RWD Menu

Homepage Banner 1Homepage Banner 2Homepage Banner 3Homepage Banner 4
Whats Happening 

Love our Languages! Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism Community Series  

  • Upcoming talks will be held in August 2019 during Mother Tongue Languages Symposium. More
    details will be announced.
Home > Resources > Personal Reflections > Ms Tan Leng Tuan, Assistant News Editor, Lianhe Zaobao
By Ms Tan Leng Tuan, Assistant News Editor, Lianhe Zaobao  

People generally have two reactions to my name when I introduce myself. The first reaction goes something like this: "Neng Duan ... the name sounds masculine, did your parents wish for a son?" The other reaction is usually "Chen Neng Duan... you have a very unique name. You must be a foreigner!"

I am a third-generation Singaporean who is born and raised in Singapore. My paternal great-grandfather was from Anxi in Fujian, but my grandfather was born in Singapore. I come from an ordinary family. My parents were not particularly scholarly - they did not go to university but because they studied in ‘kampung’ schools, they can be described as "Chinese-educated". As to the mystery of my name, it was given by a fortune-teller in the hope that I become ‘capable’ and ‘virtuous’

My mother is considered the "Prime Minister" in our family. She takes care of everything for us, including how my brother and I were to be educated.

My mother is an alumni of Dunman High School and she was accepted into Singapore Polytechnic to study civil engineering. By today's standards, it seems nothing extraordinary to go to polytechnic from secondary school. But in those days, it was a tremendous pedagogical upheaval for Chinese-educated students to deal with an overnight shift of the teaching medium from Chinese to English.  
 
When my mother was studying in polytechnic, English-educated students often scoffed at my mother for being a "Chinese helicopter". To deal with school, she had to put in an enormous amount of effort to pick up English at the age of 17. Fortunately, graduates from Chinese schools were usually strong in Maths and Science and my mother eventually graduated from polytechnic. My mother’s personal experience of being disadvantaged by her unfamiliarity with a different language shaped her conviction of the need to expose her children to two languages from young.

Before I went to Kindergarten, my brother and I had two sets of "homework" everyday. One was to read a "Ladybird" storybook, and the other was to practise writing different Chinese characters. My mother was very strict with handwriting practice. If she was not satisfied with our writing, she would erase all the characters we had written and demand that we write it over and over again until we met her expectations.

My mother's intentions escaped me when I was young. I diligently went through my writing practice only because I found it boring to write the same characters again and again, and did not want to go through the tedium of re-writing. On hindsight, I think my mother had hoped that we would build more than a casual familiarity with both the English and Chinese language from young. I now know that these two "friends" were equal in importance, and had to be treated with respect and diligence. As long as we are sincere in learning, there is nothing too difficult to learn. 

In primary school, I usually topped the class in Chinese, but the same could not be said for my English. My enunciation was poor and my vocabulary weak; and filling in the blanks in cloze passages was my particular nemesis during exams. But even so, I did not dislike English. On the contrary, I only read English novels. This could be due to my habit of reading a ‘Ladybird’ a day, which was cultivated from young. ‘Nancy Drew’, ‘The Three Investigators’ and ‘Sweet Valley High’ were just some of my favourite series. Till I was 11, I did not read a single novel in Chinese. Even my first contact with the Chinese classics, ‘Outlaws of the Marsh’ and ‘Dream of the Red Mansion’ were translated English versions.

When I was 12, my aunt bought me my first Chinese novel written by local writer You Jin. I remember it was a collection of short stories called ‘The Lion on Fire’. This initial exposure to Chinese short stories inspired me to write and made me fall in love with Chinese literature. Most of my friends hated Chinese essay-writing but I had a lot of fun writing them. I found it liberating to express one's thoughts and feelings in a language that was closest to your heart. 

