Each year, a small number of students with good Primary School Leaving Examination results are offered the chance to take up a foreign language at the Ministry of Education Language Centres, located either in Bishan or Newton, when they enter secondary school.
Learning a language requires one to be immersed in it and its culture. Although Singapore is a multiracial and cosmopolitan modern city, the lack of opportunities to converse in a foreign language poses a challenge to the students.
Thus, there are students who have pulled out from the programme in the first few years, and not many choose to take the subject at the O-level examination.
For students who have a flair for languages, learning English and their mother tongues is not enough. This is especially so as more and more people in other parts of the world speak and write fluently in more than two languages.
This is why we should explore ways to encourage more students to take up a foreign language when in school.
First, for those selected and offered a chance to study a foreign language, it would help if they are made to stick to the programme for the first two years. This way, students will have a basic command of the language, and efforts and resources spent will not be totally wasted.
Second, instead of only weekly lessons, regular exchanges or visits to the Japanese, French and German schools in Singapore can be arranged during lesson time to provide more opportunities for students to put to use the language they are learning and to gain a deeper understanding of the language and culture.
Third, secondary schools can explore ways to facilitate or encourage students to continue learning the foreign language despite their hectic and heavy study load.
A good example is a school in the western part of Singapore, which has arranged a bus service to take students from the school to the language centre on Wednesdays. This saves students some travelling time.
To keep Singapore's education system ahead of other countries', it is useful to give more help to students learning a foreign language.
Lim Lih Mei (Ms)