Learning Mandarin in Singapore Preschools: Laying the Foundation for Multilingualism

Cher Leng Lee 1
  • 1 Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore, Block AS8, 05–44, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
Cher Leng Lee

Abstract

Singapore’s multilingual and multicultural sociolinguistic ecology probably makes it one of the best places in the world to nurture strong bilingualism. However, English is fast becoming the mother tongue of Singapore Chinese children. This is due to the fact that over the years of building the country’s economy, English has taken over as the medium of instruction in schools and the working language of the society, as well as the main language spoken in the homes. This paper examines the Chinese language education in Singapore preschools and explains how a change in preschool education policy can help children lay a better foundation for bilingualism, giving them a higher chance of success in later years (Yip and Matthews 2007. The bilingual child: early development and language contact. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). This paper will address the issue of Mandarin in particular, although it is true for other ‘mother tongues’ (Malay and Tamil) as well.

  • Archila-Suerte, P., J. Zevin, F. Bunta & A. E. Hernandez. 2012. Age of acquisition and proficiency in a second language independently influence the perception of non-native speech. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 15. 190–201. doi:.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Baker, C. 2006. Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism, 4th edn. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

  • Beardsmore, H. B. 1995. The European school experience in multilingual education. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas (ed.), Multilingualism for all, 21–68. Lisse: Swets and Zeitlingwer B.V.

  • Beardsmore, H. B. 2003. Language shift and cultural implications in Singapore. In S. Gopinathan, A. Pakir, W. K. Ho & V. Saravanan (eds.), Language, society and education in Singapore: Issues and trends, 85–98. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.

  • Bernstein, B. 1959. A public language: Some sociological implications of a linguistic form. British Journal of Sociology 10. 311–326.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Best, J. R., P. H. Miller & J. A. Naglieri. 2011. Relations between executive function and academic achievement from ages 5 to 17 in a large, representative national sample. Learning Individual Differences 21. 327–336.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Bialystok, E., F. I. M. Craik & G. Luk. 2012. Bilingualism: Consequences for mind and brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 16(4). 240–250.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • Bialystok, E. & S. Majumder. 1998. The relationship between bilingualism and the development of cognitive processes in problem-solving. Applied Psycholinguist 19. 69–85.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Chen, Q. 2013. “Bendi diaocha xianshi huazu ertong shiyong huayu pinlv xiajiang (本地调查显示华族儿童使用华语频率下降) [Local research shows a drop of Chinese usage among Chinese children].” Lianhe Zaobao, September 13. http://www.chinanews.com/hr/2013/09-13/5280788.shtml (accessed 5 November 2013).

  • Chow, E. 2013. Early childhood education concerns our society: What starting well means to Mr Lee Poh Wah, CEO of the Lien Foundation. EduNation: The Singapore Education Magazine 4. 40–46.

  • Chu, L. J. 2013. A master plan for the early childhood education sector: an exclusive interview with Dr Lee Tung Jean, CEO, Early Childhood Development Agency. EduNation: The Singapore Education Magazine 4. 20–29.

  • Chu, S.Y. & H. P. Wu. 2010. Understanding literacy practices in culturally and linguistically diverse children’s homes. New Horizons for Learning 8(2). http://search.sidecubes.com/?st=ds&q=Chu+and+Wu+Understaninding+literacy+practices+in+culturally+and+linguistically+diverse+children%27s+homes (accessed 8 Dec 2015).

  • Crosnoe, R. 2010. Two-generation strategies and involving immigrant parents in children’s education. Austin: The Urban Institute.

  • Cummins, J. 1999. Alternative paradigms in bilingual education research: Does theory have a place? Educational Researcher 28(7). 26–32.

  • Curdt-Christiansen, X. L. 2014. Family language policy: Is learning Chinese at odds with leaning English. In X.-L.Curdt-Christiansen & A. Hancock (eds.), Learning Chinese in diasporic communities: Many pathways to being Chinese, 35–56. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Curdt-Christiansen, X. L. 2015. Family language policy in the Chinese community in Singapore: A question of balance? In W.Li (ed.), Multilingualism in the Chinese diaspora worldwide, 255–275. London: Routledge.

  • Davie, S. 2015. Mandarin immersion boosts intake at Dulwich College. The Straits Times, December 3.

  • de Courcy, M. 2002. Learners’ experiences of immersion education: Case studies of French and Chinese. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

  • Dixon, L. Q. 2005. The bilingual education policy in Singapore: Implications for second language acquisition. In J. Cohen, K. T. McAlister, K. Rolstad & J. MacSwan (eds.), SIB4: Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, 625–635. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

  • Dixon, L. Q., S. Wu & A. Daraghmeh. 2012. Profiles in bilingualism: Factors influencing kindergarteners’ language proficiency. Early Childhood Education Journal 40. 25–34.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • EIU, Economist Intelligence Unit. 2012. Starting well: Benchmarking early education across the world. Singapore: Lien Foundation.

