Singaporean singer Nathan Hartono has another string to his bow. The crooner is the new ambassador for the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning (CPCLL).
The announcement came at a press conference held at St. Margaret's Secondary School yesterday, where CPCLL also unveiled its new logo and slogan - Ai Shang Hua Wen, which loosely translates to Fall In Love With Chinese.
Also in attendance was guest of honour, CPCLL chairman and Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Ms Low Yen Ling.
Hartono, 26, hit a new level of success when he came in second in the reality singing contest Sing! China in October last year.
His journey to learn Chinese was not smooth, but he has learnt first-hand how useful it can be.
Hartono's struggle started when he took Higher Chinese in upper primary.
He comes from an English-speaking family. Hartono recalled how his Chinese teacher was once so frustrated with him, he was made to stand outside the classroom and pull his earlobes.
"Chinese became an unclimbable mountain," the former Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road) student told The New Paper.
His struggle continued in secondary school. He was failing Chinese.
Said Hartono: "It discouraged me and since I didn't have to use Chinese on a daily basis, I began to avoid it like crazy... I learnt just enough to survive."
But when he got to junior college, he started having an urge to learn Chinese.
"I realised that mastering my second language could open up a lot of opportunities. I guess it just came with age - I became wiser," he said.
Even then, he had a lot of lost ground to make up, and it was not until he decided to take part in Sing! China, after being approached a second time by the producers, that he took it seriously.
OUT OF HIS DEPTH
"We had pre-production meetings, and it was quite evident that I was out of my depth," he said.
"I could barely string a proper sentence together."
But spending four months in China had its benefits. Hartono could finally complete sentences in Mandarin without pausing or inserting English words.
"It is all about proactive speaking. A lot of the time, people are afraid to speak their second language because they are not confident.
"But if they keep practising, their confidence will rise," he said.
Yesterday, the CPCLL also announced that it is organising the 1st National Tertiary Chinese Reading Competition cum prize giving ceremony and will be launching a new training initiative for infant Edu-carers this year.
Said Ms Low: "It is a golden period for infants and young children to pick up language skills as that is the time when they absorb the most."
She added that she was glad to have Hartono as CPCLL's new ambassador.
"His determination and perseverance to improve his Mandarin during Sing! China made him a good example for the younger generation," said Ms Low.
If yesterday's reception at St. Margaret's was anything to go by, she is clearly right.
Hartono, who sang three Mandarin songs and played charades with the students, was obviously a hit with them, eliciting plenty of screams in the packed hall.
Secondary 4 students Megan Lah and Tanita Giri, both 16, said they were inspired by Hartono as he does not come from a background where he gets to speak Mandarin often.
Tanita, who is half Chinese and half Indian, said: "I am not fluent in Mandarin myself, but like what Nathan said, I think we should not dislike the language, and instead, give it an opportunity."
Hartono will be touring different schools and participating in activities organised by CPCLL.
Watch the video of him here:
A version of this article first appeared in The New Paper.