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Category Archives: Celebrity + Interviews

Teen actor, Ivan Lo, on learning dialects: Never be afraid!

Celebrity Interview with Ivan Lo, 卢楷浚

Barely 16 years old, Ivan Lo is already a familiar face in Singapore’s entertainment scene. Ivan has starred in many television dramas (Mind Matters, Playground, etc) and several movies, including Jack Neo’s, We Not Naughty. One of his latest show is the popular dialect drama, Ho Seh Bo. With the younger generation speaking less of dialects in Singapore, we asked Ivan for his secrets to pick up dialects quickly.

LearnDialect.sg: Can you tell us more about your dialect background? Do you speak dialect frequently at home or with your peers?

Ivan Lo: My father’s a Cantonese and my mother’s a Teochew. In my household, we usually speak in Chinese and English but, from time to time, we will mix in a bit of Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew in our daily conversations.

How did you feel when you first knew that you will be acting in the dialect drama, Ho Seh Bo, as Dai Zhengxiong?

At first, I was a bit worried as I thought I would need to converse entirely in dialect. However, I was also very elated to know I would be acting in this show as it would be mostly in dialects. The show has an interesting concept as it connects with the older generations.

In Ho Seh Bo, you acted alongside Chen Li Ping who speaks mainly in Teochew and Zhu Houren who speaks mainly in Hokkien. Did these different languages pose as an additional challenge for you when preparing for your role? How did you overcome it?

Luckily for me, I didn’t have to speak full sentences in either Teochew or Hokkien in the show. As such, speaking wasn’t the main problem. The main problem, I guess, was not being able to fully understand what they were saying. This resulted in me not knowing when it was my turn to speak. I overcame this by trying my best to remember what the end of each sentence sounded like, so that I would be able to continue with my lines.

How do you feel about learning dialect? Was it easy for you to pick it up? Are there any interesting or funny stories that you can share when you were learning dialect?

For me, it wasn’t that difficult to learn to speak in dialect as my father and my aunt would sometimes converse in their dialect. Throughout the duration of filming the show, I was able to better understand Hokkien and Teochew. I don’t really think I have many funny stories when I was learning dialect. The only thing that comes to mind is that my pronunciation is very off and my Hokkien and Teochew mixes up very easily.

Can you leave some words of encouragement for young people like yourself to pick up their dialect?

All I can say is that you really have to pay attention when someone speaks in dialect. Try to converse in dialect with someone whom you know can speak really well in dialect. Never be afraid that your pronunciation is wrong. Basically it’s just practice and you’ll eventually get better and better.

Image Credits: Ivan Lo’s Instagram and Facebook


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Inside Scoop: How Romeo Tan Conquered Dialect Drama, Ho Seh Bo

Celebrity Interview with Romeo Tan, 陈罗密欧

When we interviewed Romeo Tan, he was upfront in admitting that he speaks neither Hokkien nor other dialects prior to filming Ho Seh Bo. Yet, in the dialect drama, he delivered his lines in Hokkien, alongside other co-stars who spoke Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese. Why did he then take on the role and how did he overcome the language challenges? Was it due to his humility, quick-wit or tenacity? We’ll leave it to you to suss it out. One thing is for sure, Romeo is an inspiration to dialect learners.

LearnDialect.sg: Can you tell us more about your dialect background?

Romeo Tan: Actually, before you ask me this question, I had no idea. Then, I called my family and my dad said that we are Hokkiens from “An Kui” [Hokkien pronunciation of An Hui, 安徽], Fu Jian Province (福建省). To be honest, I have no idea where this is. Within my family, we speak only a little Hokkien. Since young, I have been speaking Mandarin with my parents and English with my siblings. As such, I didn’t really have a chance to practice speaking Hokkien except with my Ah-Ma [grandmother]. I guess I am not very talented in speaking Hokkien as my Ah-Ma also gave up talking to me in Hokkien. *laughs* So, my Ah-Ma would use simple Hokkien words to speak to me and if the conversation is more complex, she will ask my father to translate for me in Mandarin.

We must say, we love your candid NG shots at the end of every Ho Seh Bo episode. We’ve also watched a Toggle video interview where you had to introduce yourself in Hokkien and we learnt that you do not speak Hokkien at home. Can you share with us your initial thoughts when you knew you had to act mainly in Hokkien? What made you want to take up this role as Xiao Gandang (萧敢当)?

