"We should keep going and learning. There are so many things to learn. I want to continue learning not just for my own benefit, but also to give back to the society…"
Learning a new language in her silver years
Despite identifying as ethnically Chinese, Ms Tracy Heng did not have proficiency in her mother tongue. Since young, her family predominantly communicated in Teochew and the children were English educated. Out of her five siblings, her parents opted for her to take Malay as her second language in school as they needed someone in the family to translate the language for them to understand. Hence, she has neither taken up nor spoken Mandarin throughout her academic years.
Interest in the Chinese language
Although she was interested in learning the Chinese language in her thirties when the “Speak Mandarin Campaign” was promoted to encourage the use of mandarin instead of dialects, she had to put her study plan on hold as she was focusing and building her career at that point of time. It was only at the age of 63, after retiring and being very involved in doing community work, when her interest to learn Chinese was reignited.
When she does home visitations during one of her community works, she realised that some of the elderly and families tended to speak mainly the Mandarin language and she struggled to communicate with them, so much so that she wished she had learnt Mandarin back in her early days.
“How can I do community work if I don't equip myself? Mandarin is one of the tools that I need to reach out and communicate with the people in need especially since the language is so prevalent,” she said.
Chanced upon a learning opportunity
In 2017, she chanced upon the National Silver Academy (NSA) Roadshow held at Bedok Mall, and through the NSA staff’s assistance, she signed up for Basic Level Daily Chinese – HSK Programme course at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Confucius Institute. At the same time, she was glad to find out that eligible seniors like herself can enjoy subsidies when taking short courses under the NSA.
Never try, never know
Initially, she was worried that she was not able to pick up the language at her age and was hesitant to sign up. However, she still went ahead to do so.
“If I don’t try, I’ll never know,” she said.
Her concern was unfounded as the teacher, Ms Zhao Hua (赵华), was very patient and helped the students to build up their confidence to speak and write while improving on their weak areas. The additional knowledge learned was not only acquiring the Chinese language but included invaluable insights of Chinese culture which also made learning Chinese very interesting. Now, she is in her third semester of the basic course and is able to converse in simple Mandarin.
Learning is an ongoing journey
Moving forward, she is considering to take up either the Intermediate Level for the Chinese course or a counselling course to aid her in her social work. “We should keep going and learning. There are so many things to learn. I want to continue learning not just for my own benefit, but also to give back to the society… According to a Chinese Proverb, learn till old, live till old, and there is still 30% not learnt.”
“It means that no matter how old you are, there is still more learning or studying left to do. Hence, don’t let age deter you from learning,” she said.
**Special thanks to Ms Tracy Heng who accepted our interview, we wish her all the very best in her lifelong learning journey.
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