While Singapore is composed of numerous cultures, languages and ethnicities, English has always been the lingua franca in the country. Although more than 70% of the population is ethnically Chinese, the constitution, laws and regulations are all made in English and language is taught in every school. This is not necessarily a bad thing
Up till now, the English language played a significant role in turning the country into a global hub of trade and finance, especially in a period when Europe and the US dominated the economic and political landscape. Tourism, banking, and business, all prospered as the Singapore positioned itself as an ‘international’ foreigner-friendly country.
However, the post-recession world is changing rapidly and the 21st century is already being called the ‘Asian Century’ with China playing the dominant role in global trade and finance.
In a world where some of the world’s largest multi-national corporations and employers are now Chinese, the mandarin language will play a significant role in maintaining Singapore’s competitiveness.
The world is already recognizing the importance of learning Mandarin, e.g. In the United States alone, 200,000 people are currently learning the Chinese and President Obama led an initiative to 1 million Americans to master Mandarin Chinese by 2020. President Obama hopes that such a programme will help American students develop a better understanding of Chinese culture and prepare them for a future in which more and more Americans will either work with China or be employed by a Chinese multinational company. Having the proper cultural and linguistic tools will help American students succeed in a world with a growing Chinese economic influence.
The importance of learning Mandarin Chinese is even more important for young students in Singapore. As children struggle to out-do one another to get into better colleges and universities and eventually compete for jobs, learning Mandarin Chinese will help them stand out from competition. Learning Chinese gives the opportunity for people to study and work abroad, conduct better business, negotiate better deals and get more out of a world in which China is a dominant force. Mandarin is not limited to China. It is also spoken by a large population in various regions of the world including, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines etc. It is also one of only six official languages of the United Nations.
Just like a whole generation before us took advantage of learning the English language, the young generation of today can very well take advantage of Mandarin. There are thousands of non-Chinese speaking immigrants and permanent residents who will only be left behind, not to mention the millions of ethnic Chinese who are failing to pick up Mandarin due to the preference of using English as first language. In the future, Mandarin speakers will inevitably have a significant advantage over other students and employees in a chinese-dominated globalized world.
Learning the language is now easier than ever before. Tuition in Chinese Mandarin is now commonplace in Singapore and it is very easy to enrol in professional courses. Students even have the option for home tutors, so learning the language in after-school hours is possible. The future of the world is in Asia and to thrive in the coming years, Mandarin Chinese may very well be the essential skill needed to move ahead and stay ahead.