the population know English rather well, due to economic reasons.
Their cultural roots are well grounded because of history and also the study of their Mother Tongue (one of the 4 official language) as their first language. I’m not too sure of the weighting of the other 2 foreign languages but it seems it’s not an issue.
Hee…hee, just a thought… why don’t we make Mother Tongue (MT) our 1st language but still make English study compulsory as (foreign/2nd) language? By 1st language I don’t mean to teach Maths and Science in MT, but to learn the language at a deeper level, involving literature, history and cultural. I think English is still important as a working language, for communication between different races and for economic reasons, but I don’t think we need to attain proficiency of the language to an exceptionally high level (ie. equivalent level to the ang mohs).
Our Mother Tongue is equally important but to preserve our roots and cultural, we need also to study the literature and history of the language of origin.
Lowering the weighting of 2nd languages will evolve into a situation where in time to come, we’ll slowly be transformed into an ABC (American Born Chinese) equivalent.
BTW, Switzerland produced many Nobel prize winners. Extracting from a passage in wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switzerland#Demographics:
Nobel prizes were awarded to Swiss scientists, for example to the world-famous physicist Albert Einstein in the field of physics who developed his theory of relativity while working in Bern. More recently Vladimir Prelog, Heinrich Rohrer, Richard Ernst, Edmond Fischer, Rolf Zinkernagel and Kurt Wüthrich received Nobel prizes in the sciences. In total, 113 Nobel Prize winners stand in relation to Switzerland and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 9 times to organisations residing in Switzerland.