Would you pick up a dialect just so you can reach out to the elderly? This group of passionate Christians did.
By Eugene Teh
Perhaps you have tried to share the gospel to your Hokkien-speaking parents or grandparents. As you attempted to explain who Christ is and the good news that He came to proclaim, you struggled with the translation of certain words and phrases from English to Hokkien, and found it near impossible to convey the deep conviction that you have for the cross.
Few Singaporeans of this generation speak dialect, because since the 1970s, effort had been made to unify Chinese citizens of different dialect groups by making Mandarin the official spoken variant of the Chinese language. As the decades passed and new generations experienced Singapore’s education system and bilingual mass media, English and Mandarin (and Malay and Tamil) became the official and widely-used languages in this country, and the Chinese dialects have now become a lost art, a language barrier firmly entrenched between the young and the old of today.
But when love for others is involved, language becomes a barrier that is easily overcome. To help Christians who have the desire to reach out to Hokkien-speaking folk, City Harvest Church’s Dialect ministry organized a Romanized Hokkien Class on Mar. 25. Sixty-nine participants from CHC attended the course conducted by Hokkien Harvest (Singapore), part of Hokkien Harvest International, a sodality comprising volunteers from various churches dedicated to bringing the gospel to Hokkien-speaking people.
Right from the get-go, participants were immersed in a Hokkien-speaking environment—all praise and worship songs were sung in the dialect. Three sessions followed in which participants were taught Scriptures in Hokkien and then given a chance to practice their newly-learned language skills through games and role-playing.
The first session was an introduction to Hokkien phonology using pe̍h-ōe-jī, the orthography evolved from the Romanization of Hokkien among Christian missionaries to Chinese migrants in Southeast Asia. Similar to the Mandarin hanyu-pinyin, pe̍h-ōe-jī serves as an aid for readers to pronounce words in Hokkien accurately.
In the second session, participants were taught to recite Bible verses in Hokkien. They were each given a booklet which contained three languages: Chinese, POJ, and English, with the Chinese verse tweaked to follow the Hokkien sentence structure. Participants who understood Chinese characters were quick to note that it is easier to understand the Hokkien phrase when they look at the corresponding Chinese characters.
The participants also came to realize that the pronunciation of certain words using POJ was different to the local vernacular. Trainers around explained that most of the Hokkien literature, especially Christian ones, used the Taiwanese Hokkien which differ both in vocabulary and pronunciation when compared to the Hokkien spoken in Singapore.
In the final session, the participants were taught how to evangelize in Hokkien, using the bridge illustration—Jesus, by His death, forms the bridge between man and God. The class also learned to say the sinner’s prayer in Hokkien.
Irene Carisa Lee, 17, a freshman at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said, “The lesson was really fun and experiential. We were given a chance to put what we learn in theory into practice immediately. It is really a great opportunity to learn how to communicate to the elderly about Christ.”
Another participant Karen Tay, a financial adviser, said, “I registered for the class because I wanted to learn how to say some Biblical words in Hokkien. The class was interesting and the materials they provided was a lot of help.”