INT.OFFICE - PANTRY - LATE MORNING
Ah Tan entered the pantry and saw Ah Chee at the coffee machine. He walked over and pat Ah Chee on his back. Ah Chee looked up, with fatigue in his eyes.
AH TAN: Wow! Why so shack?
AH CHEE (frowning): You meant 'exhausted'? Tan, you've gotta stop using such degraded language! If we can't speak good English ourselves, how can we convince the lesser mortals to do so?
AH TAN (stepping back): Oops, sorry! Bad day, huh?
AH CHEE (sighed): A wearing morning. And I've still gotta entertain ludicrous questions from those lesser mortals!
After Ah Tan has gotten his share of coffee from the machine, the two men sat down at a table.
AH TAN (sipping his coffee): Some idiot wrote something stupid to the press again?
AH CHEE: Yah, a dummy actually wrote in and suggested that we revive dialect speaking!
AH TAN: Huh? What's the meaning of revive? Dialects have never been dead! I can still hear the uncles and aunties speaking Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and some other unknown dialects that I don't understand, in kopitiams.
AH CHEE (shaking head): Yes, I'm afraid we've still got such people conversing in these undesirable languages, and I suppose we could only hope that they will take these degenerate languages with them when they pass away.
AH TAN (nodding): I'm sure they will. The younger generation definitely have no clue on the dialects that their grandparents are using.
AH CHEE: Yes! Fortunately!
Their conversation was interrupted by Ah Tan's mobile phone ringing. Swiftly, Ah Tan took the mobile phone out of his pants pocket and answered.
AH TAN (speaking into his mobile phone): Hello? Ah Lim ar? I'm in the pantry lah, with Ah Chee. Talk to you later okay?
After Ah Tan hung up and looked up, he was taken aback by Ah Chee's unapproved stare.
AH CHEE (sternly): Tan! Speak good English!
AH TAN (scratching back of head): Hahaha... okay okay...
AH CHEE (sighing): Do you know that there is this Dr Ng from NTU saying that although Singaporeans are still multilingual, 40 years ago, we were even more multilingual? And he complained that young children are not speaking dialects at all any more! To think that he is actually an acting head of the school's Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies! Such fool!
Ah Chee sipped a mouthful of coffee to calm himself before continuing.
AH CHEE: Tan, think about it. To keep a language alive, it has to be used regularly. Using one language more frequently means less time for other languages. Hence, the more languages a person learns, the greater the difficulties of retaining them at a high level of fluency. And our experience over 50 years of implementing the bilingual education policy has shown that most people find it extremely difficult to cope with two languages when they are as diverse as English and Mandarin. So, can you imagine what kind of disaster we will get ourselves into if we were to allow the use of dialects freely? The usage of dialects interferes with the learning of Mandarin and English! And Singaporeans have to master English! It is our common working language and the language which connects us with the world! English and nothing else!
Ah Chee's face turned red as he panted from speaking too fast. He had to stop again and take another sip of coffee.
AH TAN: English and Chinese. Chinese is important too, now that China is growing strong.
AH CHEE: Precisely. That is why we also emphasised the learning of Mandarin, to make it the mother tongue for all Chinese Singaporeans, regardless of their dialect groups. This is the common language of China and it is a must for Singaporeans to learn Mandarin to do business with the Chinese.
AH TAN: Or even if not for the purpose of doing business with China, we should learn Mandarin so that we could understand what the heck those China foreign workers are talking about, and manage them effectively.
AH CHEE: Hmm...regarding those China foreign workers, I'm writing up a suggestion to make it complusory for them to attend basic English courses. We're the boss and they're the workers. They should be learning English, not us learning Mandarin.
AH TAN: Ah... good point!
AH CHEE: Anyway, I don't know what is in that Dr Ng's mind. It would be stupid for any Singapore agency or NTU to advocate the learning of dialects, which must be at the expense of English and Mandarin. Very stupid. If Singaporeans are really keen in learning more languages, they should do Japanese, French or Korean. Not useless dialects like Hokkien, Teochew or Cantonese!
Ah Tan rubbed his chin and thought for a minute before continuing.
AH TAN: Er... but won't learning these languages affect their English and Mandarin standards as well?
AH CHEE (clearing his throat): Hmm... it's different.
AH TAN: Oh...
AH CHEE (tapping Ah Tan's shoulder): Anyway, I hope you're communicating to your kids in proper English.
AH TAN: Hahaha... yah... kinda... They sucks at Mandarin though. But it helps that they just have to learn hanyu pinyin in school and don't have to worry about writing those weird Chinese characters.
AH CHEE: Yes! That's one great change for our superb education system. I can still remember how I had suffered from learning Chinese during my secondary school days!
AH TAN: Hahaha... yah... those were the days!
AH CHEE: And how are your kids communicating with your parents?
AH TAN: In Cantonese. They've actually mastered some Cantonese from all those Hong Kong serial dramas and they can speak to their grandparents in their broken Cantonese. Hahaha...
Ah Tan stopped laughing when he suddenly found Ah Chee staring at him with a straight face.
AH CHEE (raising his voice): You mean you actually allow your kids to learn Cantonese?! You actually allow them to watch television programmes in Cantonese?!
AH TAN: Well... it's not like their English is really affected...
AH CHEE: But still! How can you allow such bad influence on them?
AH TAN: But... at least they can understand what their grandparents are saying!
AH CHEE (shaking his head): Goodness me! Do you know what are you doing to their future?
AH TAN (patting Ah Chee on his shoulder): Ah Chee, don't worry about it! I've got it under control.
Ah Chee raised his right eyebrow and looked at Ah Tan skeptically. Meanwhile, Ali walked into the pantry with an empty mug. Upon seeing Ah Tan and Ah Chee, he walked over to the table.
ALI (patting Ah Tan on his shoulder): Brother! Apa Ini? Tea-break never call?
AH CHEE (shouting at Ali): Speak good English!
multilingual,bilingual education policy,dialects,Chee Hong Tat,Principal Private Secretary to the Minister Mentor