Valedictory Speech from Ministry of Education Language Centre
By Ms. Ng Siok Yun April
Contributed in June, 2011

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

I am now furthering my studies in Waseda University, Japan. As such, I apologize for only being able to deliver this speech through a video recording. I would have loved to greet everyone in person.

On this occasion, I am very honoured to receive the Ambassador’s cup. Thinking about it, it is precisely because the Ministry of Education presented me with this opportunity to study Japanese 6 years ago that I am able to be here right now. At that point in time, I gratefully took on this opportunity as I was interested in Japanese anime (cartoon) and manga (comics) and thought that it’ll be great if I could understand anime and manga in their original language. In retrospect, that might have been what people would call “a life changing decision”. It did not even cross my mind that because of this one decision I made, someone like me (I could not even string a proper sentence in Japanese then) would be furthering my studies in Japan now. If I had not been given this chance to study Japanese, where would I be, and what would I be doing now? I cannot and do not wish to imagine.

Since I started learning Japanese, a lot of wonderful things are now within my grasp. Now that I understand Japanese, I have access to the latest Japanese anime, dramas and movies, as I do not have to wait for translations to be released. I can also read the latest Japanese manga and novels in their original language. I secretly take pride in that I discovered and read the novel “Confessions” before it was adapted into a Japan Academy winner movie.

Also, opportunities to interact with the Japanese increased dramatically since learning the language. In my 6 years at the MOELC, there were plenty of opportunities to interact with the Japanese. Amongst all that, the time I had during the local immersion programme at Waseda Shibuya Senior High School during my JC years was the most precious. Under this programme, we attended school for three days at Waseda Shibuya Senior High School. From morning until about 3PM, I attended classes on History and Japanese with the Japanese students. During the History lesson, names of which I had never heard outside of jidaigeki (period dramas) appeared, and I remember thinking to myself, “These names are all so complicated... I can never remember them all!” and “Thank goodness I don’t have to take the test for this!” After school, I was given the opportunity to observe my host buddy’s club activity. For the first time, I got to observe a Japanese Tea Ceremony up close, and even got to make the tea myself! However, as expected, it was difficult. Being unable to do it well at all, I was impressed by my friend’s mastery of the tea ceremony rituals. Also, I was given the opportunity to observe Kendo, a Japanese martial art using "swords" of split bamboo. Looking from the side, it was intense as expected. After that, I also tried a little Kendo myself. Taking the shinai (bamboo sword) in my hands, I yelled out “MEN!” in unison with my friends and swung the sword down. As expected, I was unable to swing it properly. Although 3 days passed by in a blink of an eye, the opportunity to experience life in a Japanese High School, interact with the Japanese students, as well as use Japanese at every single moment, made it a truly a fulfilling and unforgettable experience.

Next, during my first year in Junior College, I was given the opportunity to interview a Japanese company employee. Through the interview, I learnt about the strictness of the Japanese society. I came to understand that the Japanese society really prizes hierarchy and propriety, just as the textbook said it did. After hearing that learning keigo (Japanese honorific speech) was compulsory for the Japanese to take their rightful place in hierarchical relationships properly, I realised the deep link between language and society.

Looking back on the past like this, I have come to realise that studying Japanese at the MOELC was the best thing that has happened in my life so far. Now, I would like to say a few words of thanks. First and foremost, to the MOELC for giving me the opportunity to learn Japanese: thank you very much. Secondly, to the teachers who have taught me in my 6 years here - Akashi-sensei, Tan-sensei, Chua-sensei, and Endo-sensei - I thank you sincerely for having always taught me with great patience and kindness. Last but not least, to my parents who have supported me throughout, and to my friends who have been with me through this 6 year journey, I would like to express my gratitude from the bottom of my heart.

As this draws to a close, I have something that I would like to tell my juniors at the MOELC. Devote your heart and mind to the language that you are learning. No matter what language you’re trying to learn, if you don’t actively expose yourself to the language and the culture, if you don’t try to take an interest in them, do not hope to be proficient in the language. I have, in addition to the lessons and various programmes at MOELC, used all means, from anime, manga, music, novels, dramas, variety programmes, news programs to even Twitter and blogs, to learn Japanese, and now, by going to Japan, am devoting my all to the language. Even if you cannot do all these, at least, try to create opportunities out of class to use the language you’re learning.

Now if there is still anyone who is at a loss, here are words from a song that an artist I respect, Utada Hikaru, wrote.

“Have you ever lost (an opportunity) because you arbitrarily decided that it’s a lost cause?”
“No matter what it is, give it a try. Even if you fail, it’ll be a valuable addition to your experience.”

Now then, let’s take a step forward and leave no regrets. To all my juniors, I wish you all the best from the bottom of my heart. Thank you very much for listening.