It was only upon entering secondary school that I realised that there were so many others who were better than me, even in my best subject, Chinese. But I truly enjoyed my secondary school days because of my amazing teachers. I was especially inspired by my language teachers to truly embrace the subjects we were taught. Most Secondary 1 students thought English Literature to be the most "scary" subject but our teacher managed to transform it into one of our favourite subjects. This was also why I chose to continue learning English literature in Secondary Three, even though most people dropped it since it was deemed "harder to score" compared to other subjects. I was glad my mother did not challenge my decision then.

My Chinese improved significantly in secondary school, as our teachers tried to practise differentiated learning for students with varying abilities. We all had to do the same homework but students with a stronger grasp of the subject had the opportunities to further develop their talents. Through interesting homework like projects, essays, and book reports, our teachers tried their best to instill in us a love for the language. And because I had a wide range of interests at that time, I read widely too. In addition to Shakespeare and contemporary English novels, I read Ba Jin, Lao She, Charlie Yong and Ni Kuan's works in my spare time.

A friend once commented that I'm a person of "moderation". It is perhaps due to this attitude that I've deliberately kept a balance in my education choices. After studying in a school which most viewed as extremely "ang moh" for 4 years, I chose to go to a junior college that offered the Chinese Language Elective Programme. After completing the “A” levels, I went to England and China respectively to further my studies. It was also due to this sense of "balance" that I wandered through both eastern and western cultures.

Most people find it strange that I choose to work for the Chinese press instead of the English papers after knowing my educational background. I suppose human beings can never be truly "balanced", and at this stage in life, I have chosen to "stick" closer to my Chinese heritage. I choose this, not because it will be better for my future, nor because it's easier to work for the Chinese papers (in fact, working as a Chinese journalist in Singapore is harder as we have to be good in both languages instead of one), but only because the Chinese language still occupies a special place in my heart.

I am of the view that one can have more than one "mother tongue". Both English and Chinese are my mother tongues because they are equally important to me even though I prefer Chinese. Both languages have inspired me to be more curious, and had made learning so much more fun. I feel extremely fortunate to be Singaporean; especially a Singaporean born in the 80s because the opportunity to learn two languages has helped forged my sense of cultural identity. This has in turn made me become more confident.

I do sincerely hope that people do not fear learning two languages. If you treat this learning process as an adventure instead of an ordeal, it'll not only make the journey more interesting and you'll also be able to react positively to occasional setbacks and difficulties along the way.


陈能端, 助理采访主任,联合早报
 
和别人第一次接触,对方知道我的名字后一般会出现两种反应。第一类是惊讶我是女生:“能端,很男性化的名字,你父母希望你是儿子是吧?”还有另一种是:“陈能端,你的名字很特别,你不是本地人吧?” 

我是土生土长的第三代新加坡人,曾祖父祖籍中国福建安溪,但我爷爷是在新加坡出生的。我父亲和母亲都不是大学生,但他们从小在乡村学校念书,所以可以说是华校生。我没有书香世家的背景,就是很普通的小康家庭,我的名字也是父母请算命先生算出来的,寓意“才能端庄”。 
      
在我们家,母亲是“总理”,大小事都由她规划,包括我和弟弟的学习。 
  
我母亲从德明政府中学毕业后进入新加坡理工学院就读土木工程系。表面上看,从中学升上工院是理所当然不过的事,但对我母亲这样的华校生而言,一夜间教学媒介从华文变英文却是天翻地覆的巨变。在工院的时候,她常被英校同学取笑是“Chinese Helicopter”,所以她费了很大的功夫适应学习,但幸好华校一般给学生打下良好的数理基础,所以我母亲顺利毕业。或许是因为吃过语文的亏,母亲在我们很小的时候就坚持我们两种语言都要接触。
 
在还未进入幼稚园就读时,我和弟弟每天有两份“功课”。一份是每天看一本“Ladybird”系列的英文图片故事。另外一份功课是每天练习写汉字。母亲对于练习字很苛刻,只要她觉得写得不够端正或是不够整齐,她就会用橡皮擦把我们花了不少时间写的字全擦掉,然后我们得重新写,写到她满意为止,我们才能练新的字。
  
