Raising A Wholesome Preschooler Part 4: Bilingualism

by Kristie Lim (Founder Principal)

In this six part series of ‘Raising A Wholesome Preschooler’, Kristie Lim, Principal & Founder of Mind Stretcher Education Group share with us what encompasses a wholesome preschooler.

Though English is the lingua franca of the world, in a time of rapid modernisation and globalisation, it has become increasingly important to broaden our perspectives and world views, master other languages, and interact with people across different cultures and backgrounds. Today, people from all around the world are seeing the need to increase their proficiency in languages used in other markets in order to stay competitive. While most only realise this when they enter the workplace, it is undeniable that learning a new language at a young age not only makes eventual mastery of it easier, but also opens up many doors of opportunity for them later on.

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Bilingualism in Singapore

Our Singapore government possesses great foresight. The education landscape in Singapore provides opportunities for students to learn the English language and mother tongue proficiently. Be it Mandarin, Bahasa Melayu or Tamil, these will come in very useful on the global stage. China and India are world economic powers. Singapore is surrounded by neighbours that use Bahasa Melayu as their official language. Being able to speak their language will put us in good stead in business dealings.

When I was bringing up my children, I wanted to enroll them in a preschool that placed heavy emphasis on the Chinese language as we speak English at home most of the time. Unfortunately, there were none then. Immersing my children in weekly Chinese enrichment classes helped a little. However, the love of the language was not easy to inculcate in them. Like many children from English speaking families, learning the Chinese language was an uphill and tedious task.

Exams were hair-tearing experiences. Though my eldest son got an A1 in his GCE ‘A’ level examinations, he did it through sheer hard work by memorising model compositions. Getting the ‘A1′ on his result slip was like a ‘mission impossible, successfully accomplished’. He thought that would be the last he would ever see of the Chinese language. How grossly wrong was he!

When he went to the United States for his university education, he saw that many westerners were scrambling to sign up for Chinese classes. They knew that mastery of this language would put them ahead of their peers when they started work. It was then that he realised it would be embarrassing if he, as a Chinese, is unable to speak proficiently in his mother tongue. Since then, he has decided that he would read Chinese books on topics that interest him.

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Understanding the importance of Mother Tongue

Many parents would agree with me that it is difficult to convince our children, from young, of the importance of learning their mother tongue well on the basis that it would come in useful in future. Recently, I spoke to a very experienced Chinese language teacher from one of our top secondary schools. She is from China, but has been teaching in Singapore for the past 20 years. She shared that the reason our local students do not appreciate the Chinese language is that they do not see the need to use it at all. They have this simplistic thinking: “The world is so BIG; I don’t have to work in China at all or I will choose an occupation that does not require me to use the Chinese language.” As seen from my son’s experience, how wrong such thinking can be!

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Early exposure to a second language

Exposing a child as early as possible to a second language would make them less prone to rejecting using the language as they grow up. In addition, having a conducive environment is a very important factor for successfully learning a language. Had I been able to find a preschool for my children that allowed me to choose the medium of instruction, I believe they would have had a greater appreciation for the Chinese language and become more proficient in it in their later years in school.

MM Lee has recently commented that there is a need for preschools that allow parents to choose between curriculums that are structured with either English or mother tongue as the primary medium of instruction. Echoing this sentiment, Mind Stretcher will be starting preschool programmes on weekday mornings which allow parents to do just that!

This would plug the gap and enable children to be proficient in both languages, whether they come from an English or Chinese speaking background.

This article was also published on The New Age Parents.

Raising A Wholesome Preschooler Series
Part 1: What Makes A Wholesome Preschooler
Part 2: Vocabulary and Phonological Awareness
Part 3: Word Recognition
Part 4: Bilingualism
Part 5: Public Speaking And Confidence Building
Part 6: Character Building & Moral Education

 

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