SINGAPORE - Having a command of the Malay language can help Singapore bridge South-east Asia and the rest of the world, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing.
Businesses from other parts of the world see Singapore as a staging place to the rest of region, he said.
However, the Republic will be of very little value if it does not understand the language and culture in its own backyard.
"Only by (learning the Malay language) will we continue to remain relevant to the region and the world at large," he said.
Sharing his own experience learning both the Malay and Indonesian languages when he served in the army, Mr Chan said it helped him "open a window to a different culture" as well as better understand the great diversity in cultures and languages across the region.
Mr Chan was speaking in English and Malay at Malay Language: Role And Value In The Region, a forum organised by Malay-language daily Berita Harian (BH), held on Tuesday (Oct 24) at the Singapore Press Holdings auditorium.
The forum was the first in a series of programmes which aim to acquaint non-native speakers to the Malay language and culture through dialogues and workshops.
BH will be organising a 15-session Malay language course, to be held between January and April next year, priced at $99.
"We at Berita Harian believe the Malay language can connect us through kinship and a sense of shared identity," said BH editor Saat Abdul Rahman, adding there are many other benefits to learning Malay.
For example, understanding the language can help those in the social services sector better engage with the elderly.
The programme is supported by philanthropic organisation Temasek Foundation Connects, set up by Temasek Holdings.
Describing the language as the lingua franca of the region, Temasek Foundation Connects chief executive Lim Hock Chuan said: "Besides the many very tangible practical benefits, the Malay language also connects many people through a sense of kinship and shared identity whenever they hear its familiar sounds."