Chinese lit for all races

Gurjit: My horizons have greatly been broadened through my learning of multiple languages over the years.

THERE is a Chinese proverb that says: “To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.”

I couldn’t agree more as my horizons have greatly been broadened through my learning of multiple languages over the years.

I am fluent in four languages: English, Tamil, Chinese and Malay. Being multilingual in multicultural Malaysia makes it easier for me to interact with others, in addition to helping me better understand their cultures and experiences.

I have my parents to thank for exposing me to the Chinese language from young. They enrolled me in a Chinese-medium kindergarten, which was how I first became familiar with the language. Because both my older brothers could speak Chinese and used it frequently at home, I picked up the language rapidly.

My kindergarten teacher made sure my classmates and I learnt how to write and pronounce the Chinese characters properly. Giving us tests every week helped to reinforce what we had learnt. I can still picture myself scrambling to remember the stroke orders that made up each character.

When it was time to sign me up for primary schooling, my parents again opted for Chinese-medium instruction as it was a natural progression from my preschool education.

I continued to hone my Chinese language skills there under the tutelage of teachers who were considerably stricter about using the language properly.

One of the difficulties I ran into when learning the language was using the pronunciation correctly. Chinese is a tonal language in which each tone and pitch stand for a different word. For example, the words “eye”, “salt” and “smoke” in Chinese may sound the same to the untrained ear but if you listened closely, they each have a different tone.

In an effort to overcome this, I practised speaking the language more often with my friends, who would correct me whenever I mispronounced the words. Over time, my command of the language showed improvement. In fact, it was considerably stronger than my command of the Tamil language.

Except for the times when I was interacting with my mother or my uncle and aunties, I hardly ever used Tamil. Not just that, all my cousins spoke Chinese, so we basically ended up speaking in the language whenever we met.

At home too, my siblings and I constantly spoke Chinese to the extent that my mother could make out a few words and understand what we were saying. Apart from my speaking skills, my Chinese essay writing saw improvement, thanks to my teacher in Year Six who would give my classmates and me an essay to complete before the end of schooling hours every Thursday.

On my part, I learnt new vocabulary by listening to Chinese songs and reading the lyrics while singing along to them.

This made it easier for me to recall the new words I had picked up.

I continued learning Chinese as I moved on to secondary school. Because of the different syllabus and the more advanced level, I felt like entering a completely new planet in my Chinese language classes.

My classmates and I had to comprehend and translate classical Chinese literature into modern Chinese text. I struggled greatly with it to the point of seriously considering giving up the subject.

My father, however, advised me to persevere with it as he strongly believed that my Chinese language mastery would help me later in life.

Thankfully, my brothers and friends helped me greatly throughout my journey; they explained to me the meaning of each text and helped me with my homework. Having patient and compassionate teachers eased my experience too.

Early this year, during my school’s orientation for us Form Four students, I learnt that Chinese literature is among the elective subjects offered.

To further expand my knowledge, I made the decision to take up the subject. I have since found Chinese literature to be enjoyable, which surprises me.

It is a whole new world on its own. I really enjoy reading Three Ways of Looking at an Old Pine Tree written by Zhu Guang Qian. It talks about the practical, scientific and aesthetic perspectives of each person looking at an old pine tree.

Chinese literature gets very interesting as you discover how each story unfolds and understand the meaning behind each action. Looking back on my journey as a Chinese language learner, I must say that I am proud of having stuck it out this long despite the challenges.

I believe that by learning each other’s languages, we are breaking the language barrier that is stopping us from having a really enjoyable time with one another.

I hope my experience will inspire more Malaysians to learn another language, be it Chinese or otherwise. Good luck!

Gurjit, 16, a student in Pahang, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team.

Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.

1 Besides language, how do you think one can connect with people from a different community? Discuss with an activity partner.

2 Imagine you were Gurjit and you had been invited to share your language learning journey at your school assembly. This article is your first draft of the speech that you are going to deliver. Shorten it to a length of between 350 and 500 words, before practising your speech delivery. Next, take turns with an activity partner to deliver your respective speeches. Finally, rate each other’s scripts and speech delivery. Have fun!

Since 1997, The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme has supported English language teaching and learning in primary and secondary schools nationwide. Now in its 25th year, Star-NiE is continuing its role of promoting the use of English language through a weekly activity page in StarEdu. In addition, Star-NiE’s BRATs Young Journalist Programme will continue to be a platform for participants to hone and showcase their English language skills, as well as develop their journalistic interests and instincts. Follow our updates at For Star-NiE enquiries, email

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