Speech by Ms Low Yen Ling, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Trade and Industry, at the 5th Mother Tongue Languages Symposium

Published Date: 20 August 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Mr Wong Siew Hoong

Director-General of Education

Members of the three Mother Tongue Language Learning and Promotion Committees

Distinguished guests, speakers, colleagues from MOE, parents, ladies and gentlemen

Good morning. 大家早。Selamat pagi. Vanakkam.

1.It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to the 5th Mother Tongue Languages Symposium Opening Ceremony and the Outstanding Pre-School Mother Tongue Language Teacher Award Presentation.

2.The Mother Tongue Languages Symposium was initiated in 2012 to create a platform for sharing effective approaches to teaching and learning Mother Tongue Languages with pre-school centres, schools, parents, community groups and the public. Through our collective efforts, we provide a conducive environment not just for our children to become proficient in their Mother Tongue languages but to also develop a love for the language. It takes a whole-of-community approach to prepare our next generation, who is going to take us forward towards SG100, to become bilingual, bicultural and future-ready. Today’s symposium is part of MOE’s strong commitment to work together with the community to promote bilingualism and keep Mother Tongue Languages as living languages in Singapore.

3.Indeed, bilingualism is more than just a cornerstone of our education system. It is an asset in the 21st century, as Singaporeans increasingly need to communicate effectively across a variety of cross-cultural settings. Our ability to connect with communities across Asia that speak our Mother Tongue Languages and share similar cultures gives us a valuable edge in the rise of Asia today. It will also boost our ability to be future-ready. This bicultural advantage sets Singaporeans apart in a global economy where skills and knowledge move across borders quickly and easily.

4.We want to spread the joy of learning and discovery to our children when they learn their mother tongue. And this is why, this year’s theme for the symposium is - ‘A Garden for Joyful Discoveries’. In the earlier video presented to us, we saw how Mdm Lau Yoke Ha, a pre-school teacher from My First Skool created a simple but innovative ‘fingers game’ that had got the children laughing and smiling. And she said, as many preschool teachers would agree, that what keeps them going is the fact that their children enjoy learning Mother Tongue and regularly return the hard work of the teacher by saying “I love you”. And this is enough to give a strong sense of satisfaction to many of our teachers. Apart from the ‘fingers game’ in Mdm Lau’s class, there were also poetry, songs and story-telling to engage the children’s interest and attention. In fact, there will be a lot of best practices that we will get to see and learn today at the symposium. Learning the Mother Tongue language in class and at home can be fun.

5.Today’s Symposium is about sharing and learning of such creative teaching ideas to engage and enrich our young learners. This year, we bring to you 28 sharing sessions and workshops; and 43 exhibition booths to empower our schools, educators and parents to support children’s learning of the Mother Tongue languages. I am happy to note that many of the sessions had received overwhelming response and are fully subscribed. That shows the strong commitment and interest of our parents and the public in the teaching and learning of our Mother Tongue Languages.

Schools and Teachers

6.Our schools and teachers not only play a vital role in teaching the Mother Tongue languages, they impart key culture and values that strengthen the national and cultural identity of our young students.

As the Malay pantun goes,

Indah pagi kerana cahaya

Indah budi kerana bahasa

(Beautiful morning because of sunshine

Beautiful character because of language)

7.This beautiful pantun iterates that our language teachers are like rays of sunshine imparting values that guide our children for a lifetime through the teaching and learning of Mother Tongue.

8.Teachers at St Anthony’s Primary School use play as a way to let the children enjoy what they learn, because our children learn best through play and when most of their senses are being engaged. They designed language games ‘欢乐伙伴’ to complement the 2015 Primary School Chinese Textbooks. Through these interactive games, the children are encouraged to support one another’s learning and many of them look forward to their Chinese lessons as they find them meaningful and enjoyable.

9.With a dash of creativity, we can make the language come alive for the children in many ways. And only when the learning of Mother Tongue comes alive and we take it out of the classroom into homes and into our community can they really appreciate the uniqueness, usefulness and relevance of Mother Tongue in their everyday setting. For instance, in a competition at Gongshang Primary, the children used hip-hop style music to demonstrate the rhythmic patterns of Malay poetry. Look out for these children as they perform their self-composed raps later. They show us that learning Malay can be modern and fun. Over at Horizon Primary, the children use Tamil to act out real-life situations. So it is not just textbook learning, but practicing the mother tongue in telephone conversations, dialogues, story-telling and role play. This builds confidence in our kids in the daily use of the language. So schools and teachers play a very important role in the teaching and learning of Mother Tongue.

Parents

10.Parents also play a very important role. The learning of languages cannot be confined to classrooms and must take place at home and in the community. Parents play a crucial role in nurturing and encouraging the love of the mother tongue. Studies have shown that exposure to languages in the child’s early years benefit their learning of languages at later stages. To do this, we as parents, can support by creating a conducive home environment. In fact, many of the parents of the pre-schoolers in this era probably also benefited from the bilingual education. In fact, many of the parents will be able to converse proficiently in our Mother Tongue. But maybe we have made it too much of a habit to reply our children in English language. So I think, as parents, we also need to instil some discipline and encourage our children to really use Mother Tongue at home.

