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Urge Singaporeans to learn more languages: Minister

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Education Minister says doing so means more 'economic opportunities' and better ties as a community

While bilingualism has long been touted as one of Singapore's strengths, many European students are already learning many languages, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday.

He recounted how his European classmates all knew at least three languages, when they took the Master of Business Administration programme from the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Mr Ong told the anecdote to show why Singapore should encourage the learning of foreign languages, during a panel discussion at the opening of a two-week project that will see European ambassadors visit local schools to give talks about the European Union.


He had been asked by a student about how to get more Singaporeans to be proficient in a foreign language.

Noting there are different groups of "third languages", Mr Ong said learning a third language from a European country or the Japanese language "can give us access to good universities, jobs and therefore economic opportunities".

Regional languages is a second group of languages that is useful to Singaporeans, he added.

"This represents opportunities for us in a small market like Singapore.

" At some point, Singaporeans may go out and operate in these markets," he said.

Another third language to learn is spoken by Singaporeans of other races, Mr Ong said.

"So you can learn Chinese, Malay or Tamil. I find this is especially meaningful, because as a multicultural country, the more you know about the culture of another Singaporean in another community, the more you can draw closer," he said.

About 40 students from 21 schools attended the discussion at the Ministry of Education language centre in Bishan, where Mr Ong, EU Ambassador to Singapore Barbara Plinkert and ambassadors from Finland, France, Germany, Italy and Romania spoke about the importance of foreign languages in a globalised world.

The inaugural European Union Comes to Your School (EU@School) project aims to promote global awareness and cross-cultural skills among students.

"The EU is - just like Singapore - rich in diversity, multilingual and multifaceted," said the Belgian Ambassador to Singapore Andy Detaille.

He said the project will deepen the understanding between the peoples of Singapore and the EU.