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Learning a Mother Tongue Language in school

Your child will need to learn a Mother Tongue Language (MTL) as a second language in school. Learn more about the MTL curriculum and how it can benefit your child.

What is Mother Tongue Language (MTL)

Mother Tongue Language (MTL) is offered in Singapore schools as a second language. It is a compulsory subject. There are 3 official MTLs:
  • Chinese
  • Malay
  • Tamil

Why it is important

Students can:
  • Communicate more effectively in MTL.
  • Appreciate their cultural heritage.
  • Connect with wider communities across Asia and the world.

Who is it for

All students in Singapore primary schools.

How it works

  • Students of Chinese, Malay and Indian ethnicities will study their own MTLs.
  • Students registered with a double-barrelled race will be assigned an MTL based on the first component of their double-barrelled race. Those who wish to study an MTL based on the second component of their race may apply to do so through their schools.
  • Students who are Eurasian or of other races, and whose mother tongue is not one of the official MTLs, can request to study any of the official MTLs through their schools, subject to approval.
  • Non-Tamil speaking students of Indian ethnicity can apply to study Non-Tamil Indian Language (Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi or Urdu). These language classes are not provided by MOE and are usually conducted outside of school premises and hours. Find out more information from the Board for the Teaching and Testing of South Asian Languages' website.

Mother Tongue Languages in school

Chinese Language
The Chinese Language curriculum focuses on listening, speaking, reading, writing and interaction skills. It is tailored to your child's abilities and offered in the following modules:
  • Core module: for all primary school students.
  • Bridging/reinforcement module: if your child needs more help in the language.
  • Enrichment module: if your child has a higher aptitude for learning the language.
Malay Language
The Malay Language curriculum focuses on listening, speaking, reading, writing and interaction skills. Your child can progress to different levels of proficiency, depending on interest and abilities.
Tamil Language
The Tamil Language curriculum focuses on listening, speaking, reading, writing and interaction skills.
Higher Mother Tongue Languages
Starting 2022, schools may offer Higher Mother Tongue Languages from P3 onwards. Higher Malay Language and Higher Tamil Language will be offered at P3 from 2022 and at P4 from 2023 onwards. You may approach your child's school for more details.

At the end of Primary 4, your child's school will recommend the subject combination that is most suitable for them in Primary 5. Based on your child's MTL results, these subjects may include Higher Mother Tongue Language in one of the official languages.
Use SchoolFinder to learn more about the MTLs offered by each school.

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

Students who wish to study a Foreign Language or Asian Language in lieu of an official MTL can apply through their schools.

For students who choose to offer Foreign Language or Asian Language examinations in lieu of an official MTL:

  • These subjects 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.
  • 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.
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