Speech by Mr Ng Chee Meng, Minister for Education (Schools) at The 6th Mother Tongue Languages Symposium

Published Date: 19 August 2017 12:00 AM

News Speeches

Once upon a time, a mother cat took her three lovely kittens for a walk along Orchard Road. Out of nowhere came a dog barking at them. The little kittens ran for their lives, hiding, one behind a dustbin, one behind a tree, and one under a pedestrian’s bench, frightened as can be!

The mother cat however stood her ground, instinctively arched her back, and raised her voice, “Woof! Woof! Woof!” 

Having never come across a barking cat, the dog got a bit frightened and puzzled. He quickly ran away. The three lovely kittens came out from hiding and gave their courageous mother a hug.

And the mother said proudly, “See, I told you to be bilingual.” 

The story is taken from Dr Soh Kay Cheng’s book “Help Your Child Learn Chinese Language Efficiently and Happily”. 

Good morning everyone.

2. Singapore’s bilingualism policy can be traced back to 1959, even before Singapore became independent. On 8th December 1959, our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew made his first major speech on the importance of a bilingual education system at the Gay World Stadium, addressing 10,000 teachers and principals in the audience. While a common knowledge of English enables different ethnic groups to unify as one Singapore, Mr Lee firmly believed that our Mother Tongue provides us the means to tap on the rich heritage that our culture offers. It imbues in us values that shape our character and develops a sense of identity as to who we are and where we come from.   

Daripada kampung, jadi kota;

Dulu Temasek; kini Singapura;

Bahasa bunda, bahasa kita

Kukuh bahasa, maju negara

(From a village to a city)

(In the past called Temasek, now Singapore)

(Mother Tongue is our language)

(Strengthen our language and our nation will progress)

3. Indeed, this pantun embodies the journey we have taken. While English enables us to communicate with people from around the world, our Mother Tongue Languages offer us a different set of cultural lenses and perspectives to connect with the world around us. There is a lot of wisdom we can draw from our Mother Tongue languages, much of which is beautifully captured in our own MTL idioms, proverbs, pantuns, etc.

4. Our horizons are widened when we are bilingual. From a national perspective, a deeper appreciation of our MTL cultures will strengthen our multicultural identity, and also build the confidence of Singaporeans to engage our counterparts in the region more effectively. It is clear that Mother Tongue is important in many aspects. We should start our children young in their MTL learning, preferably as a toddler when the brain is at its most effective in absorbing and retaining knowledge, especially the linguistic aspect of skills.

5. We must also make Mother Tongue Language come alive, be engaging and meaningful for our children; let them not only learn their Mother Tongue but appreciate the beauty of our Mother Tongue from young, especially now in our society where English has become more predominant as the language at home. As educators and parents, we play a key role in nurturing the interest of learning Mother Tongue in our children. Build a strong foundation in their early years. Develop a love for the language. This is what the Mother Tongue Languages Symposium is all about.

Flourish in the Wonderland of Our Languages – Stories and Literature

6. This year’s theme, “Flourish in the Wonderland of Our Languages”, focuses on making the learning of Mother Tongue Languages come alive through an immersive and experiential approach. Today’s symposium will allow children and their parents to experience these innovations through the activities, sharing sessions, workshops and exhibition booths.

7. At the MTL Story Quest, children will learn well-known Chinese, Malay and Indian folklore in four adventure zones. Some zones allow independent exploration, while others encourage parental support. ICT and physical play are used to engage children in the fun and exciting stories. Children will be encouraged to use their Mother Tongue Languages to solve mysteries, experience the stories and interact with the characters who will be coming alive at the end of their quest. All these sound so exciting. Don’t we wish we can be children again to join in the quest?

Appreciation of literature can enhance the learning of language.

8. Qihua Primary School creatively incorporate games and stories to bring to life excerpts of two Chinese Classics – Journey to the West and Romance of the Three Kingdoms – for primary 3 to 5 students. The teachers have developed a chess game based on these classics, which involves self-directed and multi-sensory learning. These stories are also developed into online audio books, so that students can access them from home. When they participate in these, it actually ups their interest and desire to learn. Through that process, they not only expose themselves to the rich literature of the Chinese culture but language as well. As children enjoy the games and stories, we foster their love for reading and a connection to our cultural heritage.

Creative and Passionate Educators: Schools and Teachers

9. Our school programmes are comprehensive and focus on the holistic development of our children. Learning Mother Tongue is more than just mastering a tool of communications. It transmits values and culture too. These are imparted by our teachers through their lesson design and pedagogies to promote learning.

10. Pre-school teachers of PCF Sparkletots Preschool at Pasir Ris West adopts purposeful play to teach the Tamil language. Children are introduced to folklore through story-telling activities, from which they learn about traditions, culture and values. Children are encouraged to think deeply, ask meaningful questions and interact with others confidently. Our 2015 Primary School MTL Curriculum aims to nurture in our young ones a love for their MTLs.

11. At my school visits, I see a greater focus on authentic activities which help to develop communication skills. I also see many of our children able to communicate more confidently and effectively. ‘Xuele’, ‘E-cekap’ and ‘Sangamam’ are online portals that support our MTL curriculum and ignite the passion for learning Mother Tongue. Teachers need to empower today’s digital natives for tomorrow. Many of our schools embrace ICT in the teaching and learning of Mother Tongue.   

12. Malay language teachers of Gongshang Primary School use Nearpod, an online platform that incorporates presentation, collaboration and real-time assessment tools. Using this technology, teachers can monitor and facilitate the pace of learning in the classroom.

13. The iMTL portal was rolled out in 2013 and has been enhanced this year. Jing Shan Primary School has been actively using the portal to enhance students’ learning, such as using the collaborative canvas to build on one another’s ideas to develop story plot; or to exchange their views on current topics. Students also use the audio response tool to record their thoughts and provide peer feedback to their classmates.

