Baptist University speaks the right language

It has shown some backbone by sticking to its guns to require all undergraduates pass a Mandarin test or take a mandatory course in the language

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 5:18am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2018, 5:18am

When I was at a liberal American arts college during the 1980s, all students had to pass two language tests to graduate: one in Attic or ancient Greek and one in French.

If you want to talk about practicality, our language curriculum was useless. No one speaks Attic Greek today, not even the Greeks themselves. But we were required to read some Plato and others in the original. The French requirement was more practical.

With few exceptions, most of us have forgotten whatever reading and translation skills we learned back then. But not a single one of us ever regrets the experience of learning a new language. We were young, so we had the mental agility to do something so challenging.

Conversation on Cantonese and Mandarin should be depoliticised

And learning a new language like ancient Greek with its own alphabet opens up a different mental landscape, just like you would if you learn music and maths beyond the kind of rote-learning you get in primary and secondary schools.

As far as I am concerned, any university or college that makes students learn a language, whatever it is, in addition to their mother tongue is a good thing. And if that happens to be Mandarin, the national language of the second largest economy in the world, it’s even practical. That is not brainwashing; it’s opening minds.

Against widespread student opposition, Baptist University has shown some backbone by sticking to its guns to require all undergraduates pass a Mandarin test or take a mandatory course in the language. The university senate’s decision came after an official review in response to student objections. Having a language requirement is nothing unusual for a liberal arts institution like Baptist.

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The Mandarin module is nothing new as it dates back a decade. Besides, the university also has an English-language requirement that is mandatory for graduation. You don’t see students objecting to that. What is new is the recent localist-inspired opposition among university students against all things that have to do with China. That only shows the students’ narrow-minded ideology.

Both English and Chinese (which in speech means Mandarin and Cantonese) are the official languages of the city. I can see no reasonable ground not to make sure graduates meet language standards.

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It would indeed be a disgrace if Baptist had caved in to student pressure and scrapped the Mandarin requirement. Other public universities should follow its example.