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Exemption from taking a Mother Tongue Language

It is compulsory to study an official Mother Tongue Language (MTL) — Chinese Language, Malay Language or Tamil Language — in primary school, but some exceptions may apply. Learn about what they are and who may be eligible.


Your child may be eligible for MTL exemption in a mainstream primary school if they:
  • Are returning from overseas and had no opportunity to learn an official MTL, a Non-Tamil Indian Language (NTIL) or an approved Foreign Language or Asian Language for a sustained period of time.
  • Have special educational needs, with severe difficulties in coping with overall learning.

How to apply for exemption

You may apply for MTL exemption at your child's school any time before the first quarter of the year your child sits for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

Applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and evaluated holistically to assess if exemption is in the best educational interest of your child. The school will inform you of the application result.

Where possible, all students should learn an official MTL. Hence, before applying for MTL exemption, we strongly encourage your child to try taking an official MTL for at least one semester. Our teachers will provide support and guide your child along in their learning journey. Attempting an official MTL will not prejudice your child's application for MTL exemption.

How applications are assessed

For a child returning from overseas, we will consider factors such as:
  • Duration and location of your child's overseas stay.
  • Exposure to an official MTL, an NTIL or an approved Foreign Language or Asian Language while overseas.
  • The demand of the MTL curriculum at the level of your child's level of entry.
If your child is diagnosed with special educational needs, we will take into account your child's overall learning ability, school level and the school's assessment of their learning.

Find out more about PSLE scoring for MTL-exempt students.

Taking a Foreign Language or Asian Language

Your child may only take a Foreign Language or Asian Language in lieu of an official MTL if they have:
  • Lived overseas for a long period of time.
  • Not kept up with the learning of their MTL.
  • Had formal learning in the Foreign Language or Asian Language.
Approved Foreign Languages include:
  • French
  • German
  • Japanese
Approved Asian Languages include:
  • Arabic
  • Burmese
  • Thai
For the learning of Foreign Languages and Asian Languages in lieu of an official MTL, you will need to make private study arrangements for your child and ensure that your private education provider can prepare your child for the GCE O-Level examinations at the end of secondary school. There will be MTL requirements for progression to the next level of study. Find out more about the requirements.

Foreign Language and Asian Language examinations are not offered at the PSLE.

At the PSLE, students exempted from MTL or who offer an approved Foreign Language or Asian Language will be assigned an MTL score for the purpose of posting to secondary school. Learn about it.