11.At home, I plan for 讲华语时段 (Speak Chinese period) every Tuesday. Initially the home was quiet during that period as the kids were not used to speaking Mandarin at home. However over time, they grew in confidence and have learnt to speak more naturally in Chinese. They also enjoy acting out simple stories and reading Chinese newspapers. When we use our mother tongue in our family interactions, I feel that it helps my children develop a closer connection to the language, and more positive attitude towards their learning of Chinese. As I journey alongside them, I am also learning how to creatively engage them. We have to adapt and see how to use different approaches to heighten and engage their senses so that learning becomes interactive and fun. This symposium is a wonderful platform for us to share and learn from one another.

12.Over the five years, the Mother Tongue Languages Symposium has gained a following and many parents as well as members of the public look forward to the annual event. So what are the highlights we can expect this year? Well, in this year’s edition, we have set up a MTL Sensory Trail with hands-on activities where the young can experience language learning with their senses. Children can acquire simple vocabulary in their Mother Tongue while interacting and conversing with their parents.

13.We have also invited three bilingual media personalities to share how they encourage learning of their Mother Tongue at home.

14.Firstly, Diana Ser, will speak about her parenting experience. She believes in immersing her three young children in an environment rich with Chinese Language and will share with us strategies to promote the use of the language at home.

15.We also have Sujimy Mohamad who will share his expertise on how parents can interact and engage with our children who are digital natives. He will demonstrate the use of video resources, especially from social media sites, to immerse children in the Malay language.

16.To create a conducive home environment, we can also watch more local TV programmes. Elamaran Natarajan, a father of three children, will be showing us ways to encourage the kids to use Tamil through watching these programmes with them.

17.I am sure their personal stories will give us new ideas and inspire us all.

As the Tamil saying goes,

‘Illathil moli (mozhi) olithaal,

Ullathil moli (mozhi) valarum’

What it means is if a language is heard (spoken) at home, it will grow in their hearts (of those at home). I think this is very true. When you hear the children and teachers of different races say “I love you” in their own Mother Tongue, it just tugs at our heartstrings in a very different way. I think that is the beauty of our Mother Tongue. It keeps us rooted to our values and our culture.

18.So we shall all continue to speak our Mother Tongue at home so that the language will grow in our hearts.

Community Partners

19.Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to nurture and promote the love and use of our Mother Tongue. Beyond schools and teachers, the community can play a role in promoting the Mother Tongue languages and imparting the values and cultural identity that accompany the languages. We are heartened that the three Mother Tongue Language Learning and Promotion Committees have been very supportive through the years and they have organised many programmes and developed initiatives to cater to the children’s different needs.

20.One of the new programmes organised by the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning (CPCLL) is the Cultural Heritage Walk for Students 2016. Through the heritage walk, students get to explore and understand our local Chinese culture and the history of Singapore’s clan associations. The committee also brought arts and cultural programmes to parents and children at the recent LiVE!@Heartlands outreach where local arts groups performed puppet shows and told stories.

21.The Malay Language Learning and Promotion Committee (MLLPC) also showcased their recent creation at the LiVE!@Heartlands outreach. Misi Mimi, an online game, lets children play while learning the Malay language and culture. Children and parents who visited the booth at the heartland malls were treated to a sneak preview of the online game.

22.At the same event, the Tamil Language Learning and Promotion Committee (TLLPC) encouraged children to speak Tamil through drama, interactive story-telling and sing-along sessions. This was to promote the children’s interest and appreciation of the Tamil language, literature and culture. The three promotion committees are present today, so remember to visit their booths later.

Outstanding Pre-School MTL Teachers

23.The early years are a golden window to plant the seeds of love for the mother tongue. This period also lays a strong foundation for children’s holistic development in their languages. Our pre-school MTL teachers play a crucial part in giving our young children a strong base to grow their confidence and develop their love for their respective Mother Tongue. Today, we want to recognise teachers whose dedication and passion in teaching their Mother Tongue has made a difference to our young ones. The Outstanding Pre-School Mother Tongue Language Teacher Award is organised by the three Mother Tongue Language Learning and Promotion Committees and supported by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism.

24.As the Chinese saying goes, "十年树木, 百年树人“,it takes ten years for a tree to grow, but it takes a hundred years to educate people. Congratulations to all 12 award recipients who have very done well in seeding among the children, an early love for the Mother Tongue. Please join me in giving them a big round of applause.

25.We are inspired by their examples to continue our lifelong journey of learning, loving and living the language with our children and students.

Conclusion

26.At this juncture, I would like to express my sincere appreciation on behalf of MOE to everyone involved in making this Symposium possible. They are the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning, Malay Language Learning and Promotion Committee, Tamil Language Learning and Promotion Committee, Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism, Chinese Language and Culture Fund, Bicultural Taskforce, Early Childhood Development Agency, Singapore Press Holdings and National Library Board.

27.It really takes a community to be involved in the teaching and learning of Mother Tongue. The teaching of Mother Tongue languages do not just belong to the teachers or the parents. It involves a community as the teaching and learning of Mother Tongues shape our unique Singaporean identity and reflect our multicultural diversity and rich heritage. Only when we do it together can we nurture and prepare our next generation to become bilingual, bicultural and future-ready. Let us join hands and hearts to make our children’s journey of learning the Mother Tongue languages fun, engaging and meaningful.

28.I wish everyone a fruitful learning and an enjoyable experience at the 5th Mother Tongue Languages Symposium.

29.Thank you. 谢谢大家。Terima kasih. Nandri.

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