Speech by Ms Low Yen Ling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education & Manpower, at the 7th Mother Tongue Languages Symposium

Published Date: 18 August 2018 12:00 AM

News Speeches

1. Good morning. Selamat pagi. Vanakkam. 大家早上好。It is indeed my pleasure to join all of you here today at the 7th Mother Tongue Languages Symposium Opening Ceremony and Outstanding Pre-school Mother Tongue Language Teacher Award Presentation.

Our Bilingual Education

2. There is a saying, “There are two gifts we should give our children: one is roots, and the other is wings.” We hope our children will be able to dream big, spread their wings , achieve their aspirations and realise their potential. As the saying goes, roots come before wings. Indeed, we must find our roots first, before spreading and growing our wings.

3. Therefore, it is important to be grounded in our Mother Tongue Languages. This is key to our bilingual policy which forms a cornerstone of our education system. While English empowers our children with the ‘wings’ to connect and communicate with people in the world, our Mother Tongue Languages anchor our young generation to the roots of our cultural identity.

Our Mother Tongues as Living Languages

4. For strong roots to grow, a fertile environment with strong nutrients is essential. A tree’s deep roots anchor the tree to the soil and allows an entire ecosystem above the ground to thrive. If the tree is not rooted in a firm and deep foundation, the tree may inevitably wither and the ecosystem will disappear with it over time.

5. That is why we have worked with the community and media partners for many years to invest in establishing a supportive ecosystem for the learning of Mother Tongue Languages. The theme for this year’s symposium, “Our Mother Tongues as Living Languages”, recognises how a vibrant environment and the use of mother tongue in everyday life can enhance the learning journey of our boys and girls. When you visit the exhibition later, you will see that the organisers have recreated a HDB neighbourhood with familiar scenes from daily life – a public library, supermarket, food centre and MRT station. In this neighbourhood, you have to speak in our Mother Tongue Languages - to borrow a book, buy groceries, order food or travel on the MRT. The mission for our kids is to help the elderly and converse with them in Mother Tongue. After completing the mission, they will be rewarded with a lovely medal and be named as a ‘Neighbourhood Hero’.

Importance of the Family

6. We hope that our children’s experience of mother tongues as living languages goes beyond this simulated experience, and that they will continue to use their mother tongue in their daily lives, especially in their family interactions.

7. At the previous MTLS, we shared that we as parents, play an important role in determining the language environment that our children are exposed to. Simple things from an early age can help make mother tongues a part of our children’s lives, such as this Malay nursery rhyme: Satu, dua, tiga, empat. Rajin belajar, cepat dapat. Which means, “one, two, three, four, study hard and you will learn quickly”. With this rhyme, the child not only learns to count in Malay, but also internalises the important value of hard work and the importance of learning.

8. As a parent, I know that it can be quite challenging to come up with fresh, novel and exciting ideas to interest your child in using MTL. Today, we have many speakers who can share with you tips on how to spice up MTL learning at home. One of them is Dr Connie Lum, who will share how she interacts with infants and toddlers to stimulate their early exposure to their mother tongue. I attended one of her classes a few months ago with some parents. I can assure those of you who managed to get a spot in her session today, that you will definitely have a fun and fruitful time. For parents with slightly older children, the popular author and storyteller Mdm Jumaini Ariff will be sharing simple story-telling and story-reading tips with you, and Mr Anandha Kannan will show us how drama can inspire and spread the joy of learning Tamil for our children.

New Face of MTL Learning in Schools

9. MTL learning in schools has come a long way. Today, our schools employ technology and creative methods to make our students’ MTL learning more interesting, meaningful, relevant and engaging. For instance, Horizon Primary School has developed a 3DHive game to enhance pupils’ learning of Malay language structures and improve their writing skills. Edgefield Primary School has designed a lesson called “Let’s Go Marketing” that gets students to use Tamil while purchasing food items at designated stalls. St Anthony’s Cannossian Secondary School’s mobile app, “Chinese GO!” uses popular game elements to encourage students to build up their vocabulary across levels to evolve their game avatars. All these show that schools are working hand in hand with parents and students to provide a wider reportoire of mediums to teach and for students to learn Mother Tongue Languages in a fun way.

