Mother Tongue proficiency affected as more speak English at home: Sim Ann

Mother Tongue proficiency affected as more speak English at home: Sim Ann

Date
Friday, 13 September 2013

Media Type
Channel NewsAsia (Online)

SINGAPORE: The increasing number of Singaporeans speaking English at home has had an impact on the teaching and learning of students' Mother Tongue languages.

Speaking at the East Asia Summit Conference on Bilingualism, Minister of State for Education Sim Ann said children now have varying levels of proficiencies in their Mother Tongues compared to students of the past.

More than 60 per cent of students in Singapore come from English-speaking homes.

Among these students, a number of them enter Primary 1 with little or no opportunities to speak their Mother Tongue at home.

For such students, the National Institute of Education’s (NIE) Head of Asian Languages & Cultures Academic Group (ALC) Goh Yeng Seng said schools should consider using bilingual textbooks and English as a supplementary language of instruction during Mother Tongue lessons.

For example, to explain new vocabulary and to encourage students to ask questions.

Prof Goh said: “Since English is their first language, their master language, their most comfortable language, why don't you use their master language as a resource rather than see that as a barrier? So… we should make full use of that.

“Particularly at the beginning stage, we should allow them to use English to raise questions. I always say, when they want to raise questions, they're actively participating in your lesson.”

Prof Goh also said this could be good training for students to learn skills in bilingualism and translation at a later stage.

While the method is already carried out in a small number of schools, Prof Goh said the challenge is ensuring there are enough bilingually-trained teachers.

He added that this could be a uniquely Singaporean product that can be exported.

Indeed, the search is on for a good teaching method for bilingual education.

Ms Sim said: "I found it interesting that so many delegates came up to share with me and to say that for their respective countries in their respective education systems, bilingualism is a challenging and at times controversial subject. So I think that what this underscores is that the search for good pedagogies, for good methods of teaching and learning and I think it's something many countries are in pursuit of. And we are amongst them."

Ms Sim said the practice of bilingualism can be affected by social and cultural developments, and that is a challenge in promoting bilingualism.

She added Singapore schools have always had to adjust its teaching methods according to social realities.

Ms Sim said: "Schools have been doing this in many creative ways and I think at the same time, draw on the support of parents as well as community groups to make language learning a lot more fun and engaging for our students."

National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Adjunct Professor for Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy S Gopinathan said: "I think we cannot accept that the situation will always remain the same. Languages are a content. Language learning, language use is dynamic. So how do we prepare for that? How do we keep abreast? I think the earlier commitment to be pragmatic about it, to change when we needed to change, rather than be ideological and say, no, this is the standard we want and this should be for everybody.

“So my point was I think we have a good track record of both keeping to the primary commitment of equality of languages and bilingualism will be fundamental in our system, but also coming to say, we need to change, we need to adjust, we need to think of new strategies, we need to customise it more for learner abilities and learner use."

Ms Sim said Singapore's bilingual policy has prepared its children for a globalised world, while strengthening Singapore's identity as a hub for trade, commerce and people-to-people exchanges.

She added many countries today also recognise the value for children to learn two or more languages in school.

Ms Sim cited statistics that point to half of the world's population being bilingual or multilingual.

The bilingual conference is a first for participating countries of the East Asia Summit.

International language experts will discuss over the two-day conference how teaching and learning languages can help enhance integration in the region. 

 

The article can be read here

Source: Channel NewsAsia (Online), mediacorp