Language Policy

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 73–94 | Cite as

Singaporean Preschoolers’ Oral Competence in Mandarin

  • Zhao Shouhui
  • Liu Yongbing
  • Hong Huaqing


Singapore’s bilingual policy is widely regarded as having been successful. Mostly realized in the educational realm as “language-in-education planning” (Cooper, 1989), where English is legitimized as the medium of instruction and the mother tongues as subjects in the school system (Silver, 2005) the bilingual policy is connected explicitly to overall national goals of economic development and social harmony. In reporting detailed research data collected within the framework of a language in education planning program, this article addresses how language planning can respond to the Singapore context where the dominant spoken language, Mandarin, has been continually constituted as a “problem”. Singapore has undertaken frequent reforms of its Chinese language (CL) teaching system, seeking ever greater levels of achievement and more cohesion in the role of Mandarin as the “culturally” unifying form for the majority of its people. Official policy announcing the two most recent reforms in 2000 and 2004 (Silver, 2005; Tan, 2006) has shifted emphasis towards a newly emerging binary that seems to assume increasing importance in Singapore’s language planning paradigm: the English-speaking family (ESF) versus the Chinese-speaking family (CSF). The present article reports on the language proficiency of preschoolers, particularly their oral competence in Mandarin, with the objective of both reflecting on the success, assumptions and strategies of the new policy moves as well as proposing new ways to look at language-in-education planning for Chinese acquisition in a society that is, ethnically-speaking, dominantly Chinese.


children Chinese language language background Mandarin competence Singapore vocabulary 



Chinese Language


Chinese Language Curriculum and Pedagogy Review Committee


Chinese speaking family or families


English speaking family or families


Home language


National Trade Union Congress


People’s Action Party


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The authors wish to express their gratitude to the project team members, all of the participating kindergartens and the families. Apart from the authors of this article, the main researchers in the project are: Hock Huan, Goh, Sze Win, Gan, Hwee Bin Wendy, Toh and Yimin, Wang. Special thanks go to Wendy and Yimin for their valuable technical support, and to Joseph Lo Bianco for his corrections and comments on earlier versions of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhao Shouhui
    • 1
  • Liu Yongbing
    • 1
  • Hong Huaqing
    • 2
  1. 1.National Institute of EducationNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.National University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore

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