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‘Mother tongue proficiency affected’ as more students speak English at home

SINGAPORE — More Singaporeans are speaking English rather than their mother tongues at home, posing a challenge in the teaching and learning of the mother tongue languages, said Minister of State (Education and Communications and Information) Sim Ann yesterday. She said this is because levels of proficiency in mother tongues among students are more varied than in the past, when they were more widely used in homes.

SINGAPORE — More Singaporeans are speaking English rather than their mother tongues at home, posing a challenge in the teaching and learning of the mother tongue languages, said Minister of State (Education and Communications and Information) Sim Ann yesterday. She said this is because levels of proficiency in mother tongues among students are more varied than in the past, when they were more widely used in homes.

Speaking at the East Asia Summit Conference on Bilingualism, Ms Sim said bilingualism has always been a cornerstone of Singapore’s education system. She noted that it was important “we kept our mother tongue languages alive” in the early days, even as the pioneer leaders chose English as our working language.

“The learning of our native language reinforces our cultural identity, values and roots. It gives us a world-view that complements the perspective of the English-speaking world,” she said. “Our bilingual policy has prepared our children for a globalised world and strengthened Singapore’s identity as a hub for trade, commerce and exchanges.”

She added that as the world becomes more interconnected with globalisation and the mass movement of people, the learning of two or more languages has taken on added significance. “Beyond being a tool for business communication, languages also help us to more deeply understand the culture of different peoples.”

Ms Sim also said research has shown that early bilingual exposure is critical in developing our language competencies and that is why “we have to start early to build strong foundations in the languages”. This is why the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism was set up in 2011, focusing on nurturing children to be bilingual at the pre-school level, she added. ASHLEY CHIA

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