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Speech By Professor Cheong Hee Kiat at SIM University

Speech By Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President Of SIM University, At The 'Bridging Two Worlds: Bilingualism And Translation In Singapore' Public Forum, 2.00pm On 28 April 2012 At SIM University


Ms Sim Ann, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Law;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen;


  1. Good afternoon and welcome to this forum entitled 'Bridging Two Worlds: Bilingualism and Translation in Singapore', organised by the School of Arts and Social Sciences in SIM University (or UniSIM), the UniSIM Centre for Chinese Studies, and Lianhe Zaobao. We are very pleased that you’re able to join us this afternoon.
  1. SIM University is Singapore’s only university that is dedicated to professionals and working adults, allowing them to pursue lifelong learning and higher education while balancing career, family and social responsibilities. Among the many undergraduate programmes we offer are language and literature programmes in all four Singapore official languages. These are delivered by our School of Arts and Social Sciences, which also offer programmes in other disciplines such as psychology, sociology and communication.

  1. Over the years, we have grown a selection of programmes that have strong Chinese content and use of Chinese language in instruction. It is a purposeful provision and outreach to the Chinese-speaking population among us, and we hope also one that supports the national agenda of understanding and engaging China - a China, which presents social, economic and political realities that demand greater world engagement at every level. We started with Chinese Language and Literature, followed by Translation and Interpretation; we then went on to Chinese Education, then Chinese Communication. Today, we have six of such programmes, which I believe, is the largest undergraduate cluster in a Singapore university. And I am happy to share that UniSIM is the only university in Singapore to offer a degree in Translation and Interpretation.

  1. Our UniSIM Centre for Chinese Studies, set up earlier this year, aims to raise awareness and understanding of Chinese language, culture and contemporary Chinese society through our programmes, courses, research, publications, events and activities. This Centre will focus its research on Cultural China, specifically on the widespread use of cultural expressions of Chinese origin, both in China and the rest of the world.

  1. This initiative, and our academic programmes allow us to look at the issues related to the Chinese language, culture and society in a holistic manner. And, we are pleased that we can co-organise and host this forum on bilingualism and translation in Singapore.

  1. Many of us have the capacity to learn a second language. Being bilingual offers greater sensitivity to the second language, more flexibility in thinking and a better ear for listening. It helps one to develop a greater appreciation of another culture. Knowledge of other languages also opens the door to better career prospects.

  1. However, I am told, and informed by real examples, that being effectively bilingual does not make one an effective translator or interpreter. About a year ago today, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Malaysia where he was welcomed with a banner with 24 Chinese characters “正式欢迎仪式与他一起温家宝阁下的正式访问马来西亚” printed on it. Premier Wen and his entourage were slightly confused and scratched their heads. Translated into English, it read as "Official welcome ceremony, with him Wen Jiabao His Excellency's official visit Malaysia". The sentence, originally in Malay "Istiadat Sambutan Rasmi Sempena Lawatan Rasmi TYT (Tuan Yang Terutama) Wen Jiabao Ke Malaysia", which should have read as “Official welcome ceremony in conjunction with the official visit of His Excellency Wen Jiabao to Malaysia” in English, was a simple case of words not being translated accurately. The incident had certainly ignited quite a bit of discussion in our neighbouring country.

  1. I have a story myself. Sadly, I am one of those who do not have any respectable grasp of the Chinese language. At the time when I, and many of my new Primary 1 classmates had to choose my second language, we were urged to opt for Malay. For that was the time of the imminent union of Singapore, Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah to form Malaysia. So, we did. Several years later, Singapore separated from Malaysia, but it was too late to switch back to Chinese. People like me are grateful for translators and interpreters. Some years back, I found myself visiting some Chinese universities as part of a delegation. At lunch, I wanted to use the word ‘sacrifice’ in Mandarin – I cleverly (I thought) used a double translation technique – from English to Cantonese to Mandarin. So, sacrifice is ‘hei sung’ in Cantonese; I translated and blurted out ‘黑牲’ instead of ‘牺牲’. My Chinese hosts were polite but clearly amused or puzzled – how different the two different phrases meant!

  1. This afternoon, a distinguished panel of experts will help us make sense of the current bilingualism and translation industry in Singapore. And I expect that we will get to hear some lively discussions and in-depth analysis from the various perspectives including the media and education. I hope that all of you will gain an enlightening time this afternoon.

  1. I’d like to thank all our forum panellists, for your time and for sharing your insights with us, as well as Professor Eddie Kuo, for agreeing to moderate this panel forum.

  1. FinalIy, thank you Ms Sim Ann, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Law, for being with us and opening the forum. Please join me in welcoming Ms Sim Ann to deliver her keynote address.

  1. Thank you.
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