Alo! Has your child ever learnt any Tamil? According to experts, more and more Singapore kids are learning the South Indian language. We look at why this resurgence of Tamil in Singapore is a positive for many young linguists out there!
If you’ve been thinking ‘Naan thamizh pésa véndum’ (I need to practise my Tamil), you might want to read on…
Tamil is one of the four official languages of Singapore, along with English, Chinese and Malay. It’s been taught in Singapore schools since 1928, although only recently has there been a renewed interest in the language, according to those in the know.
Part of the resurgence of Tamil in Singapore can be credited to the enthusiasm of South Indian parents, who see the benefits of their children mastering the language.
Swami Satyalokananda, the vice president of Singapore’s Ramakrishna Mission outlet, told PTI: “Indian parents have shown keen interest in the language and started Tamil lessons for their children from nurseries and kindergarten classes.”
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Japanese born Satyalokananda also said that his school is actually oversubscribed with those seeking Tamil lessons. “We have 500 students in our school and another 200 on the waiting list,” he explained.
Check out this music video, celebrating everything Tamil in Singapore:
This resurgence of Tamil in Singapore will also come as welcome news for the government, who have long emphasised the importance of children island wide learning their mother tongue. This is part of the ‘mother tongue language policy’ implemented by the Ministry of Education in Singapore.
Multiculturalism in Singapore
Within the 500,000 strong Indian community in Singapore, there are a plethora of languages and dialects used. Tamil is the most widely spoken language among them, as around 61% of the Indians in Singapore have a Tamil background.
The majority of Indians that first came to Singapore, then a British colony, were from South India. Tamil is the most widely used language in this region, which explains the subsequent dominance of Tamil in Singapore.
Other Indian languages, such as Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Gujarati are also taught in classrooms across Singapore.
Semilingualism is a potential problem parents should be careful of in Singapore. This is when no language is fully mastered, and usually concerns immigrant children. The phenomenon happens when a mother tongue is abandoned for a second language. When the second language is never properly learnt, a child is unable to speak any language fluently.
We think that increased attention and learning of a mother tongue language, such as Indian kids learning Tamil in Singapore, can decrease the chances of semilingualism occurring.
One of the defining things about Singapore is its multiculturalism. Hop on any bus or train, and you might be swarmed with the sound of foreign words or exotic accents. Most people in Singapore are bilingual, speaking at least two languages. However, bilingualism is a skill that is sometimes overlooked because it feels like second nature to most.
Language brings people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds together. The benefits don’t stop there. Studies have shown that a baby’s brain develops faster when exposed to two or more languages. It’s also been proven that bilingual kids do better academically, especially in areas like science and maths. Problem solving tasks like these have been shown to use the same neurological areas that language uses.