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Commentary: What I learnt from taking the Chinese O-Level exam at age 30

SINGAPORE: It is commonly believed that once we reach adulthood, the cards are stacked against us if we want to learn a new language. Even trying to improve the proficiency of our mother tongue languages seems more challenging as compared to when we were children.

Despite the commendable efforts in Singapore to actively promote mother tongue language education at an early age, this still has not stopped the worrying decline in the nation’s proficiency of Malay, Chinese and Tamil. Only four in 10 households speak their mother tongue at home.

I know well the challenge of being effectively bilingual. Having opted for Chinese Language B (CLB) in Secondary 3 – a simplified module offered to students who struggle at the subject – I had given up on my mother tongue for most of my adult life.

I did not regret this decision, deemed pragmatic at a time when I needed to pick up the pace in my other subjects. I also vowed that I would one day continue the journey where I left off.

That time finally came when I set my sights on sitting for the 2023 Chinese Language O-Level examinations at the age of 30. My passing grade of B4 was the result of an 18-month journey.

These pointers helped me overcome the notion that learning our mother tongue as working adults is discouragingly difficult.

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