  • Feng, A. 2005. Bilingualism for the minor of the major? An evaluative analysis of parallel conceptions in China. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 8(6). 529–551.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Fishman, J. A. 1989. Language and ethnicity in minority sociolinguistic perspective. Clevedon & Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters.

  • Genesee, F. 1983. Bilingual education of majority-language children: The immersion experiments in review. Applied Psycholinguistics 4. 1–46.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Genesee, F. 1987. Learning through two languages. Cambridge, MA: Newbury House.

  • Goh, C. T. 1997. National day rally speech. Ministry of Education. http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/1997/240897.htm (accessed 31 January 2012).

  • Goh, N. W. 2004. HuayuwenZaiXinjiapo De Xianzhuang Yu Qianjing (华文在新加坡的现状与前景) [The Current Practice and Prospect of Chinese Language Education in Singapore]. Singapore: Chuangyiquan Chubanshe.

  • Göncz L. & J. Kodžopeljić. 1991. Exposure to two languages in the preschool period: Metalinguistic development and the acquisition of reading. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 12(3). 137–163.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Guensey, L. 2006. When Toddlers Turn On the TV and Actually Learn. New York Times: Mental Health and Behaviour, September 5. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/05/health/psychology/05tots.html?_r=0 (accessed 4 July 2014).

  • Harley, B., D. Hart & S. Lapkin. 1986. The effects of early bilingual schooling on first language skills. Applied Psycholinguistics 7(4). 295–322.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Hickey T. M. & Anne-Marie de Mejia. 2014. Immersion education in the early years: a special issue. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 17(2). 131–143.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Hickey T. M., G. Lewis & C. Baker. 2014. How deep is your immersion? Policy and practice in Welsh-medium preschools with children from different language backgrounds. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 17(2). 215–234.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Hoffmann, C. & J. Ytsma (eds.). 2004. Trilingualism in family, school and community. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

  • Kaplan, R. B. & R. B. Baldauf, Jr. 2003. Language and language-in-education planning in the pacific basin. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer.

  • Kostelnik, M. J., A. K. Soderman & A. P. Whiren. 2011. Developmentally appropriate curriculum: Best practices in early childhood education, 5th edn. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

  • Krashen, S. D. 1984. Immersion: Why it works and what it has taught us. Language and Society 12. 61–64. (Special issue, Winter 1984).

  • Kuhl, P. K. 2011. Early language learning and literacy: Neuroscience implications for education. Mind, Brain and Education 5(3). 128–142.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Lambert, W. E. & R. Tucker. 1972. Bilingual education of children. The St Lambert experiment. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

  • Lee, C. L. 2012. Saving Chinese language education in Singapore. Current Issues in Language Planning 13. 285–304.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Lee, C. L. 2015. Grandmother’s tongue: Decline of teochew language in Singapore. In W.Li (ed.), Multilingualism in the Chinese Diaspora worldwide, 196–215. London: Routledge.

  • Lee, H. L. 2011. In MOE (2011). Nurturing active learners and proficient users: 2010 Mother Tongue Languages review committee report. P.5.

  • Lee, K. Y. 2011. My lifelong challenge: Singapore’s bilingual journey. Singapore: Straits Times Press.

  • Li, W. & S. Lee. 2010. L1 development in an L2 environment: the use of Cantonese classifiers and quantifiers by young British-born Chinese in Tyneside. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 4(6). 359–382.

  • Lenneberg, E. H. 1967. Biological foundations of language. New York: Wiley.

  • Lie, E. & L. J. Chu. 2013.Training more and better pre-school teachers: An exclusive interview with Ms Ho Yin Fong, Academic Director of SEED Institute. EduNation: The Singapore Education Magazine 4. 76–81.

  • Lin, A. M. Y. & E. Y. F. Man. 2009. Bilingual education: Southeast Asian perspective. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

  • Long, M. H. 1990. Maturational constraints on language development. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 12. 251–285.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • MOE, Ministry of Education. 2011. Nurturing active learners and proficient users: 2010 mother tongue languages review committee report. Singapore: Ministry of Education.

  • MOE, Ministry of Education. 2012a. “The Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism.” Ministry of Education Press Release, July 6. http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2012/07/the-lee-kuan-yew-fund-for-bili.php (accessed10 April 2013).

  • MOE, Ministry of Education. 2012b. “FY 2012 Committee of Supply Debate: 1st Reply by Mr Heng Swee Keat.” Minister for Education on Student-Centric, Values-Driven Education: Nurturing an Inclusive and Stronger Singapore. http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/2012/03/08/fy-2012-committee-of-supply-debate-1st-reply.php</Other> (accessed 8 December 2015).

