SINGAPORE - I disagree with bilingualism expert Yow Wei Quin's conclusion that code-switching - when a speaker alternates between two or more languages in a sentence or conversation - can improve Mandarin standards ("English + Mandarin = Better Mandarin"; last Thursday).
Her sample number (51 children) is too small for such a study, and the duration (10 days) is too short.
Parents who remind their children to speak in full sentences in one language are correct.
Over the years, I have seen several cases of primary school children speaking Mandarin mixed with English. They did this because they are too lazy to recall the words or phrases of Mandarin, their weaker language. Gradually, more English words were used and by the time they became working adults, they would use English to answer questions directed to them in Mandarin.
Thus, my conclusion is: English + Mandarin = No Mandarin (eventually).
I have studied six languages over the years. Regardless of how easy a language is, one still needs hard work and perseverance to master the basics.
Mixing English and Mandarin is certainly not the right way to learn Mandarin, which is one of the most difficult languages in the world.
-Wong Ming Keong (Dr)
This article was first published on August 26, 2014.
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