Bilingualism in Singapore
By Chan Hoi Ki on 07/04/2022
Bilingualism is one of the key factors that have truly defined what Singapore is. According to the Constitution of Singapore, the four official languages are English, Mandarin, Malay & Tamil.
This trait has been set in stone for all Singaporeans as early as from their primary school education, where learning a mother tongue as their second language has been mandatory since the 1960s. Aside from education, bilingualism is prevalent across the country as evident in tourist attractions’ road signs, train announcements, government offices & even public hospitals. Singapore’s national free-to-air television & radio also have dedicated channels per official language. In today’s pandemic climate, the public informative posters on maintaining good personal hygiene and self-monitoring are also published in all four official languages.
Despite the country’s resolution on cultivating bilingualism, there has been a decline in the use of mother tongue proficiency over the years mainly due to the rising popularity of English. More Singaporeans have an increased preference of speaking & using English at home. This has led to several changes to Singapore’s bilingualism education policy to adapt and revise to better fit the needs of Singaporeans. Mother Tongue “B” syllabus was introduced to teach mother tongue at a lower standard as compared to the mainstream and schools even offer Conversational Malay/Chinese to students who are not taking it as their designated mother tongue.
“Children represent the future, encourage, support and guide them.” – Catherine Pulsifer
Children need not wait till pre-school nor primary school to begin picking up their mother tongue language. Learning can start from home – be it through songs & rhymes, educational apps & games or even books. Monolingual households can even join in on the home-based learning journey together with their child or even engage their grandparents, relatives or trusted caregivers for more engaging interactions. Our mother tongue keeps us in touch with our roots, culture and is a privilege to practise in an inclusive environment such as Singapore.