SINGAPORE: While the Speak Mandarin Campaign has made “significant contributions" in encouraging the use of the language over the last forty years, Singapore has to acknowledge that it is losing its bilingual competitive edge and put in more effort to speak Mandarin at home, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Oct 22).
Mr Lee was speaking at the 40th anniversary of the Speak Mandarin Campaign – an initiative launched by former prime minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1979 to encourage Chinese Singaporeans to speak more Mandarin and less of other Chinese dialects.
When the campaign was first launched, it acheived "good results" within just a few years, Mr Lee said in Mandarin at the anniversary celebration.
As a result, the number of dialect-only speakers came down significantly, the number of Mandarin speakers increased and standards improved.
"WE ARE LOSING OUR BILINGUAL COMPETITIVE EDGE"
But as the language environment in Singapore continued to change, Mr Lee noted, many Chinese families began to use English as their main language.
“Today, most young Chinese Singaporeans can understand and speak Mandarin, although not always fluently. We need to acknowledge that we are losing our bilingual competitive advantage,” Mr Lee said, according to an English outline of the speech.
Citing findings from an annual survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, Mr Lee said that 71 per cent of Chinese families with primary one students use English as their main language at home.
This trend was not limited to Chinese families, and the number of Malay and Indian families who use mostly English at home have also risen, he added.
“The Speak Mandarin Campaign must adapt to this major shift,” Mr Lee said.
“We have to put in more effort to encourage the use of Mandarin in our daily lives, and find ways to keep the language alive and preserve the uniqueness of our Mandarin.”
As part of those efforts, a Database of Singaporean Mandarin Terms comprising unique Singapore terms will be launched next month.
“This will also help Chinese Singaporeans develop a deeper sense of our own identity, and become more confident when we interact with others,” Mr Lee said.
He also urged parents to speak more Mandarin to their young children at home.
“This is a stage where children are most sensitive to pronunciations and intonations, and can acquire a language more easily," said Mr Lee.
"When they are a bit older, they will not only learn the language with ease, but also find it fun to communicate with their family members in Mandarin, and understand the benefits of speaking Mandarin," he added.
"In an English-speaking society like ours, it does take effort to create the Mandarin-speaking environment at home ... Nonetheless, I hope everyone will persevere because it is worth the effortm" he said.