During the press conference, that is, before filming the show, I would say that my Hokkien knowledge is almost zero, or maybe just 10%. It’s very minimal. So why did I pick up this role? I guess I always believe that Singapore is multi-cultural. It is very natural to mix different languages together in our conversations, be it English with Chinese, English with Malay, or English, Chinese, Malay and Hokkien altogether. It just feels very natural and there’s always a sense of familiarity and closeness. When the executive producer asked me if I knew how to speak Hokkien, I was very frank with him. I said that my Hokkien is quite “jialat”, quite lousy. After that, I thought that my chance of getting this role might be quite low. So I am really happy that I was given this chance to be in Ho Seh Bo.

Picking up Hokkien is not an easy task, much less with a short time frame and the need to then act in Hokkien. How did you pick up Hokkien so quickly for the show?

Actually I didn’t pick up Hokkien fast. What you see on TV was produced after all the NG [No-Good] takes. It was a nightmare to have so many NGs! I was struggling with some lines, but the production crew are very nice. They would always speak to me in Hokkien in between breaks. In that way, I could keep practising Hokkien. I also have two very very good teachers, Liu Qian Yi [Richard Low, 刘谦益] and Lim Ru Ping [Anna Lim, 林如萍]. I call them, “老师” [teacher], the Hokkien guru. Whenever I had any problems, I used WhatsApp audio. I would ask them, “How do you pronounce this word?”, or “How would you say this sentence in Hokkien?”. I would ask both of them as sometimes, they have either different accents or choice of words. From these two versions, I’ll then pick and adapt the one that sounded most like how my role, Xiao Gandang, would speak it.

To act alongside Chen Li Ping, who speaks predominately Teochew in the show, and then with Sheila Sim and Richard Low who speak Hokkien, and then with Mi Xue (Michelle Yim) who speaks Cantonese, did these different languages pose as an additional challenge for you to prepare for the role? How did you overcome it?

Chen Li Ping, Liu Qian Yi and Mi Xue [Michelle Yim, 米雪] are all veterans. Yes, one speaks Teochew, one speaks Hokkien and another speaks Cantonese. I struggled with the languages at times and needed to find my balance. But at the end of the day, I still think it is the 演戏的默契 [acting chemistry]. So with their expressions and emotions, I can figure out what they are saying. We also had a script to follow, so it was not too much of a problem. In fact, I’ve acted with Chen Li Ping for quite some time, so our chemistry is already there. For Liu Qian Yi, he’s my teacher. So it was very fun to be speaking Hokkien with him. As for Sheila, we are from the same generation, so there wasn’t any problem. Sometimes, we do mix English in our conversations so it’s quite fun too!

The only struggle, I would say, is maybe with Mi Xue because I don’t really understand Cantonese. There was a scene where her role finally found her son, Gandang, but they had a quarrel in the park. It was a heavy scene with lots of dialogues and emotions. Mi Xue was supposed to cry in that scene, so I was really worried that I would NG too many times and affect both her emotions and acting. That was a bit of struggle for me because I had to listen very carefully to her last word in every sentence. So for example, I would ask Mi Xue, “For this line, what is the last word? How do you pronounce it?“. Then I will make an effort to remember those Cantonese words and their pronunciation, so that I could continue acting from there. That’s the little trick that I used. All that said, after a few rehearsals, I guess we got the momentum. I thought the scene was quite nicely taken!

Can you leave some words of encouragement for the younger generations to pick them their dialect? Any learning tips that you can share with younger generations who speak mainly English and Mandarin these days?

I also need some encouragement on this! *laughs* I think I am just like most of the new generation kids who seldom speak Hokkien. I believe the easier way out is to speak with your Ah-Gong [grandfather] and Ah-Ma, or your father and mother. That is the fastest way to learn Hokkien. Sometimes, I’ll mix Hokkien into my daily conversations with my parents, especially ever since I filmed Ho Seh Bo. I think it’s important to practise and recap, if not, all that I’ve learnt would go down the drain. Another way, I guess, is to watch more dialect shows. It’s a good time now to learn from local TV too, as we have dialect dramas. I really hope this drama will continue for many seasons. In that way, many Singapore citizens or the younger generation can learn more content through this TV show.

