Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.

Bilingualism: The Importance of Mastering English and Your Mother Tongue

As students of the Singapore education system, we are all familiar with the term effective bilingualismWhat we may not know is that Singapore's bilingual policy differs slightly from the global standard.

Singapore's bilingual policy follows that every student is to be skilled in English and their Mother Tongue — the language that is tied to the race they identify with. Mixed race students will be able to pick either one of the mother tongues to pick up in school!

The difference in standard from Singapore's bilingual policy and the general understanding of bilingualism is the specification of the two languages that are to be mastered. In the general understanding of bilingualism, fluency in any two languages qualifies a person as bilingual. In Singapore however, the education system specifies English as compulsory, accompanied by a compulsory Mother Tongue - which could be Chinese, Malay, Tamil or Hindu.

Why is English positioned as a First Language in school?

As a country with a diversity of cultures, there are also a variety of mother tongues. Having a common language where everyone can converge on establishes a lack of bias toward any particular language or culture.

However, some people might argue that positioning English as the First Language is merely a reflection of Singapore's colonised history, where we were under the British rule for a period of time. This is not untrue, in fact, colonisation has a global impact.

Today, English is widely regarded as the lingua franca.

Lingua Franca refers to a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different. (source: Oxford English Dictionary)

With the role of English playing such a pivotal role, and with Singapore an emerging nation back in the 1960s, it is no wonder the Government made the practical choice. To equip Singaporeans with a globally-recognised language so that Singapore can gain a stronger foothold in the global economy, and become as globalised as it is today.

Not forgetting. Our Mother Tongue.

At the same time that language is a means to an end, it also encompasses culture. While learning and mastering English connects us to the rest of the world, what connects us to our own identity and roots?

Singapore's rich diversity is in part, captured in the vibrant languages and dialects of the community. Learning our Mother Tongue in school instills a connection with our cultural roots, and retains the unique racial diversity of Singaporeans' identity.

The stories our Mother Tongue teaches us give us additional insight into Singapore's becoming. We learn about where some values and practices originated from, and perhaps also why our grandparents do things a certain way that is different from us.

Language is not merely perfunctory or practical, it encompasses emotional connections and is the basis of relationship building.

The Beauty and Power in Language.

Ultimately, the learning of new languages is always going to bring about new perspectives in the world we live in, which is an incredibly enriching experience. The mastery of a language allows us to communicate efficiently and effectively, as well as better understand the nuances of more sophisticated contexts and situations. It often also weighs heavily in first impressions, whether deliberately or not, in the way we carry and present ourselves. The learning of language in school is not to be taken lightly.

This is why Academia's English programmes do not focus merely on technicalities, but are designed to help our students gain a literary understanding with globalised perspectives, teaching them to be independent thought leaders in their own standings.

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