[lg policy] Singapore leader hails 'English first' policy as key to country’s development Critics respond the country’s bil

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu May 2 10:29:27 EDT 2019


Singapore leader hails 'English first' policy as key to country’s
developmentCritics respond the country’s bilingual education produces very
few people who have really mastered two languages

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By George Liao
News, Staff Writer
2019/05/02 21:20

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Singapore’s bilingual policy of English and a
native language, with English as the official language, has enabled the
country to become an active player in the international arena – but at a

Though the country has reaped benefits from its language policy, the other
side of the coin is that citizens are not able to master their native
languages, Central News Agency (CNA) reported on Tuesday (April 30).

Singapore did not require schools at every level to teach English as the
first language when the country first gained independence, in 1965. It
wasn’t until 1979 when schools started teaching English as the primary
language and native languages such as Chinese, Malaysian, and Tamil as
second languages, according to CNA.

These native languages are required courses in Singapore’s elementary
schools and high schools.

Late Singapore founding father and first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀)
was regarded as the key individual behind the country’s bilingual policy.

Lee said that since the days of colonization by the U.K., official and
legal documents have been written in English and people used English at
work. He believed English is the tool to connect with the world, and
therefore everyone should learn the language most people in the world use.

He also believed that promoting the two-language policy was fundamental to
Singapore’s success, according to CNA. He said despite the fact that
Chinese people accounted for 75% of the country’s population, the policy of
official English and native language bilingualism was not designed to
eliminate Chinese culture or Chinese education.

The long-time ruler said that even though pushing for the bilingual policy
had led to political challenges, what the country had achieved proved the
correctness of the policy.

Current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) said the bilingual policy has
been instrumental to the country’s striking political and economic
development, CNA reported. He opined the two-language policy enables
Singaporeans to have a good command of English, and at the same time they
are able to use their native languages to communicate with other groups in
However, some critics of the policy said the English and native language
bilingualism had produced very few people who have really mastered two
languages, which means most Singaporeans’ native language ability is not
ideal. The phenomenon also applies to Chinese descendants, most of whom can
only speak conversational Chinese to communicate with their parents and
older relatives at home.Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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