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New proposals to help Singaporeans master mother tongue

SINGAPORE — From singing competitions to rhyme books, 23 new proposals aimed at encouraging the use of mother tongue languages among Singaporeans were supported by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism last year.

New proposals to help Singaporeans master mother tongue

Singaporean artiste Taufik Batisah posing for a wefie with Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng (in white shirt) and students from New Town Secondary School at the launch of a bilingual video series. Photo: Alfred Chua / TODAY

SINGAPORE — From singing competitions to rhyme books, 23 new proposals aimed at encouraging the use of mother tongue languages among Singaporeans were supported by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism last year.

The Education Ministry shared the update on Thursday (Jan 4) at the launch of a short video series at New Town Secondary School highlighting the importance of mother tongue languages in connecting its users’ hearts and minds.

Over a third of the total number of projects supported by the fund — which started in 2011 — were from last year, bringing the total to 72.  

Projects such as a competition to design and create a Chinese mobile learning application were featured in the latest round of proposals. In a first, the fund also collaborated with a clan association — the Hokkien Huay Kuan — to promote bilingualism via a Mandarin theatre programme for Primary 2 children.

On Thursday, Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng launched the bilingualism video series, which features local artistes Olivia Ong, Shabir Alam, and Taufik Batisah sharing their experiences in learning their respective mother tongue languages.

“Bilingualism forms an important part of our national identity,” said Mr Ng, who is also the chairperson for the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism.

“As the fund continues our efforts in promoting bilingualism, we urge parents to nuture in their children a lifelong love for all languages, especially their mother tongue.”

Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Ng told reporters that it is crucial for families that tend to speak more English at home “to listen more, speak more”.

He also stressed the importance of bilingualism when he spoke to students at New Town Secondary on Thursday.

“In Singapore, we have the best of both worlds. We have the English language, which plugs us into the world economy, and we have our own mother tongue (languages), to lend a window to our identity, heritage and culture,” said Mr Ng.

Being bilingual also opens up career opportunities, he added, as Mr Ng pointed to the potential in large markets such as China, India, and neighbouring countries.

Mr Ng also shared his experiences about how he realised the importance of the Chinese language “as a vehicle to my identity” when he was studying in the United States.

“Having the foundation of the Chinese language helps me discover my own identity,” he added.

The new video series received largely positive reviews from the New Town Secondary School students.

Jason George, 15, suggested that social media and games can also be used as a tool to help youths master their mother tongue. “For me, when we find out about the history of Tamil, we can learn about the culture of (the language). Maybe we can have modules or camps to learn more about the cultural practices, and let the students participate.”

Shannon Chew, 16, added: “People mostly listen to music nowadays, and (follow) entertainment…so they can make use of pop culture to get student interested. Perhaps that can have more mother tongue films that students can relate to.”

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