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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.