Learning Chinese language grammar. So… Chinese language has grammar?!

One of the deputy principals in my previous school has a believe that there is no grammar in Chinese language. Being a English teacher herself, she likes to compare the tenses in English language and Chinese language. For her, because Chinese language does not have past and present tenses like English does, (even Japanese and Korean languages have it), hence Chinese language does not have grammar!

But is this true that Chinese language has no grammar? Of course there is!!



All language has grammar. Grammar does not only include the tenses, but also the sentence structure and many other things. If Chinese language has not grammar, how could we tell that one is speaking the language right? Why are we testing our Higher Chinese students about it?

In the latest exam format for GCE O level Higher Chinese paper 2, there is a section on editing. Students are required to correct sentences from a passage, with either grammatical mistakes or wrong choice of words.  However, the emphasis is never grammar learning here.

In the latest syllabus, it is just force feed the students with these four levels of sentence structure, and expecting them to be able to correct the multiple numbers of grammatically wrong sentences.  Some of my students even joke about they might have contributed to the current test questions on the grammatically wrong sentences.

So, the true is, we are now testing our Higher Chinese students about the Chinese language grammar.

Hence, learning Chinese grammar should be included in the syllabus.

However, in Singapore, we do not teach students Chinese grammar. We are hoping that our students will know it automatically, just like those children in China and Taiwan.

For Chinese speaking countries like China and Taiwan, it is not difficult to understand why learning Chinese grammar is not necessary. As people in these countries are using the language day in day out, they will know if they are speaking it the correct way.  At the same time, as they use the language so frequent, their vocabulary bank is therefore big enough for them to easily search for the correct words to express themselves.  Hence, these Chinese speaking countries do not need their children to learn the grammar since young.

However, our students here in Singapore can’t do it this way!

Although we have 70% Chinese in Singapore,, the official language is English.  This makes Singapore a English speaking country basically. It is just normal for families to use English as their basic home language. Hence, many of our students here do not have a Chinese speaking environment at home. Thus the chance for them to use Chinese language at home is rare, and it is just normal that they will not use Chinese to communicate with their peers. Hence, even though our education system is focusing on bilingualism, the fact is, our students hardly speak Chinese in their daily life. The more they do not use the language, the more they do not speak with correct sentence structure, the more they are lacking of the vocabulary to express themselves, and, the vicious circle goes on.

In view of these facts, I will say that Chinese language here in Singapore, is no difference from a foreign language to our students.  We all know that when we learn a foreign language, we will learn it’s grammar too!  Even students learning English here will have to learn the English grammar, I wonder why they are not doing the same when learning Chinese Language here.  Isn’t it the more we should learn Chinese grammar, giving it not much different from a FOREIGN language in Singapore? 

As such, students should start learning Chinese grammar here in Singapore when they are in primary schools.  Just like what they are doing for the English language.

However, this is not the case now.

Ironically, students in secondary school doing Higher Chinese Language are made to correct grammar mistakes in one of the sections in Paper 2.

This is indeed a challenge for our students.  How could one correct others mistakes, when they themselves do not know what is right from wrong??

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