小时候不懂母亲的用意,只知道不想日复一日写同样的字,所以我都很用心地做习字。长大后才发现其实母亲这样做,让我从小就意识到中英双语是我一生的“朋友”。这两个“朋友”不分尊卑。交朋友,就要用心,只要我们对“他们”敞开心扉,没有东西是学不了的。 
  
上小学的时候,我的华文成绩在班上顶呱呱,但英文还是很差。不仅发音不标准,认识的词汇也不够多,考试的时候就常栽在“close passage”(填空)的环节。不过,可能是从小养成的习惯,我并不讨厌英文,而且只看英文课外书。Nancy Drew, Three Investigators, Sweet Valley High等是我最喜欢的书籍。直到小五,我从不看课本以外的华文书,连第一次看《水浒传》和《红楼梦》都是看英文翻译版。
 
12岁生日那年,姑妈买了一本尤今的微型小说集《燃烧的狮子》给我,我才深刻地领略到华文文学的奥妙,从此开始爱上华文写作。小六的时候,我最喜欢上华文作文课,因为我可以在空白的纸上用我觉得最亲切的语言挥洒出天马行空的思绪。那时,只单纯的觉得华文写很好玩……
  
升上中学后才第一次领悟“一山还比一山高”,发现自己真的很普通,即便是在我最拿手的华文科目,还有很多人比我还强。不过,学校的老师都很优秀,尤其是语文老师。无论是什么科目,老师都努力激发我们的兴趣。即便所有中一生最恐惧的英国文学,老师还是有办法让我们抛开只为追求分数而读书的心态,真真切切地爱上这个科目。也为此,我中三仍然坚持选修这门科目(虽然在很多人眼里,和数理科目相比,文学比较难考A)。我也很庆幸,母亲没有反对我的选择。
 
我在中学时,华文进步不少。老师那时就采取“保底不封顶”的策略,作业大家一起做,但是能力较好的学生,我们可以做更多尝试。无论是专题作业、作文还是推荐阅读书籍书籍,老师都尽量鼓励我们往兴趣发展。有些人爱流行文化,专题作业就围绕情歌的歌词创作;有些人对中华文化较感兴趣,可以做些和琴棋书画有关的题目。也因为当时对什么都感兴趣,看的书也挺多元的。除了在英国文学课里必须看莎翁和当代文学作品,课余的时候我就狂看巴金、老舍、金庸、倪匡……    
 
有位朋友说我这个人很“中庸”,做什么事都“以和为贵”。或许是这个潜意识的思维方式,让我在选择自己的学习道路时,总是很“平衡”。在“红毛派”的中学待了四年后,我选择到设有语文特选课程的初院就读。高中毕业后陆续到英国和中国深造,也是出于这种“摇摆”心态,总想若可以,就一辈子荡漾在东西文化里头。 
 
不少人知道我的背景后,总会问我为什么不选择到英文报工作。或许这是因为人的心天生就是“歪”一边的,走到某个阶段,会更爱一些东西或更放不下一些事物。现在,我选择向华文靠拢。为什么会这样做,不是因为这样前途比较好,更不是因为工作比较容易(反而是更难,因为华文报记者必须双语都好,因为工作天天考验我们的翻译能力),而是因为即使到现在,我还是对华文恋恋不舍。 
 
其实我并不认为人的“母语”只能有一个。我觉得华语和英语都是我的母语,因为有了它们,我的人生体验变得更丰富多彩。也因为这两种语言带给我的启发,我很享受学习新语言,认识新文化的过程。总的来说,我很庆幸自己是新加坡人,更庆幸自己出生在80后,有机会好好学习和掌握双语,让自己因此建立明确的身份认同,可以无限地增广知识,活的更自信快活。
 
希望大家不要把双语之路看做是布满荆棘和洪水猛兽的大道,如果反而把它当做是一个历险记,那其中固然会碰到挑战或失败,但总是还能勇敢克服,快乐地走下去。