DO WE really need to speak dialects to learn about our cultural heritage?
It is not the language that determines how the young acquire their cultural heritage, but the content and manner of instruction ("Teach children their dialects" by Mr Eugene Tai Yun Heng; March 2).
Today's youngsters, if they don't speak dialects, use Mandarin to communicate with the elderly. And the elderly, in order not to be left out, also use Mandarin.
The young Chinese in China speak Mandarin, too. If their parents are able to pass down their cultural heritage using this language, I do not see why we cannot do the same in Singapore.
Education on cultural identity should not be the responsibility of schools. Grandparents and parents are the best teachers.
However, dialects do have a place in communication with the elderly.
There is a special, unspoken feeling of closeness, understanding and bonding, of being on the same level as elderly folk.
In the course of my volunteer work, I find that using dialects to talk with the elderly serves as an excellent icebreaker and lets them express their feelings and needs more readily.
The uneducated elderly do not speak Mandarin, and if they do, it is through informal learning.
If parents wish to teach their children dialects, it should preferably be for the purpose of creating a special bond between speakers.
Some clan associations hold dialect classes for their young members so that they can have better communication with their elderly family members.
Parents should not be tasked with teaching dialects for the sole purpose of passing down cultural heritage. They are already stressed with work and family commitments.
Ng Kim Yong (Mrs)
This article was first published on March 12, 2015.
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