Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why most of the time, it does not pay to be a Generalist.

Life is'nt fair.

Many sales pitches can be thwarted by the most inconsequential detail. From what I have encountered so far, a heartlander accent can project an unprofessional image and may tilt the decision in the wrong direction.

The intangible often has very tangible consequences.

As such we may need to think twice about about playing to society's expectations.

MM Lee's initial approach to the bilingual policy is something I've always disagreed with. As Singaporeans we need to be be good at both languages. My personal experience, is that I only started to excel after I gave up studying Mandarin while I was in NJC after a D7 in my AO exams. I told my tutor to give up on me and let my mandarin rot in hell, I'll make it up with my other talents. After I quit, I started getting doing better in my special papers and even was in a training squad for the programming Olympiads.

This brings to my critique of Singapore's approach towards languages.

Singapore expects us to be polyglots. Polyglots are folks who are awesome at all languages much like Polymaths are awesome at everything.

Fine and good provided you are someone like Chen Show Mao.

But most of us are not awesome. We make trade-offs and optimizations to get along in this world. Sacrifice and trade-offs is part of life.

The victims in the industrial landscape today based on personal observation does not include the slick salespeople who speak standard English, they are comfortable making great presentations and fulfilling their sales quotas. Ask any high-earning ACS boy working in the finance industry, has his Mandarin ever been an impediment to his rise to high society, China's economic ascension notwithstanding ?

Victims of the bilingual program cover the lesser mortals like myself who just decide to plug at Mandarin continuously until we end up maybe being like 7/10 in both English and Mandarin. Then at a professional setting, a heartlander's home-grown accent from a Chinese speaking family causes him to lose out only slightly to a polished and accent less English presentation.

For want of a nail, an entire nation was lost.

I think a policy change should be in place. Ensure that all Singaporeans are excellent at standard English and can handle basic spoken mother tongue. Then for those who demonstrate proficiency in languages, they can choose to develop their mother tongue further to make them all potential Chen Show Maos.

Furthermore, this principle an also be applied to other areas of education and policy making.

There's always this talk about being a Generalist or Polymath or Renaissance Man. I think this is a nice sentiment, but its almost as practical as asking a guy to grow two penises.

Not giving students a choice to specialize, to put 10,000 hours into his talent and instead focusing on his weaknesses, is like denying his erection and asking him to grow a new dick.

Singapore is not likely to produce a Master of All. You're likely become a Jerk of None.

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