Another advice is not to worry too much and just speak it. For example, I was quite worried initially that I would mess up this whole production. But apparently, it turned out pretty well and many audiences like this show. I have also received a lot of good feedback. The best part? I did not have to do any post-dubbing. Usually, after a TV production, there will be a post production process where some words may be fine-tuned. For example, maybe your pronunciation was not right. Or perhaps you used the wrong words. In these instances, we will then go back to the audio room and dub that few lines. So, I was super surprised that I was not called back for dubbing at all. Not even a single word! *laughs* I am not sure if it is a good thing or not, but personally, I think it is very encouraging that they approved of my Hokkien accent or the way that Gandang spoke Hokkien in the show.

Thanks for the interview! I hope that my little interview can help encourage more youngsters to pick up their dialects.

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很用功的小孩。 ? Esther

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Image Credits: Romeo Tan’s Instagram and Facebook


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Multi-talented Wallace Ang thinks speaking dialect is cool and fun! Here’s why.

Celebrity Interview with Wallace Ang, 洪圣安

We must admit, our disdain for Ma Deliang (马德良) grows with each episode of the dialect drama, Ho Seh Bo. His career-mindedness and self-centeredness landed his father into a depression. But can you blame us? Wallace Ang delivered such a convincing portrayal of an unfilial son, that you wouldn’t have guessed this was his first Hokkien performance. Wallace enthusiastically shares his thoughts and personal experiences, upon knowing our hope to encourage younger generations to learn dialects.

LearnDialect.sg: There’s no doubt that you are bilingual in both English and Mandarin, given your performances in Channel 5, Channel 8 as well as your radio presenter role in Love 97.2FM. We were pleasantly surprised to hear you being so fluent in Hokkien as well in Ho Seh Bo! Can you tell us more about your dialect background? Do you speak Hokkien frequently at home? When did you start learning Hokkien?

Wallace Ang: I started speaking Hokkien and Teochew as a child to communicate with my grandparents. My paternal grandparents spoke mostly Hokkien whereas my maternal grandparents were Teochew speakers. However, I must admit that I am far from being fluent. I often find the need to pepper my sentences with Mandarin and English.

Can you share one or two interesting/funny anecdotes when you were learning Hokkien?

Because of the fact that I grew up listening to both dialects, I sometimes find myself incapable of telling them apart. There have been many instances where I thought I was saying something in Hokkien only to be corrected that it was, in fact, Teochew.

What were your initial thoughts when you knew you had to act mainly in Hokkien? What made you want to take up this role as Ma Deliang?

I was actually quite thrilled! I’ve done many English & Mandarin projects, but I’ve never done anything in Hokkien. I am thankful that the EP, Geping Da Ge [Zheng Geping] and the production team took a leap of faith and entrusted me with the role of Ma Deliang. I’m always up for a good challenge. I just hope that I wasn’t too huge a challenge for the directors and the crew though!

We can imagine that it is difficult to translate a Mandarin script into Hokkien and thereafter having to emote and act in Hokkien. How did you prepare for this role?

It was quite a nightmare actually (laughs). I translated the easier lines myself, got my father and brother-in-law to help me with the more difficult ones, then WhatsApp-ed my on-screen father, Richard Low (Qian Yi Da Ge) to assist me with the most difficult lines! I also spent A LOT of time practising each line to make sure that my pronunciation and enunciation weren’t too far off. And because I memorised the lines by heart, the one thing I was most afraid of was to be corrected during filming and had to learn new words or lines on the spot!

You’ve released 2 albums. What are your thoughts of producing some Hokkien songs? We would be excited to hear!

I’d love to write and release a Hokkien song in the near future! But I’d probably need a lot of help with the Hokkien lyrics… Any volunteers? (laughs)

The younger generations don’t speak as much dialect today. Can you leave some words of encouragement for them to pick them their dialect?

It is pretty sad that dialect has been devalued and marginalised. Every language is unique and beautiful, so is our dialect. Our dialect is not merely a tool to communicate with our grandparents, it is also an important link to our roots and culture. And to those who dismiss dialects as being “uncool”, can you actually think of an equally cool, fun and on point alternative to “Ho Seh Liao!”, “Bo Jio!” , “Jialat!” , “Chi Sin!” or “Boh Din Wah Juk”? (laughs)

Image Credits: Wallace Ang


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Why Cynthia Koh speaks such fluent Teochew in dialect drama, Ho Seh Bo

Celebrity Interview with Cynthia Koh, 许美珍

Everyone knows Cynthia Koh speaks fluent English and Mandarin. Since her first screen debut in The Dating Game in 1992, Cynthia has acted in at least 70 productions, many of which are aired on local television, including Channel 5 and Channel 8. When we first tuned in to the dialect drama, Ho Seh Bo (好世谋), we were intrigued by how she had effortlessly delivered her lines in Teochew. Wait, did she grow up speaking Teochew? How did she pick up the language?

