Singapore has to acknowledge that it is losing its bilingual competitive edge and put in more effort to speak Mandarin at home, according to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, speaking last month at the 40th anniversary of the Speak Mandarin Campaign—an initiative to encourage Chinese Singaporeans to speak more Mandarin and less of other Chinese dialects.
After the campaign was launched in 1979, "good results" were achieved within just a few years, Lee said in Mandarin, so the number of dialect-only speakers came down significantly, while the number of Mandarin speakers increased and standards improved.
“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,” Lee said.
More recently, Lee claimed, many Chinese families have chosen to use English as their main language, citing statistics showing that 71% of Chinese families with elementary students use English as their main language at home. More Malay and Indian families are relying on English at home, he added.
“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,” argued Lee, announcing efforts that include a database of unique Singaporean Mandarin terms to “help Chinese Singaporeans develop a deeper sense of our own identity and become more confident when we interact with others.”
He also asked parents to speak more Mandarin to their children. “This is a stage where children are most sensitive to pronunciations and intonations and can acquire a language more easily. 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. 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 effort.”