Change the way Chinese is taught

Time and again, I see discussions in the media about the disadvantages of rote learning. In part, this is related to the learning of the Chinese language.

At the start of primary school, pupils are introduced to the language through hanyu pinyin - the romanisation system for Mandarin sounds - which is included below every Chinese character in the school textbook.

The hanyu pinyin is gradually removed as the pupil progresses. If there is an unfamiliar character, the pupil would have to clarify it with the Chinese teacher.

Often, we had to memorise phrases and paragraphs for the many compositions we had to write.

During examinations, we would spend more time thinking about and looking up the hanyu pinyin of Chinese characters, rather than having the convenience of an English-Chinese dictionary.

With the proliferation of technology and e-commerce, learning the language has become much easier.

I feel that I have learnt much more Chinese on my own through making purchases and dealing with Chinese sellers on platforms like Taobao, and using Google Translate for assistance.

The use of hanyu pinyin facilitates independent learning, since we can recognise the pronunciation and look up the meaning of words in the dictionary.

It is also largely useful in imparting the sentence structure and foundational vocabulary to us.

As the country moves forward with skills of the future, the old way of rote learning and memorisation of Chinese should be abandoned.

It is time to embrace technology and look to the future.

Steven Goh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2017, with the headline 'Change the way Chinese is taught'. Print Edition | Subscribe