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Mr Chen's anecdotes.

Why you should not neglect your mother tongue as a student

Of late, I have been hearing more and more from my students that they are struggling with their mother tongue.

How much they are struggling varies. Some have trouble understanding school materials, but some struggle to communicate effectively in their mother tongue.

I grew up in a Mandarin-speaking household. My parents were educated in Mandarin and Malay. In fact, learning how to speak in English came after learning how to speak in Mandarin. I guess I was always drilled with the importance of knowing how to communicate in my mother tongue and never once saw it as an extra subject that I had to stress over.

Your mother tongue is actually not as difficult as you think it to be. In this current globalised world, being proficient in your mother tongue can prove to be useful. The perfect time for you to master at least a decent command of your mother tongue is now as a student, where you have ample opportunities to practise in a safe space.

Here are some reasons why you should not neglect your mother tongue.

Preservation of cultural heritage

Your mother tongue is not just a mode of communication. It's a vessel that carries the essence of your cultural heritage. Whether it is the melodic cadence of Mandarin, the rhythmic beats of Malay, or the poetic verses of Tamil, each language encapsulates centuries of history, tradition, and identity.

Take for example one of my favourite Mandarin idioms - "既来之,则安之“ (jì lái zhī, zé àn zhī). It roughly translates as "since we're here, we might as well make the most out of the situation". In life, we sometimes face adversities or difficult situations, and thinking this way can provide good motivation to keep going forward. I love how just six characters can convey such deep meaning.

Connection with elders

For many Singaporean families, we use mother tongue at home. We speak it with our grandparents, parents, siblings, and even our extended family (even if we'd very much prefer to steer clear of that one nosey aunt). Mother tongue is the language that carries the wisdom of past generations and fosters intimate connections within the family unit.

By nurturing your mother tongue proficiency, you not only honour the legacy of your ancestors, but also strengthen the bonds of kinship that form the foundation of our society.

Academic and professional advantages

This one's a more practical one.

In today's interconnected world, proficiency in multiple languages is a valuable asset that can open doors to a myriad of opportunities. Whether it's securing jobs, networking with professionals, or accessing resources in certain fields, proficiency in your mother tongue can give you a competitive edge in academic and professional spheres.


Besides, Singapore has always strive to maintain friendly ties with other countries and to expand our global reach. The ability to communicate effectively in diverse languages will become increasingly indispensable. Singapore prides itself on its multiculturalism and multilingualism. These are integral to our national identity. Embracing your mother tongue is not just an act of personal enrichment; it's a celebration of the linguistic and cultural diversity that defines Singapore. By valuing and preserving your mother tongue, you contribute to the vibrancy of Singapore's multicultural tapestry and promote mutual understanding and respect among its diverse communities.

Cognitive benefits

Research has shown that being bilingual or multilingual can confer numerous cognitive benefits.

From enhanced problem-solving skills to improved multitasking abilities, bilingual individuals often exhibit greater cognitive flexibility and creativity. By actively engaging with your mother tongue, you're not just mastering a language; you're sharpening your mind and expanding your cognitive horizons in ways that can benefit you throughout your life.

You should not neglect your mother tongue

In essence, as a student in Singapore, your mother tongue is more than just a language - it's a bridge that connects you to your cultural heritage, strengthens family ties, open doors to opportunities, enhances cognitive abilities, and promotes multiculturalism.

So, embrace it wholeheartedly, cherish it dearly, and let it be a source of pride.

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