An integral part of the Singapore education system, biligualism is adopted in all government primary schools, secondary schools and junior colleges. In additional to the English language, it is mandatory for students to be knowledgable in another language, most commonly their Mother Tongue. The website below gives you an insight on biligualism from the perspective of Singapore's Ministry of Education.
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Bilingualism is a practice the Ministry of Education rules every public school to abide by, where children are taught both English and their Mother Tongue. In my opinion, this is extremely practical and important to Singapore if she wants to remain competitive. Being a young nation of 50 years, Singapore needs to be relevant to other countries (achieved with English as her lingua franca) without neglecting her cultural roots.
Bilingualism has a huge part to play in Singapore’s speedy development, which includes her having the 5th highest GDP per capita in the world and we should definitely retain it. Although students often complain about the boredom of having to study Chinese in school (me included), I can confidently tell them now: live with it, it’s for your own good.
So, before any of you complain ‘Aiyo, I hate studying Chinese!’ Remember how powerful the PRC is
Bilingualism, encouraged (or rather, made compulsory) for most Singaporeans is a great advantage for us. Being effectively able to read, write and understand at least two languages somewhat gives us an edge in the competitive global scene today.
And I sincerely applaud the painstaking efforts of the government to continue honing this advantage to our benefit.
However, we pay this with a price - I mean, it's equivalent exchange right? As much as we are made to learn our Mother Tongue language (Chinese, Tamil or Malay) in order to preserve our roots and origins, are we successful at that?
It is not uncommon to witness many of the younger generations becoming increasingly apathetic to their Mother Tongue languages. Most think it is useless to harness their language abilities in their second language, and they do not enjoy learning these languages.
And that has further-reaching consequences on the cultural aspects of these different races... we are inclining towards a more homogeneous society, where unique cultures and traditions are hardly preserved in the face of westernisation.
I enjoy learning Chinese, and I like to think that I am able to deliver lines in Mandarin as effectively as I do in English. It is simply disappointing to know that some of my acquaintances cannot even order their hawker food in their own Mother Tongue languages.
Competence provides comfortability but loses something along
In this day and age there is significant use and value in possessing the ability to speak in both English and Chinese - especially in singapore. While it was considered to be slightly useless to learn English in the past, it is even more important today with the growing usage of English as the world's lingual Franca - obviously singapore cannot afford to lose out in terms of communication if we are to become a communication hub.
Mandarin on the other hand has also provided a comfortable way for me to communicate with my mandarin speaking relatives, not forgetting other Singaporeans who, unlike me, had no chance to study English. Being bilingual has it's benefits.
In the midst of this however, it seems that there is something that is being forgotten in the rush to be bilingual - not mandarin specifically but Chinese. A majority of the Chinese in singapore are not learning Chinese but mandarin - they are losing touch with the dialects that their forefathers used to communicate with the generations before; they are losing touch with their language, culture and origins. While the other races might not have this problem, the Chinese especially are losing this part of ourselves - while we gain competence in English and mandarin, what about our dialects? In the near future, if nothing is done, we will eventually lose touch with our roots - dialects will just be a form of precious communication lost.
Apt mastery of both languages
I grew up in a purely Chinese speaking family and English is my strongest subject. Sounds weird huh? Welcome to Singapore, the land where you must learn a minimum of 2 langauges. Introduced in the 1970s, biligualism is justified by the government on the basis that: English forms the main connecting bridge between the different races while our mother tongues helps us in tracing our roots and heritage.
I've found English indeed extremely useful for the above reason, however, I strongly question the 'roots and heritage' part of using Chinese language. I've only found practical use for Chinese because I could use it to yak away happily with my family and relatives, leading to closer bonds. However, I felt that to get to the roots of my heritage, studying Singapore and Chinese history would be more pertinent (Using English as a medium of course)
There is a wide disparity between my written English and Mandarian. Whilst I could perform most English writing effortlessly, I found serious difficulty with writing Chinese essays. Whilst I have moved beyond 'xiao ming' and 'xiao qiang', I prefer the latter, which you most likely know why. However, I only found letter writing useful, and hence mastered that aspect. If I wanted to debate or narrate, I would do it more in English, so as not to leave a friend of another race wondering what gibberish I was uttering.
However, bilingualism goes beyond plain mastery of language. A few months back, Times reported that biligualism actually helps the brain develop better due to better processing power from mastering different mediums. Hence, I would encourage you not to take the mastery of mere languages lightly, after all, you may never know its hidden side effects!
English is my main language and I find Chinese extremely hard. However, there is little doubt as to the usefulness and necessity as to being bilingual. Apart from all the usual talk about having to learn our mother tongue and know our roots etc etc, there are various practical aspects that make bilingualism important.
Communication. Singapore is a developed country but there are still many people who prefer conversing in Chinese than English. Being able to speak Chinese then allows you to interact with them much more easily. Speaking to hawkers, grandparents, relatives, I would say such interactions do require at least a basic command of Chinese.
I'm not saying that we have to be masters at our second language. All we really need is a good practical command of it such that it can help us with better interactions in our day-to-day activities. Personally, I always find that speaking of Chinese at times makes conversations more intimate and fun. Yes, the learning of Chinese in my education life thus far has been rather painful and horrifying at times. But I cannot deny the usefulness of it and in fact, I am grateful for whatever grasp of Chinese I have right now.