The demand for dialect classes in Singapore has shot up in the last two to three years. However, what is surprising is that the bulk of this demand comes from an unlikely group – the younger Singaporeans.
The key driving force behind this trend is largely due to young Singaporeans wanting to bridge the linguistic gap between the generations.
One such example is National University of Singapore (NUS) Pharmacy undergraduate, Ms Sarah Xing, who signed up for a course in Cantonese, a Chinese dialect, in hopes to be able to communicate better with her elderly, Cantonese-speaking patients.
Similarly, she mentioned that learning Cantonese will allow her to communicate better with her maternal grandmother. Like other elderly Singaporeans, her grandmother is able to speak Mandarin but often lapses into her native dialect when struggling to find the right Mandarin words.
Bridging the generation gap
Based on the 2015 General Household Survey conducted by the Department of Statistics, Chinese dialects such as Cantonese, Teochew and Hokkien, are still largely spoken by elderly aged 55 years and older.
Additionally, the statistics also show that the use of Chinese dialects among households has been on the decline.
Dr Francesco Perono Cacciafoco, lecturer in linguistics and multilingual studies at the Nanyang Technological University, mentioned that there is a possibility that dialects might lose their place in Singapore as the years go by. However, he expressed that there is still hope if young people in Singapore are leading the cause.
Increasingly, young Chinese Singaporeans today see dialects as an important part of their heritage and also a way to bridge that linguistic gap between the generations. They are taking steps to ensure that these dialects will not be lost by going back to school to learn their grandparents’ mother tongues.
Chinese clan associations in Singapore such as the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan (SHHK) and Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan have noted an increasing enrolment in their language classes in recent years. Students range in age from 17 to 40-years-old, a demographic that grew up with little exposure to Chinese dialects.
You can bridge the gap with the older generation by signing up for a dialect language class with groups like Viriya Community Services that run classes every three months teaching conversational Hokkien, Teochew or Cantonese.