Cynthia generously shares with us her personal journey in learning and speaking Teochew, as well as how she prepared for her role of Pan Mei Ruo (潘美若) in Ho Seh Bo. Did you know that she can speak other dialects too? Read on to find out!

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Cynthia Koh (@cynthiakoh27) on

LearnDialect.sg: You speak very fluent Teochew! When did you pick up Teochew and what inspired you to pick up the language?

Cynthia Koh: Since young, in fact, we converse in Teochew at home with my grandparents, because that’s the only way that they can understand. So my parents taught us – me and my sister – Teochew at a very young age. Even until today, we still speak Teochew at home!

Can you share one or two interesting/funny anecdotes when you were learning Teochew back then?

I really can’t remember because there are so many! Teochew has a sing-song rhythm to it and so even if we are quarrelling at home, it sounds like we are singing a song (laughs). That’s the cute part about Teochew!

Your character, Pan Mei Ruo, speaks mainly Teochew in the show, Ho Seh Bo. How did you feel when you first knew that you had to act in Teochew? What made you want to take up this role, as it isn’t exactly mainstream as compared to a Mandarin production?

Pretty much, when I took up this role, they did tell me that I was supposed to speak more Mandarin than Teochew. And then later on, they changed it. They said, “Could you speak like 70% Teochew and only 30% Mandarin if necessary?” I remember the first few days on set, I had to mouth my words or I tried to enunciate my Teochew words very carefully. That turned out to be very forceful and I personally felt very uncomfortable. So slowly, day by day, as we were going into the progress of filming, I eased into it. Later on, it became more natural – I spoke as I would at home and it became like a second skin. So it was really really great fun to be on Ho Seh Bo and it was a really really great opportunity!

 
 
 
 
 
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It’s speak Teochew today on set of #hosehbo. ? by @royli_feihui #actorslife #filming #wednesday #readascript

A post shared by Cynthia Koh (@cynthiakoh27) on

We can imagine that it must be quite different to prepare for a role in Teochew versus Mandarin. Were the scripts written in Mandarin and then you had to translate it to Teochew yourself? What are some of the challenges that you faced (if any) and how did you overcome it?

Yes, we got our scripts in Mandarin, so we had to translate and make it more fun in our own dialect. Luckily, we had help from 陈澍城大哥 (Chen Shu Cheng). So he mentored the three of us who would be speaking Teochew – Li Ping, me and Ya Hui. At any time that I needed help, I would go to Li Ping first, who would help me if she was free. If not, I would leave 陈澍城大哥 a voice message and he would reply. Because there are a lot of states or Teochew clans, every word may have a different kind of enunciation. So that was something that we had to be careful of. I managed to find a Teochew app which helped me in times of emergencies when I couldn’t reach 陈澍城大哥. So far so good! At least my lines were kind of easy because there weren’t much of the Eldershield or related messages. It was pretty straightforward – everything had got to do with Pan Mei Ruo and her husband. So it had been pretty easy.

 
 
 
 
 
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Project number 2 is challenging for most of us . Using dialect to act is not a walk in the park. Swipe for more videos of our script reading session. #好世谋 #scriptreading #throwback

A post shared by Cynthia Koh (@cynthiakoh27) on

The younger generations don’t speak as much dialect today. Can you leave some words of encouragement for them to pick them their dialect?

Generally, I would say that it is nice to know another language so that you can communicate with the older generation in times of need. I feel that sometimes, especially with our increasingly ageing population now, it is nice to reach out to old folks in a dialect that they are familiar with. Personally I know and I can speak Cantonese, Teochew, very very very little Malay (I can understand but I cannot speak) and of course, Mandarin and English. I find that this has made it easier for me whenever I’m working or when I need to communicate, e.g., ordering food from someone who doesn’t speak Chinese.

Sometimes, when you can speak dialects with the elders, they feel more 亲切 [warm & sincere] with you. You just surprise them and make their day as you are able to understand them. So yes, I think we should revive dialect. Go and learn from your mummy and daddy. Maybe basic stuff like “how are you?”, “have you eaten?”, “where are you going?”, “do you need help?”, simple things like that. You can start from that and slowly build your dialect vocabulary. Hope you have fun!

Image Credits: Cynthia Koh’s Instagram & Facebook


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