Bilingualism is one of Singapore’s most fundamental policies, DPM Heng Swee Keat said.
Speaking at the Opening of the Bilingualism Carnival on 8 April 2023, Mr Heng said language is a key medium for values to be passed on from one generation to the next. Our mother tongue connects us to our values, culture, and heritage.
The use of English connects us to each other in our multi-racial society and allows us to share insights from our respective cultures, while learning from one another.
“This enables us to open our minds and build empathy,” Mr Heng said.
Bilingualism thus equips us with the capacity to share, appreciate and bring together different perspectives.
Bilingualism as a competitive advantage
Benefits of bilingualism
Research has also shown that bilingualism has many cognitive benefits. Bilingual people have greater mental agility. They tend to be more creative and flexible. They are also more open-minded and empathetic. They also find it easier to focus on a variety of tasks simultaneously and are better able to focus on complex tasks.
There are even early findings that show bilingualism may protect against dementia. This is because bilingualism is a form of cognitive stimulation that requires multiple aspects of brain activity.
Multilingualism is good for the economy
Researchers have found that linguistic diversity has a powerful impact on the economy.
According to an article published by the World Economic Forum (2018), countries that actively nurture different languages reap a range of rewards, from more successful exports to a more innovative workforce.
Switzerland, for example, attributes 10% of its GDP to its multilingual heritage. The country has four national languages: German, French, Italian and an ancient Latin-based language called Romansh.
Britain, on the other hand, is estimated to lose out on the equivalent of 3.5% of its GDP every year, because of its population’s relatively poor language skills.
This may be partly because languages can help build trade relations.
Companies which invested more in languages were able to export more goods. German companies that invested heavily in multilingual staff added more export countries to their market while companies that invested less missed out on contracts.