A child does not have to be taught how to communicate in his/her mother tongue. The context and grammar are imbibed through daily interaction with the family since birth. This can be called immersive learning, where the child is immersed in the language through culture. However, when it comes to learning a language other than mother tongue, it needs more a little more effort. Singapore is a multi-cultural nation with strong Chinese influences therefore for expats learning to communicate in Chinese can be a great asset both culturally and professionally. Children have an advantage when it comes to learning new stuff. Therefore introduction to Mandarin as early as possible is ideal.
Bilingualism in Singapore schools
Schools in Singapore take bilingualism seriously since it is a part of Singapore’s education policy. English is the main language which drives the content for all subjects like Math and Science, however, it is well understood that learning a second language early leads to better proficiency. Chinese is taught as a second language in most schools while some country specific schools also teach the native language like Spanish, Hindi, Tamil etc.
Learning a new language has several benefits. While the person gets to understand a new culture through language, a bilingual brain is considered quicker and nimbler. It can resolve conflicts, solve problems and be more creative than others. Apart from these, a globalized world calls for more fluid boundaries in terms of languages and cultures. When it comes to learning, children are most receptive. Grasping multiple languages is easier for a child than an adult and therefore schools have bilingualism as a part of their curriculums from the very beginning starting kindergarten.
How are some international schools doing it differently?
Many Singaporeans (mostly Chinese, Malays and Indians) feel the need to be fluent in English that allows greater opportunities for their children, while many foreigners living in Singapore want their children to learn to speak and write in Chinese for a better cultural inclusion. Learning Chinese though is more crucial when it comes to expat families who may come over from a completely different culture. International schools recognize this and some like the Canadian International School follow a very effective Bilingual English-Chinese programme. Here learning Chinese in the cultural context is the goal and the programme is implemented from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 5. The school has been a pioneer in the bilingual programme where each subject has two fully qualified teachers/ instructors, one a native Chinese speaker and another a native English speaking one. Each subject is equally divided between these two teachers where he/she communicates exclusively in the native language on alternate days. This way students have exposure to both languages not only in terms of the language subjects but also in others like Math and Science as a means of instruction.
Being bilingual has proven advantages. Singapore, because of its colonial past and trading importance has been home to people from different cultures for hundreds of years. The education policy of the country recognizes the cultural context along with the scientific benefits of learning languages and is hence a guiding factor for the culture of bilingualism in the country.
For more information please visit bilingual programme singapore