During his speech at the swearing-in ceremony, President Tony Tan – after a keenly-contested Presidential Election which featured extended discussions on the President’s roles and responsibilities – was quick to outline his aim to be “a resource and a symbol”. As expounded upon by all of the presidential candidates, Singapore’s Head of State – as the “symbol” – has the unique ability to heighten constructive public discourse on socio-economic affairs, as well as to engage individuals from all walks of life; unfortunately, President Tan’s considerably poor fluency in the Chinese language might render communication with Chinese-educated Singaporeans challenging, and inhibit him from executing these aforementioned ceremonial duties effectively.
The Importance Of Mandarin And The Second Language
President Tan received noticeable flak following the televised broadcast of his Mandarin campaign speech, when he seemed to struggle with the oratorical presentation of a prepared script; therefore, given the corresponding takeaways, it would be tremendously beneficial for him to consider taking Chinese lessons. More importantly, it would run in parallel with the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) efforts to sustain bilingualism in the long-term, simultaneously encouraging mastery of the second language or mother tongue.
As with the justifications offered to schooling Chinese students who show no interest in the demanding language, there is no doubt that having the Chinese language under one’s belt would facilitate interactions with China and the rest of the world. For President Tan, Mandarin capabilities – along with a nuanced comprehension of traditions or cultures – would empower him greatly during his ambassadorial undertakings, allowing for smoother and friendlier exchanges. Beyond pragmatic diplomatic and fiscal interests, understanding of Chinese culture at home, given that citizens of Chinese descent are the largest ethnic group, would make President Tan more at ease during vis-à-vis sessions.
Learning And Productivity Have No Limits
Singaporeans should constantly seek to upgrade themselves, especially in the language department. As former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew highlighted during the Speak Mandarin campaign, he explained that “The value of a language is its usefulness, not just in Singapore, but also in the wider world”. President Tan can most certainly take a leaf out of Mr. Lee’s book, who consistently worked to learn and employ usage of the language, despite struggling with personal commitments, age and other difficulties.
Even though President Tan is of Peranakan descent, which means Mandarin is not technically his “mother tongue”, a resolve to heighten the proficiency of his Chinese language skills can go a long way to convince the population – especially young students – on the usefulness of the language. Just as how past Presidents have managed to advance various charitable causes, an undertaking in this linguistic aspect can evolve to be a defining zeitgeist of President Tan’s presidency.
If the status quo is allowed to manifest, educators and teachers might have to contend with the painful reality of apathetic, unmotivated students who staunchly refuse to put in effort for their Mandarin or second language because they simply do not see the need to.