Creating Our MTL Neighbourhood

10. Our schools are not the only ones working hard to make Mother Tongue Languages come alive for our children. The various language promotion committees have also been hard at work, some for more than 10 years, growing the ‘larger ecosystem’ beyond schools to complement our teachers’ efforts. A slew of new activities and resources is constantly being introduced to support and enrich our teachers’ work. For example:

  • The Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning held the 1st Singapore Primary and Secondary School Text Recital Competition in May this year. This inaugural competition showcases outstanding literary masterpieces that were selected or rewritten by MOE’s curriculum team and printed in our own textbooks. In addition to storybooks, parents can read to their children from our textbooks as well.
  • The Malay Language Learning and Promotion Committee launched the Nabil Nabilah Reader Series last month, and this is a valuable addition to our pool of learning resources. Written by our own Malay Language teachers, these readers are set in our local Singapore context, making it easy for our students to relate and connect with the content, and to use it beyond the classroom.
  • The Tamil Language Learning and Promotion Committee launched “TheenChittu” , a mobile application designed to help pre-school children learn about culture and tradition through purposeful play.
  • In addition to the three committees, we have the members of the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism, who have launched a series of five videos showing how our Mother Tongue Languages draw us closer. We have receievd feedback that the messages in these videos are very meaningful, heartwarming and are a timely reminder of what we have in common as a nation through our Mother Tongue Languages.

11. I know the MTL Learning and Promotion Committees and LKYFB work tirelessly to create the vibrant and dynamic ecosystem for the learning of MTLs. Please join me in giving them a big round of applause.

Give Our Children Roots, So They May Grow Wings

12. Besides enjoying the legacy of their cultural heritage, research shows that bilingualism has other benefits. Early exposure to Mother Tongue Languages enhances the children’s cognitive development, language analysis and creativity. Some of us here may be familiar with Dr Leher Singh, Associate Professor and Director of Research at the National University of Singapore’s Psychology Department. She has recently spoken about the advantages of early bilingualism, such as improved multi-tasking abilities, enhanced executive functions and greater mental flexibility. This gives bilingual children an edge in their development. Studies have also shown that the earlier a child is exposed to more variations in languages and word choices, the greater these gains will be. We are thankful that Dr Leher Singh is also here with us today to share useful strategies in raising bilingual children.

13. Let’s continue to invest in bilingualism and nurture the love of Mother Tongue Languages in our young generation. When you visit the exhibition, please visit the MTL neighbourhood and make your way to the MTL Creative Corner to take a family pledge to make Mother Tongue Languages a greater part of your lives.

Appreciation for Outstanding Pre-school MTL Teachers

14. Today, we would also like to recognise and appreciate a special group of people. They are our pre-school MTL teachers. There is a meaningful Tamil proverb that goes: Aiyn-thi-le va-lai-yaa-tha-thu Aiym-ba-thi-le va-lai-yaa-thu It means, “that which cannot be bent at five, will not bend at fifty”. This means that the early formative years are the most crucial formative years for language learning and exposure. This is why it is important for us to help our pre-school children, starting from infancy, to build a strong foundation in bilingualism.

15. As language is best learnt and retained at an early age, our pre-school MTL teachers play a critical, crucial role in planting the seeds of curiosity and love for learning the mother tongue. When our children’s MTL journey starts off well, we know they will treasure their mother tongue and value it as a vital part of their cultural identity and roots. This is so that eventually they can spread their wings.

16. This year, we are happy to recognise 14 pre-school MTL teachers with the Outstanding Pre-school Mother Tongue Language Teacher Awards. Congratulations to our 14 teachers. They have invested their time and effort in developing the students’ interest in MTL. These teachers have given our children roots, so that they may grow wings.

17. I would like to personally commend the 14 award recipients for their passion and commitment in nurturing a lifelong love for MTLs in our preschool children. You inspire us with your craft and I hope you will share your strategies with us as we work together to spread the joy of MTL learning. We want to also thank and applaud the centre principals for their strong support. On behalf of MOE, we want to also thank and applaud the centre principals and all preschool teachers for their strong support.


18. As a familiar Chinese saying goes: 千里之行,始于足下or: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” As our children take their first steps in learning their mother tongue, they can rest assure that they have an entire ecosystem beyond school – of teachers, parents and, grandparents, community partners, National Library Board, Early Childhood Development Agency, our MTL learning and promotion committees, and the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism – right behind them. We hope this lively partnership between parents and teachers, homes and schools, and the community, will foster confident and curious learners who will embrace their mother tongues as living languages.

19. In conclusion, on behalf of MOE, I would like to thank everyone who has worked very hard behind the scenes to make MTL Symposium 2018 possible: our organising partners, the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning, the Malay Language Learning and Promotion Committee, the Tamil Language Learning and Promotion Committee, and the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism; as well as our supporting organisations, the Early Childhood Development Agency, Singapore Press Holdings and the National Library Board, clan associations, and our preschool operators.

20. I wish everyone a fruitful and enjoyable experience today at the 7th Mother Tongue Languages Symposium. Thank you. 谢谢。Terima kasih. Nandri.

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