Lee Kuan Yew launches fund, book to encourage bilingualism

Former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew launched on Monday a fund to help kids learn more than one language early on.

He also released “My Lifelong Challenge: Singapre’s Bilingual Journey”, which tells of the former Prime Minister’s lifelong goal to revamp Singaporeans’ spoken languages from a variety dialects to English and a mother tongue, reported The Straits Times (ST).

Expressing hope that the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism would exceed S$100 million, Lee personally donated S$10 million, in addition to the proceeds that would be collected from the sale of 200 autographed copies of the book, selling for at least S$10,000 each.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that the government would match donations dollar for dollar, up to a maximum of S$50 million, and that the ministry will be looking at the best ways to use the money to help develop bilingualism in pre-schoolers, ST wrote.

When Lee became Prime Minister in 1959, he chose English as Singapore’s main language – even though not many could speak it – as laws and official records were already in that language due to British rule. He also felt that it was a language that could level the playing field.   At the same time, he believed that Singaporeans should speak their mother tongue in order to forge a sense of identity, reported the paper.

However, Lee has noted that Singaporeans are gravitating towards becoming more English-speaking. This, he fears, could affect the fluency of mother tongue languages, especially Chinese, said Channel NewsAsia.

The book is available in both English and Mandarin editions. It will also come with a DVD that includes snippets of speeches made by Lee in English, Mandarin, Hokkien and Malay.

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