Give kids early start in bilingualism: Lee Kuan Yew

Mr Lee's birthday being celebrated in advance at the National Day dinner in his Tanjong Pagar ward yesterday. He will turn 90 on Sept 16. With Mr Lee are Tanjong Pagar GRC MPs Chan Chun Sing, Lily Neo, Chia Shi-Lu and Indranee Rajah, People's Associa
Mr Lee's birthday being celebrated in advance at the National Day dinner in his Tanjong Pagar ward yesterday. He will turn 90 on Sept 16. With Mr Lee are Tanjong Pagar GRC MPs Chan Chun Sing, Lily Neo, Chia Shi-Lu and Indranee Rajah, People's Association chief executive director Ang Hak Seng and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Sam Tan.ST PHOTO: NURIA LING

He reiterates belief close to his heart at N-Day dinner in his constituency

Although he was feeling unwell, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew yesterday continued his perfect record of turning up at every National Day dinner of his Tanjong Pagar ward.

Mr Lee, who turns 90 next month, was feeling weak yesterday but refused to miss the dinner with his residents.

While there, he then went through the entire planned programme, which included delivering a 10-minute speech.

Mr Lee's effort was clearly appreciated by the gathering of 900 people who broke out into loud cheers and applause when he arrived.

In his speech, he made it clear that the topic of bilingualism, a subject close to his heart, still weighed on his mind.

Speaking in both Mandarin and English while standing at a podium, Mr Lee reiterated his belief that parents needed to give their children an early start at learning two languages.

"Education is the most important factor for our next generation's success. In Singapore, our bilingualism policy makes learning difficult unless you start learning both languages, English and the mother tongue, from an early age - the earlier the better."

And to that end, he had pushed for a new pre-school that will expose students to Mandarin.

The pre-school, called Hampton@Tanjong Pagar, comes under the PAP Community Foundation umbrella but is run by private school operator EtonHouse. It will offer a programme that aims to help children develop a natural love for Mandarin.

Mr Lee told residents that research by American social scientists has debunked the common belief that teaching young children multiple languages will only confuse them.

Mr Lee had previously described bilingualism as a "cornerstone of Singapore's success story", and in 2011 made a personal donation of over $10 million to a fund that will be used for initiatives to help children learn both English and their mother tongue.

With about a month to go before his birthday on Sept 16, residents took the opportunity to celebrate the occasion. Mr Lee was presented with a cake made up of more than 200 cupcakes arranged in the shape of Singapore.

Said education consultant Ho Weng Kee, 52: "I belong to the generation that has benefited from his leadership and I hope he will be around for many more years to come."

yuenc@sph.com.sg