English gaining ground as the language most used at home: Census 2020

English gaining ground as the language most used at home: Census 2020

(rp) Marymount SMC Shunfu estate HDB flats
Blocks of HDB flats at Shunfu estate in Marymount. (File photo: Rachel Phua) 

SINGAPORE: More households are using English as the language most frequently spoken at home, according to Singapore’s latest census of population released by the Department of Statistics (DOS) on Wednesday (Jun 16).

Among residents aged five and above in 2020, 48.3 per cent spoke English most frequently at home, up from 32.3 per cent in 2010.

Of those who spoke English most frequently at home, about 87 per cent also spoke a vernacular language in the same setting, the census noted.

Census of population 2020 - Language spoken
In 2020, almost half of all respondents said English was the language they used most frequently at home. (Graphic: Rafa Estrada)

The census of population, conducted once every 10 years, is the largest national survey undertaken in Singapore to collect statistics such as demographic, social and economic data.

A total of 150,000 households were surveyed last year.

READ: Slowest population growth in Singapore since independence: Census 2020

ENGLISH MORE COMMON ACROSS MAJOR ETHNIC GROUPS

The trend on the use of English at home was observed across all major ethnic groups. Correspondingly, the use of Mandarin, Chinese dialects, Malay and Tamil lost ground.

For the Chinese ethnic group, English overtook Mandarin as the most used language at home – with a proportion of 47.6 per cent in 2020, up from 32.6 per cent in 2010.

The use of Mandarin as the predominant language fell to 40.2 per cent in 2020, down from 47.7 per cent a decade before.

The same goes for Chinese dialects, which only accounted for 11.8 per cent of responses, down from 19.2 per cent in 2010.

READ: Commentary: Raising bilingual children is challenging but immensely rewarding

For the Malay ethnic group, a majority still spoke the Malay language most frequently at home in 2020. But at 60.7 per cent, this was lower than the 82.7 per cent recorded in 2010, said the DOS.

The proportion who used English most frequently rose to 39 per cent in 2020, more than double the 17 per cent from a decade before.

Among this group, Malay is still the second most frequently spoken language for more than nine in 10 respondents.

For the Indian ethnic group, those who spoke English most frequently continued to form the majority at 59.2 per cent, up from 41.6 per cent in 2010.

After English, Tamil or other Indian languages were the second most frequently spoken language.

READ: 20% of Singapore residents have no religion, an increase from the last population census

TAKING AGE INTO ACCOUNT

The use of English at home was generally more common among the younger population than those who are older, the Department of Statistics said.

For Chinese residents, for instance, nearly eight in 10 of those aged between five and 14 used English the most at home in 2020. This is compared to about three in 10 elderly residents – aged 55 and over – who did the same.

This disparity was also seen among the Malays - about six in 10 of young residents spoke English the most, compared to fewer than two in 10 for the elderly.

The gap was narrower for the Indian ethnic group. About seven in 10 of the young residents used English the most at home, while half of elderly residents did so.

Overall, between 2010 and 2020, the use of English grew across all age groups for all ethnic groups.

THROWING EDUCATION INTO THE MIX

This proportion also rose across all education groups, the DOS said.

“In general, residents with higher qualifications were more likely to use English the most frequently at home,” it added.

For example, among Singapore residents aged 15 and above with university degrees, English was the most-used language at home for about six in 10 of the Chinese, Malays and Indians in 2020.

READ: Commentary: The benefits of bilingualism go beyond knowing two languages

But among those with below secondary qualifications, this figure fell to about one in 10 for the Chinese and Malays, and about three in 10 for Indians, said the DOS.

More information from the census will be released on Friday.

Source: CNA/cl(gs)

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