SINGAPORE - I suggest students learn a third language from Primary 1 to Secondary 4.
Chinese students may learn conversational Malay, while Malays, Indians and other minorities may learn conversational Mandarin.
There should be no written exercises, homework or examinations, to avoid additional stress.
Students with different linguistic abilities should be allowed to learn at their own pace. They can learn Chinese in hanyu pinyin, sparing them from having to deal with the difficult writing system.
Learning Malay will benefit Chinese Singaporeans who visit Malaysia and Indonesia for work or play, while learning Mandarin will allow Malays, Indians and other minorities to explore work opportunities in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Besides this, learning one another's languages will facilitate racial harmony and integration.
Studies have shown that young children can pick up a few languages at the same time.
Besides being fluent in Cantonese and Hokkien, I learnt Bahasa Melayu from Primary 3 to Secondary 2, and this did not affect my learning of Mandarin and English.
-Lawrence Chu Tuck Fai
This article was first published on August 26, 2014.
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