NTUC First Campus ties up with Hong Kong centre to study how children learn two languages

Minister Chan Chun Sing at the launch of My First Skool in Jurong West. The school focuses on the learning and teaching of mother tongue languages and cultures.
Minister Chan Chun Sing at the launch of My First Skool in Jurong West. The school focuses on the learning and teaching of mother tongue languages and cultures.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - One of the largest pre-school operators here is delving into research to find out how children learn mother tongue languages.

NTUC First Campus is partnering the Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre (CBRC) from the Chinese University of Hong Kong for a study - the first of its kind by a pre-school operator - that will start this year.

The centre is the first in Asia dedicated to studying childhood bilingualism and multilingualism with a focus on the development of Cantonese, Mandarin and English.

While there has been research conducted by local academics on bilingualism in young children, the project looks at how learning two languages affects children's social and cognitive development.

Ms Thian Ai Ling, deputy general manager of My First Skool, who announced the project on Wednesday (Oct 4) at a press briefing, said that the pre-school operator wanted to reach out to "renowned professionals who can guide them in its bilingual curricula development".

The study, led by Professors Virgina Yip and Stephen Matthews from CBRC, will explore factors in acquiring two languages. Factors being looked at include the age children pick up both languages, how often they use the languages, their code-switching behaviour and their attitudes and motivation.

It will also look at how technology affects language learning and behaviour and social functions such as group formation and friendship.

In the first year, it aims to study about 100 three- to four-year-olds from My First Skool at 10 Jurong West to find out how proficient they are in English and Mandarin, as well as their general cognitive abilities.

In the second year, it hopes to study about 50 children aged five and six, to test their general language proficiency and how they get language "input" from the pre-school and home environments.

Dr Connie Lum, group mother tongue languages officer of NTUC First Campus, said that over the last two decades, more Singaporeans are speaking mostly English at home instead of their mother tongue.

The pre-school operator will use the study's findings to improve the curriculum and activities across its centres.

On Wednesday, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing also attended the official opening of the My First Skool centre at 10 Jurong West.

The 1,500 sq m centre is one of the earlier five mega childcare centres announced by the Early Childhood Development Agency in 2015, which can take in 319 children from the ages of two months to six years old.

The 1,500 sq m centre, which now has some 180 children, is meant to be a model centre in terms of teaching mother tongue languages and cultures in the pre-school sector. It has a space dedicated to bilingualism, with interactive games and displays for instance.

In another research initiative, children from 30 My First Skool centres will be involved in a study that looks at the development of racial identity and bias in Singaporean pre-schoolers.

The study is led by Assistant Professor Setoh Pei Pei, from Nanyang Technological University's Early Cognition Lab. It is one of 12 projects funded by the Social Science Research Council, that was set up by the Government last year to provide concerted direction for social science and humanities research.