Former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said if young Singaporeans give up the Chinese language, they will have lost something valuable. He was speaking at a dialogue at the World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention on Friday evening. Mr Lee chose to speak in a mix of Chinese and English, a reflection of Singapore’s bilingual society, and responded to a wide range of questions, including one on his decision to write a book about the bilingual policy here.
Mr Lee has previously said implementing the policy was one of the hardest things he has had to do. He told his audience that his aim in writing the book is to have younger Singaporeans understand how strongly the Chinese community felt about the decision to make English the first language. Mr Lee reiterated his long-held belief that if Singapore had chosen Chinese as its first language, the country would not be where it is today. However, he also advised Chinese Singaporeans not to give up their mother tongue, noting that he himself has spent his whole life trying to master the language as he did not learn it when he was young.
It is not just about the emotional and cultural connection, but a pragmatic consideration too. With many Chinese seeking new opportunities in the world, Mr Lee believes Singapore can play the role of pathfinder. He said he is also “worried” that more and more families in Singapore are speaking English at home, adding that they should instead speak Mandarin. “….English, you will learn it anyway. If I have a choice, I will speak to my grandchildren in Chinese and leave English to the schools,” he said.