How important is the Mandarin Language to Singaporean Youths?


  • A video showing Singaporean youths speaking Mandarin (or something that is supposedly Mandarin) was posted online.
  • The video basically shows us how bad the Mandarin standard is amongst youths in Singapore despite them scoring fairly decent grades at their Chinese GCE O Level exams.

guilty as charged

To make these youths feel a little little better, the video has garnered hundreds of likes and almost 2,000 shares and mostly because they can all relate to it.

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And this epic reply is epic…

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If you can’t read Mandarin, this lady basically mentioned that Mandarin is important because you can shop for cheap stuff on Taobao.

Yup. Life skills 101.


Remember the whole“mistake” in our education system and bilingual policy? So now we are neither good with English nor Mandarin? Is it really the case with most Singaporean youths or is it just a matter of how the subjects in the video were picked to portray this message?

Do we simply blame it on our education system or is it a case like what the young man pointed out that it has more to do with what is being spoken at home? (Or rather… NOT spoken?)

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What is language learning to us? Is it a matter of knowing it well? Learning (enough) to speak and communicate or just a matter of passing the annual exams?

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P.S. Is it me or this problem doesn’t seem to exist in communities which speak other mother tongues? Anyone with insights on this?

  1. Thanks to the author for this article, hopefully it could generate more discussion.

    Going by this video, it seemed to suggest that our bilingual system has failed and nothing to be proud of.

    I think we should not totally blame our bilingual system or the spoken language at home. Language when not in use as frequently in our daily interaction, would somehow be less valued by the mass and given a lower status. In some instances, it became extinct e.g. the almost close to extinction of the chinese dialects among the Singaporean Chinese community or the Kristang, a language previously spoken by the Eurasians in the past.

    This is what I would refer to as the elitist of a language. Due to our colonial past, we tend to regard English as a more superior language than any other languages. The society has come to accept it as our official or working language for all the races. For the less educated or dialect speaking group, they use ‘Singlish’ which is a form of broken English when reaching out to the other races. Singlish though not a perfect English, is now our lingua franca. It is a’culturally evolved English language’ that is grammatically incorrect thus unacceptable by mainstream.

    So for good or ill, English is seen as a superior language in Singapore and is here to stay. We can’t change people’s mindset overnight.

    What makes English a superior language here? For example, if you choose to speak a different language e.g. Mandarin, in a social setting where there are more non-Mandarin speakers, it could be seen as insensitive and rude and a less competent speaker. It applies the same to Tamil or Malay speakers in a predominantly English speaking environment. It has become our language culture and a social norm.

    Ultimately, it’s all a matter of perception and makes our Chinese youths less inclined to use Mandarin.

    I can’t speak for the youths of other races.

  2. Not all youths are bad at Chinese… a video wouldn’t get many views if a Singaporean youth spoke excellent Chinese anyway.

    Then again, this might be a testament to the lack of popularity of Chinese in Singapore. Study it, try to get an A and never use it again (except to order food or if you meet someone who speaks to you in Chinese on the street and can’t/doesn’t want to converse in English).

    I’ve seen Chinese companies complaining about the less than appealing standard of Chinese among students who are sent to companies in China for internships (fewer folks go on exchanges, perhaps in the not-so-mistaken belief that a stint at a Chinese university is less renowned than an equivalent exchange in a Western university).

    Hopefully it will get better, but I see a long and uphill struggle. There’s really no need to master (or even do well) at Chinese to succeed in Singapore at present, and if one considers working in China, Chinese salaries are not very competitive with Singaporean salaries, at least at entry level, so few Singaporeans would make an effort to master something where dividends are difficult to reap.

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