Less room for mother tongue to flourish as English dominates

Speaking English is becoming the norm in Singapore families, and more people are becoming bilingual ("English most common home language, bilingualism also up"; March 10).

However, the increasing number of English-speaking families does not seem compatible with the finding that bilingualism is also going up.

Given that English is the lingua franca in both the school and work environments, it would not be surprising if many Singaporeans do not have a good grasp of their mother tongue.

For instance, even in Chinese-speaking families, parents are finding it hard to get their children to speak Chinese nowadays ("The battle to speak Mandarin"; Feb 29).

As the pre-eminence of English spreads into homes, the space for the mother tongue to flourish inevitably gets smaller.

Concerned parents are doing whatever they can to make children speak their mother tongue.

Resourceful parents find interesting books and invent creative ways to engage their children. The disciplined ones have house rules to make mother tongue mandatory at home.

There are also the frustrated ones who go through pain and agony each time their children are handed writing assignments or have to be prepped for spelling tests. Needless to say, there are also those who decided long ago that tuition is the only option.

In school, I find that the English-speaking parents worry most that their children would be put at a disadvantage in their educational path. Many hang on to a thin thread of hope that one day, their efforts will pay off. But before that day comes, bilingualism seems like a distant dream.

William Tan Whee Kiem

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