Dialects are an integral part of Singapore culture: Singlish is a mesh-up of the various dialects and we all know the kopitiam lingo for ordering coffee.
However, the younger generations, and I speak for myself too, are often called “bananas” or referred to as people who “jiak kantang” (eat potato) for being “yellow” with our Chinese skin colour but very much Westernised in our thinking and way of life.
Not many of my friends are able to communicate well enough to converse in dialect.
Yet, Chinese dialects are used in our everyday speech, regardless of race, and there are also Indian and Malay dialects that are lesser known today.
This Rice Media article sums up the importance of knowing our dialects quite clearly, that it is so much part of our culture that without knowing how to speak it, we lose footing as a nation.
However, apart from the seemingly drastic repercussions of not knowing how to speak our dialect, let’s get down to the basics on why we should learn our dialects – communicating with our grandparents.
I live in a three-generation household with my grandmother, and sometimes, communicating with her can be difficult.
Even with my average ability to converse with her in the Hokkien dialect, some things are just easier to say in English.
However, some seniors are not as fortunate, and we find ourselves looking at our phones when visiting our grandparents.
Having no one to communicate with them clearly and effectively can be alienating for our seniors.
Imagine going to a foreign country and being unable to talk to anyone even for a day!
It sounds extreme, but as society slowly slips into speaking only English, seniors who do not know how to will find it difficult to express themselves well, leading to miscommunication.
Being able to properly converse with our grandparents also opens many doors of information.
They hold a wealth of history, not just family stories, but also national history.
Stories of olden day Singapore and living through the Japanese Occupation become alive to us, other than just reading from the Social Studies textbook.
They become a common topic to talk about and we get to learn so much more from them, bridging the generation gap.
Those studying in the healthcare sector are also taking up dialect classes to better communicate with seniors, especially when advising them on their medical needs and health concerns.
Pharmacy students, as well as social work and medicine students are picking up the language especially as our population ages.
Taking care of their health requires us to communicate well with them, and learning dialects will be a great way to start.
Where can I learn them?
Some places to learn dialects include the various clan associations, such as the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan and inlingua School of Languages offering classes for Hokkien and Teochew.
There are loads online resources you can use too!
Alternatively, engage your grandparents and ask them to teach you, using our Play Hua Hee card games as flashcards!
It is a great way to get your grandparents involved and spend some quality time with them laughing at all the mistakes you might make. After all, that’s the aim of learning dialects, right?
Play Huahee card games comrise localised food and heritage items with English and Chinese text. The illustrations of popular food and heritage items can be used to strike up a conversation.
Christel Goh, Co-Founder, Play Huahee created a localised game for seniors in Singapore when she noticed certain changes in her grandma.
Christel was struggling to find relevant activities to engage her grandma.
This led to the birth of Play Huahee which aims to create localised games and activities as tools to encourage interaction between caregivers and seniors.
If you want to find out more about Play Huahee card games and the different ways to play, visit here.
Sarah Rachel Teo is currently studying sociology and religious studies at the National University of Singapore, and her love language is food.
She loves people who give her food and loves giving food to people.
Sarah enjoys deep conversations with people and kneading bread by hand to work out those nonexistent arm muscles.