14. We see greater engagement in the classroom as students enjoy learning from one another. More importantly, learning Mother Tongue Languages has become authentic, more applicable to life and fun, as evident in the children’s joy and laughter during Mother Tongue lessons. How I wish I could learn Mother Tongue the way the children do today.

The 24/7 Mentor: Parents

15. Learning can take place anywhere but no place is more important than at home. Mr Leo Hwa Liang and his two daughters speak mostly English at home. Nonetheless, they took part in the Promote Mandarin Council’s Parent-Child Talent Competition and came in as the First Runner-Up in the Upper Primary Category.

16. I was at the finals to watch the performances of this meaningful event and I thoroughly enjoyed the performances. I am delighted by the talents, creativity and passion shown by the parents like Mr Leo in encouraging and supporting their child in the use of Mother Tongue.  For parents, there is perhaps no stronger support than by being personally involved in using the Mother Tongue with the child.

17. We are thankful that Mr Leo is here with us today to share his experience and strategies in creating a conducive home environment to sustain his children’s interest in the Mother Tongue Language. Do drop by his sharing session later to learn some tips from him.

18. We also have Mdm Zaza Majid here today. She is the Assistant Programme Director with Warna 94.2 FM. Though she uses the Malay Language in the course of work, it has been a challenge for her young children to use the language at home. Today, she will share with us the strategies she adopts that help sustain her children’s interest in the language.

19. As a parent and a veteran in the education fraternity, Mr Jeyarajadas Pandian, our Principal Master Teacher from the Academy of Singapore Teachers, will be sharing with parents how we can ignite children’s interest in speaking Tamil Language at home. He will show us how we can guide young children to build stronger proficiency in Tamil when speaking and how we can inculcate values through conversations in the Tamil Language.

20. Today, we will not just learn new strategies. We will also make a commitment. There is a Chinese saying “身教重于言传”. As parents, our actions speak louder than words. To encourage our children to learn well and more importantly, love their MTL, we must be a role model to them. Engage them in MTL activities as a family.

21. We have the MTL Pledge Wall: We Will! at today’s symposium.  Make your way to the exhibition area at level 3, to pledge your commitment. Let us plant the first seed of love for Mother Tongue in our young. We hope that through the pledge, our parents will not only make a family commitment, but also a lifelong commitment to the learning and use of our Mother Tongue.

Many Jigsaw Pieces Complete the Picture: Community Efforts 

22. Mother Tongue education is like a jigsaw puzzle. Each of us has a part to play. The learning and promotion of Mother Tongue requires the effort of the school, home and community. As the Tamil proverb says, ‘Koodi Vaalnthaal, Koadi Nanmei’ (We will achieve great things, when we come together), we shall put the pieces together and see our children flourish in the Wonderland of Our Languages.

23. The three Mother Tongue Language Learning and Promotion Committees have led in organising many activities to keep the MTL learning environment alive and thriving in the community.  I would like to share some of their recent initiatives.

24. The Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning (CPCLL) collaborated with Wildlife Reserves Singapore to launch the Wow Wild Learn Programme. This is a multi-sensory programme that provides children a unique experiential learning. They visit River Safari to be Panda Keepers for a day, where they are engaged in fun activities. Supplementary readers are specially designed to extend their learning in the classroom. Parents, too, are involved as positive reinforcements for these interactive lessons, as they coach their children through parent-child learning activity at home.

25. The Malay Language Learning and Promotion Committee (MLLPC) has organised Fiesta Bahasa just a week ago. ‘Tembok Kata’, a mobile application designed to enthuse students in vocabulary learning was launched at the event last week. Rightly conceived, it can help engage our students who are digital natives, as well to inject fun while they pace their own learning.

26. The Tamil Language Learning and Promotion Committee (TLLPC) organised the Seminar for Preschool Tamil Language Teachers on 27 May 2017. This inaugural effort sought to provide a professional development platform to inspire teachers in creating a lively and authentic environment for the learning of Tamil. Pre-school experts and educators came together to share strategies using purposeful play for the joy of learning.

27. The Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism (LKYFB) is another channel for which we have worked closely with our committed partners and communities on meaningful projects to support our children’s bilingual learning, particularly in the learning of MTLs and MTL cultures. This includes our very first bilingual TV programme for our children, with strong flavour of our local cultures, entitled “Junction Tree” in collaboration with Mediacorp. We hope to continue supporting meaningful projects that are impactful and contribute positively to our MTL ecosystem.

28. I thank the three Mother Tongue Languages Learning and Promotion Committees for working hand in hand over the past ten years. Please continue this strong collaboration in promoting the learning of Mother Tongue Languages in the community. Together we can make our MTL a living language. May I now invite members from the three committees to stand? Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking them for years of hard work, dedication and commitment. I would also like to invite Board members of the LKYFB present to stand as well. Please join me in showing our appreciation too.

Outstanding and Merit Pre-school Mother Tongue Teacher Award 

29. Our preschool teachers’ efforts to encourage MTL learning will build a strong foundation for our children. This morning, we honour teachers who have been exemplary in their work with the Outstanding Pre-school Mother Tongue Language Teacher Award. I congratulate the 13 Outstanding and Merit Award recipients. They have all adopted a variety of pedagogical approaches to make MTL fun, relevant and exciting for our young. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to all pre-school teachers. And, a huge congratulation to all award recipients.


30. In closing, I would also like to thank all partners and supporters for coming together so that our children can flourish and blossom in the Wonderland of Languages. I wish everyone an enriching learning experience at the 6th Mother Tongue Languages Symposium.

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