Sunday 15 September 2013

'Value of multilingual skills is growing'

But mastering mother tongue is now a challenge, minister tells conference
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2013

IN AN increasingly interconnected world, learning multiple languages is important in business communication and to understand different cultures.

Citing figures that showed half of the world's population speaks two or more languages, she told the 200-strong audience: "Many countries today recognise the value of children learning two or more languages in school."

Singapore's bilingual policy has "prepared our children for a globalised world", she added but noted that there are still challenges in implementing the policy.

For instance, the growing number of Singaporeans speaking English at home has led to "varying levels of proficiency and abilities among our students in their Mother Tongues when compared to students of the past", she explained.

Ms Sim also told reporters on the sidelines of the event at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre that even as the home environment changes, schools are also adjusting the way they teach.

"All mother-tongue language teachers have had to really think about very innovative methods in order to engage the interest of young learners," she said.

Professor Goh Yeng Seng, who heads the National Institute of Education's (NIE) Asian Languages and Cultures Academic Group, cited Education Ministry (MOE) data showing that 60 per cent of the Primary 1 cohort come from English-speaking homes.

"More English-speaking students are entering our schools... and the big challenge is how to teach them their mother tongue," he told reporters at the conference.

In 2002, MOE piloted a programme allowing teachers to teach Chinese using English.

Under the scheme, which was first tried out in four primary schools, including Anglo-Chinese School (Junior), pupils are allowed to ask questions in English to clarify doubts during the early learning of Chinese.

Bilingual teachers will also occasionally use English to explain difficult Chinese characters or respond to mistakes made by pupils.

This bilingual approach caused a stir among the Chinese community when it was announced in 2003, with some seeing as it as an insult to their culture.

But Prof Goh said yesterday that "schools are very supportive of this approach" and he has seen "more supporters".

If pupils are stronger in English, then the language should be used as a tool for learning other languages, instead of being seen as an obstacle, he explained.

A spokesman for MOE also told The Straits Times that the bilingual approach had proved effective for students coming from non-Chinese language speaking homes.

She added that teachers are still being trained to use this method, although the ministry does not track the number of schools which have adopted it.

Adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy S. Gopinathan, one of the keynote speakers at the conference which ends today, talked about how the division between language and identity may not be as tidy as before.

For instance, someone may be Indian but grew up speaking English, making that the "cultural language" with which he expresses his Indian heritage.

The EAS, which started in 2005, is a forum to strengthen ties between Asean countries and others, including China, Japan and Australia.

This conference, which brings together experts to discuss ways of teaching and learning second languages, is co-organised by the education ministries of Singapore and China, in partnership with the NIE and the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Reinforce learning of mother tongue at home
By Pearl Lee, The Sunday Times, 15 Sep 2013

The work of teachers in schools can be reinforced for greater effect at home, Minister of State for Education, and Communications and Information Sim Ann said yesterday.

She called on parents and grandparents to get involved, saying they have an important role to play in shaping children's attitudes and interests in the learning of mother tongue languages - particularly during the kids' early years.

Ms Sim was speaking on the last day of the Mother Tongue Languages Symposium at the Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

"A simple and inexpensive, yet very powerful strategy that parents and grandparents can adopt is to read to our children regularly," she said, adding that this allows children to pick up the sounds that form the language.

"(This) in turn helps them to speak and interact using the language."

She shared with the audience, which included teachers and parents, her own experience of learning Mandarin through storybooks during her childhood.

"My mother loved to read to me and my siblings and we loved to climb onto her lap when she came home from work and hear her read from a picture book," she said.

The symposium, now in its second run, serves as a platform for pre-schools, schools, community groups and parents to gather and discuss topics on the subject.

Seven teachers were awarded the Outstanding Pre-school Mother Tongue Language Teacher Award there.

It also featured 10 sharing sessions conducted by pre-school experts and teachers.

This aimed to help parents get their children interested in learning their mother tongue.

Exhibition booths run by the Education Ministry and schools showcased innovative teaching methods.


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