New Town Secondary School was abuzz with excitement yesterday morning as Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng and local singer-songwriters Olivia Ong, Shabir Alam and Taufik Batisah showed up at the school hall to share their stories on learning mother tongue languages.
Students at the session also watched videos featuring Mr Ng and each of the personalities.
The series of short videos was launched yesterday by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism to highlight the importance of mother tongue languages in bringing people closer together.
Mr Ng, who is also chairman of the fund, said: "Bilingualism forms an important part of our national identity. Proficiency in our mother tongue will enable all of us to communicate effectively in a variety of settings, to understand our cultural heritage and to connect with communities across Asia and the world which speak that same language or share the same culture."
Those who speak Malay could potentially reach out to 300 million people in the region, those who speak Tamil or another Indian language could potentially reach out to 1.3 billion people and those who speak Mandarin could potentially reach out to 1.4 billion people, he said. The fund supported 23 proposals for bilingual projects last year.
Mr Ng, saying languages connect people, spoke of his own experience talking to residents in their mother tongue. He added that languages also help to build diplomatic ties when, for instance, he speaks in the native language of his Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts.
At the event, the three local singer-songwriters performed their hit songs and interacted with students in their respective mother tongues.
Secondary 4 student Nur Adilah Mohd Haron, 16, said she identified with the stories shared by the artists, citing Taufik's example of his initial struggles with penning Malay lyrics: "I can relate as I speak a lot of English."
She said she was encouraged to connect with her mother tongue through reading more Malay books, listening to more Malay songs and paying more attention in class.
It is not the first time celebrities have been roped in to promote languages. Last year, singer Nathan Hartono was named the new ambassador for the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning.
On Wednesday, a set of resources titled Chinese for Early Learners, designed by the Confucius Institute at the Nanyang Technological University for children from ages three to six and featuring locally relevant content, was launched by Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.
The new short videos will be shown from now until the end of next month on free-to-air channels on television and can also be viewed online at www.facebook.com/moesingapore and www.youtube.com/MOESpore.