Starting conversations

Forum: Show more understanding to hospital staff

I am puzzled by Mr Neo Poh Goon's reaction over being spoken to in Mandarin first by hospital staff (Hospital staff assumed I spoke Mandarin, Jan 6).

Chinese being one of our official languages aside, each of us is a product of our circumstances.

It may have been the norm for elderly Chinese, rather than the exception, to be schooled in the Chinese medium.

The odds of getting it right when using Mandarin to try to speak with an elderly Chinese person here are much higher than starting off in English.

If hospital staff were to start off by speaking in English with such elders, they might receive more complaints from the elders about why they are being spoken to in a language they don't understand.

There is nothing wrong with the hospital staff making fairly safe assumptions that most times are correct.

This is more efficient than having them start every conversation by asking patients which medium they would prefer to be spoken to.

Perhaps Mr Neo need not react this way over something so minor, and in doing so place even more strain on our already overly-strained healthcare workers.

What is needed is to be more understanding of the circumstances of the elderly Chinese in Singapore, as well as the good intentions of the staff at starting conversations.

Peh Chwee Hoe

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2021, with the headline 'Show more understanding to hospital staff'. Print Edition | Subscribe