Five young bilingual professionals roped in to help promote Speak Mandarin Campaign

(Clockwise from top left) Ms Pey Yin Jie, Mr Sim Cheng Yu, Mr Ian Loh, Mr Lim Jing Kai and Mr Kennie Ting. PHOTOS: SPEAK MANADARIN CAMPAIGN, MR IAN LOH, MR LIM JING KAI, ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM

SINGAPORE – Mr Kennie Ting’s proficiency in Mandarin came in handy when it helped draw Guo Pei, China’s foremost couturier, to hold a large couture and art exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) in 2019.

“Guo Pei decided to work with ACM because she trusted me. She felt that I had a deep understanding of Chinese culture, and that there were no language barriers between us,” said Mr Ting, 44, director of the ACM and Peranakan Museum.

He is among five people tapped under a Young Bilingual Professionals initiative by the Promote Mandarin Council and Business China to foster the use of the language. They were selected after a call for nominations was made to various organisations.

Videos of how they have benefited from their bilingualism can now be seen on the Speak Mandarin Campaign’s social media platforms, and they may be spotted at campaign or Business China events.

Ms Chew Lee Ching, deputy chairman of the council, said: “Our bilingual advantage is beneficial and provides Singaporeans with a competitive edge, especially when exposed to opportunities presented by a rapidly changing world. Specific to a growing China economy, the value of Mandarin is in its usefulness and its ability to connect.”

She hopes the Young Bilingual Professionals move will inspire greater interest in Mandarin – not only for the functional benefits, but also for how it can enrich lives through a deeper appreciation for and understanding of the Chinese culture.

Three of the professionals – Mr Ian Loh, 32, senior vice-president of a blockchain fintech company; Mr Sim Cheng Yu, 29, a trade marketing manager at a multinational eyewear firm; and Ms Pey Yin Jie, 37, a principal consultant with a multinational energy group – grew up in a Mandarin-speaking environment.

Mr Ting and Mr Lim Jing Kai, 27, a financial consultant with Prudential and freelance content creator, found subsequent opportunities to catch up.

Mr Ting, who grew up in an English-speaking family and had regular Chinese tuition, decided to read Chinese literature for the O levels when he was at The Chinese High School. 

“Asia is a global economic and trade hub today,” he noted. “Hence, proficiency in Asian languages, including Chinese, is very important.” 

Mr Loh, who studied in both China’s Tsinghua University and University of Oxford, helps international investors understand the capital market in China and assists Chinese investors in navigating the global investment environment.

“I hope to bring awareness about not just bilingualism but also biculturalism,” he said.

The language skills have proven useful beyond work too.

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Ms Pey, a National University of Singapore (NUS) law graduate, not only reviews Chinese contracts and documents at work, but has also penned award-winning Chinese poems and song lyrics, including Mandopop star Della Ding’s Unlike Us.

“I hope to encourage young children to use both English and Mandarin, as I believe building a good foundation at a young age helps to further their interest in the languages,” she said.

She will speak Mandarin to her newborn son and read Chinese books to him when he is older.

Mr Sim, who is also a grassroots leader in Boon Lay, said his Mandarin proficiency proved useful when he briefed elderly hawkers about his Belanja A Meal programme during the Covid-19 pandemic. The project provided residents of rental flats with freshly cooked hawker food and helped sustain businesses.

“These hawkers are mainly seniors who are more conversant in Mandarin,” he added. “We explained the details to them in Mandarin, and they felt closer and more willing to speak their minds.”

He is also conducting lessons on Chinese culture for students at an enrichment centre.

Mr Lim, who has a client base of both locals and foreigners from Taiwan, Malaysia and China, also creates videos online to help viewers deepen their interest in the Chinese language and is a bilingual host at weddings.

He started out fearing Chinese because he could not master it. His mother forced him to speak Mandarin with her, and it worked. He also gained inspiration from Chinese movies, and songs by local singers JJ Lin and Stefanie Sun.

In 2019, during his NUS mechanical engineering internship in Shenzhen, China, he took part in the popular Chinese match-making television show If You Are the One. That was when he reminded himself to speak Mandarin well because he “did not want to embarrass Singapore”.

“It shows that we can brush up on our Chinese-language skills as long as we put our hearts into it,” he added.

Efforts to promote Malay and Tamil languages

The Malay Language Council appoints people from different professions and backgrounds as lifetime language champions. There are 44 Duta Bahasa or language ambassadors appointed to date.

Identified by the council, these ambassadors are expected to play a key role in promoting the language in the Malay community and be involved in its programmes.  

Since 2014, Malay-language students have also been appointed as Rakan Bahasa (friends of the language), with 353 taking on the role in 2022. Nominated by teachers, they are encouraged to reach out to their peers, friends and families.

The Tamil Language Council strives to promote the use of the language, especially among the youth. It will be presenting its annual Tamil Language Festival in April, with programmes organised by community and youth organisations, as well as tertiary institutions and schools.

It also organised the second edition of the Tamil Youth Festival in September 2022 with workshops, performances and competitions. The event will be held again in September 2023.

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