  • MOE, Ministry of Education. 2013. “Refreshed Kindergarten Curriculum Framework Spells Out Clearer Learning Outcomes, Emphasises Holistic Development.” Ministry of Education Press Release, February 20. http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2013/02/refreshed-kindergarten-curricu.php (accessed 22 April 2013).

  • Montessori, M. 1967. The absorbent mind. New York: Dell.

  • Moyles, J. 2005. The excellence of play, 2nd edn. Buckingham: Open University Press.

  • Nafstad, Hilde Eileen. 1982. Preschool children: Inquiry into interconnections between social class, language and training programs. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 26(3): 121–139.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Newport, E. 1990. Maturational constraints on language learning. Cognitive Science 14. 11–28.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Ng, J. 2013. 99% pre-school attendance is not good enough. The Straits Times, May 19. http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/99-pre-school-attendance-not-good-enough-20130519 (accessed 31 January 2014).

  • Nicoladis E., A. Rose & C. Foursha-Stevenson. 2010. Thinking for speaking and cross-linguistic transfer in preschool bilingual children. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 13(3). 345–370.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Pakir, A. 1997. Education and invisible language planning: The case of the English language in Singapore. In J.Tan, S. Gopinathan & W. K. Ho (eds.), Education in Singapore: A book of readings, 57–74. Singapore: Prentice Hall.

  • Piaget, J. 1962. Play, dreams and imitation in childhood. New York: Norton and Company, Inc.

  • Puah L. D. & C. L. Tan. 2015. Effect of home language on the Chinese lexical ability of 6-year-old Singaporean children. Taiwan Journal of Chinese as a Second Language 10. 95–126.

  • Ren, L. & G. Hu. 2013. A comparative study of family social capital and literacy practices in Singapore. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 13(1). 98–130.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Richards, B. & AsakoYamada-Yamamoto. 1998. The linguistic experience of Japanese preschool children and their families in the UK. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 19(2). 142–157.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Saville-Troike, M. 2012. Introducing second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Seliger, H. 1978. Implications of a multiple critical period hypothesis for second language learning. In W. Ritchie (ed.), Second language research: Issues and implications, 11–19. New York: Academic Press.

  • Shepherd, J. 2005. Striking a balance: The management of language in Singapore. Berlin: Peter Lang.

  • Silver, R. A. 2005. The discourse of linguistic capital: Language and economic policy planning in Singapore. Language Policy 4. 47–66.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Singapore Department of Statistics. 2010. Population census. http://www.singstat.gov.sg/publications/publications_and_papers/ cop2010/census_2010_release1/cop2010sr1.pdf (accessed 25 December 2013).

  • Singapore Department of Statistics. 2013. Population census. http://www.singstat.gov.sg/statistics/browse_by_theme/population/statistical_tables/popinbrief2013.pdf (accessed 5 November 2013)

  • Schwartz M., V. Moin & M. Leikin. 2012. Lexical knowledge development and the first and second languages among language-minority children: the role of bilingual versus monolingual preshool education. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 15(2). 549–571.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Tai, J. & P. Goy. 2013. Bilingual pre-school a hit with parents. The Straits Times, September 2. http://ifonlysingaporeans.blogspot.sg/2013/09/bilingual-pre-school-hit-with-parents.html (accessed 5 November 2013).

  • Vaish, V. 2008. Mother tongues, English, and religion in Singapore. World Englishes 27(3/4). 450–464.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Vygotsky, L. S. 1967. Play and its role in the mental development of the child. Soviet Psychology 65. 297–333.

  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1930, 1933 and 1935) 1978. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Wee, L. 2015. Early Start in Learning Mandarin. The Straits Times, May 3.

  • Wong, R. Y. L. 1999. Medium of instruction in schools in Singapore. Regional report submitted to SCOLAR, Hong Kong Government.

  • Xu, D. M. & W. Li. 2002. Managing multilingualism in Singapore. In W.Li, J.-M. Dewaele & A. Housen (eds.), Opportunities and challenges of bilingualism, 275–296. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

  • Yip, V. & S. Matthews. 2007. The bilingual child: Early development and language contact. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Zhao, S., Y. B. Liu & H. Q. Hong. 2007. Singaporean preschoolders’ oral competence in Mandarin. Language Policy 6. 73–94.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Zhao, S. H. & Y. B. Liu. 2010. Chinese education in Singapore: Constraints of bilingual policy from the perspectives of status and prestige planning. Language Problems and Language Planning 34. 236–258.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
$42.00
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.


or
Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues

Global Chinese responds to the fast-growing scholarly interests in Chinese as a global language and offers a unique venue for original, ground-breaking studies of Chinese and its users in different geographical, historical and professional contexts. The journal publishes original research articles as well as debates, short notes, book reviews and regional profiles. The languages of publication are English and Chinese, with bilingual synopsis.

Search