What are dialects?
They are a branch of a language, a variation of it. They are specific to certain regions and are distinguishable from the difference in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. Some examples are Cantonese, a dialect of the Chinese language. Or Kelantanese, a Malay dialect.
But they are more than just a language variation. Dialects are part of our culture, and many of Singapore’s youths are losing touch with this precious part of their identity.
So to preserve the cultural roots of our youths, should we teach dialects in school? Let’s talk about it.
Why Should We Learn Dialects?
The importance of dialects is often overlooked. After all, when English and Mandarin are used as means of communication in international businesses, dialects seem so out of touch with the globalised Singapore we currently live in.
But here are some benefits of dialect:
Bridging generation gaps and helping families communicate
Dialects bridge generation gaps and allow grandparents to communicate with their grandchildren.
There are many stories and articles of family dinners where the older and younger generations don’t have a common language to converse in. This would not happen if our youths knew how to speak in the dialects that their grandparents used.
Bringing youths closer to their cultural roots and heritage
Dialects allow communication and it bridges generation gaps between the older and younger generations. This allows youths to learn more about their cultural roots and heritage as they learn from the seniors. The stories, the lessons, and traditions, can all be passed down.
While learning dialects, youths also learn about the history of the dialects and how they evolved. This helps them to gain a better appreciation for their heritage and culture too.
Why we don’t teach dialects in schools in the first place is because of the lack of business prospects. English and Mandarin are useful for global communications and overseas business. On the other hand, dialects don’t seem useful in international relations.
But it turns out that dialects are actually valuable for global communications too! Take Cantonese, for example. It is the official language of Hong Kong, and if we teach Cantonese in schools, our future generation can possibly have better communication with Hong Kong in the future.
Is it Feasible?
Currently, there are no dialect lessons in school because it doesn’t seem feasible. There are so many dialects for students to learn and not enough teachers for each dialect. Not to mention that not all students speak dialects too.
But what if there are ways to teach dialects in school without worrying about these factors?
Here are some ways we can do that.
There is much debate about how dialects can be a third language for students. A third language is available only to those who can manage their first two languages. So the only issue is that there are too many dialects to choose from, and there might be insufficient teachers.
So the solution to this: offer a handful of dialects as a third language. Specifically, the ones useful in an international business context, like Cantonese.
Another way to teach dialects in schools would be to arrange masterclasses. This allows students to access the materials to learn dialects through virtual means.
Then schools will ask students if they are interested in learning dialects (and ask them which dialect too) and if they are, they can have access to these lessons and do their own independent learning. This way, schools won’t waste time and effort too!
CCA and Extracurricular Activities
An option to consider is to open up a Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) for dialects. For example, Singapore Management University (SMU) has a Malay Language and Cultural Club where they raise awareness and appreciation of the Malay culture and language through their activities.
Having similar CCAs for dialect groups in secondary schools is a great way to allow students to learn more about dialects and connect with their cultural roots.
Learning dialects is an excellent way for our youths to connect with their cultural roots, leading to its preservation in our globalised Singapore. However, there are many factors to consider if we want to teach these dialects in school.
I hope that this article shows you that there are ways for schools to encourage the learning of dialects while still overcoming these challenges and aspects.