Updated: Dec 22, 2022
Many people see learning foreign languages as another academic subject—as another pretty grade on paper, or another fancy certificate to add to their collection upon completing all the examinations required. This is especially true among the students who study a third, or foreign, language in Singapore’s Ministry of Education Language Centres.
With numerous chances to drop the subject throughout each year, many students don’t spend much time worrying about their third language grades at all—after all, a poor grade can be easily solved by dropping the subject. Another common occurrence is students themselves not wanting to study the language in the first place, and not being able to see the practicality of studying a language their parents wanted them to study.
What I want to say, though, is that learning a language goes beyond being able to communicate with people when you go overseas. Translation apps and a little bit of broken English from both sides do the job in most countries. Learning a language is the immersion in a new culture, the building of bridges with more people, and the introduction to a new world. The uses of learning a language, too, are way more than impressing locals as a tourist.
The reason I love languages is that languages allow me to connect and communicate better with someone, which includes both understanding them better and being understood better. By knowing the language, we can understand a classic better, and get closer to comprehending the core themes of a classical literary work. But for those who don’t speak the language, how can they too have a part in analysing and appreciating literature in languages other than their mother tongues?
That’s where translation comes in. Translation (the English word) stems from the Latin word translatio, meaning “carrying across” or “bringing across”, which in this case refers to the meaning from one text to another. I believe that translation is one of the most practical, and most beautiful uses of learning a second or third language.
And an interest in both languages and translation is what I hope to promote among fellow students in Singapore.
One of the best ways to do that, I thought, was a competition. We would encourage healthy competition, provide prizes to attract participants, and to top it off, offer a free, optional Introduction to Translation workshop to all participants the weekend before the competition begins, since everyone’s still new to translation.
And therein lay the problem. As a student, I didn’t have enough money to carry out a large-scale translation event like what I was visualising — Singapore’s first ever Nationwide Foreign Language Translation Competition. So I searched online to see if there were grants available, or organisations I could ask to sponsor.
Lo and behold, there was. Singapore’s Community In-Translation Grant, or CITEG, is a competitive grant offered by the National Translation Committee, a government committee under the Ministry of Communications and Information. It is usually given to experienced professionals or organisations, so I would like to sincerely thank NTC for giving me the valuable opportunity, despite my age, to receive this grant.
It supported all translation events (workshops, webinars, competitions etc.) that involved a translation aspect as well as two or more of Singapore’s 4 official languages: English, Mandarin Chinese, Tamil and Malay. The only issue now was that this grant was often given to established organisations and working individuals in the translation field, or other government agencies carrying out events related to translation.
Myself being a 15 year old applying for the grant, I was afraid that my age would be a factor in determining whether the grant would be given to Polyglot Club SG so that we could carry out this competition, but this was our only chance at receiving funding. It would not only solve our funding problems, but add credibility to the competition, which would increase the probability of the competition being a success.
Pushing my worries aside, I could only fill up the application form with information about Polyglot Club SG and our activities, such as the Making Your Choice! 3rd language webinar, which you can read about here, and my individual activities such as speaking at the International Mother Tongue Language Day and Polyglot Conference Global 2022.
After weeks of waiting, good news finally arrived. Our request had been approved, and preparations for the Nationwide Foreign Language Translation Competition were in full swing.
It was set to last two weeks, from 6 February 2023 to 20 February 2023, where participants will have to translate a short excerpt from a famous literary work to both English and Mandarin Chinese. There will be three categories to compete in, Japanese, French and Spanish, with more than $1000 in attractive prizes to be won.
The competition will be open to all secondary and junior college (or equivalent) students studying in Singapore. There is no limit to how many categories one can take part in—the more the merrier!
Polyglot Club SG also invited experienced teachers in each language—both foreign languages and Singapore’s two official languages, English and Mandarin Chinese, to be the judges of this contest.
Another organisation I have to thank is Agape School of Education—the head of their school, Mr Gilbert, was previously my tutor for the French C2 examination, and had given me many free lessons to help me prepare for the exam. It is my honour that they too agreed to sponsor more than a thousand dollars worth of free lessons to put up as prizes in the competition.
Hopefully, more students in Singapore will be open to learning a third language, and begin appreciating the beauty and usefulness of knowing at least one more language than our peers.
Here’s to wishing the Nationwide Foreign Language Translation Competition a roaring success!