Home Language and Mother Tongue programs at Singapore’s international schools

home language programs
Moving to a new country can be tough, especially when you move to one that doesn't speak your native language. We ask the schools how they help kids retain and develop their native tongue...

Singapore is home to four languages and several dialects, including Chinese, Malay, Tamil and English, and most local schools have Mother Tongue classes and home language programs for students who speak these languages within their curriculum. But what about when your home language isn’t reflected in the curriculum? And what about if you decide to move back to your home country? We asked international schools around Singapore just what Home Language and Mother Tongue programs they offer to students. These are the schools helping students maintain the balance between being part of their community while helping them retain their language and culture so, should they choose to in the future, they can integrate back into their own community with ease.

Mark Williams, Upper Elementary School Deputy Principal, Stamford American International School

How is your Home Language/Mother Tongue program structured?
Our Mother Tongue program runs independently of other school-based curriculums and activities. Our program is open to SAIS students as well as non-students who are looking for a quality home-language program.

What languages are accommodated?
As this program is currently parent-led and school-supported, we can offer any language which has a genuine interest and can source or supply a quality teacher or language provider. Throughout 2018 we were able to offer 14 different languages opportunities, including Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Mandarin, Hebrew, Russian and Filipino. We are currently working to also introduce Korean and Japanese within 2019/2020. Within our model, the four Scandinavian languages and Dutch are guaranteed to be offered every year and all other languages are on a school population-needs basis, however, with more than 70 nationalities at SAIS, demand is always high.

What is the goal of this program and how are students evaluated on their progress?
Our Mother Tongue program helps demonstrate Stamford’s commitment to recognising the value of international mindedness and the need to maintain our students’ home language. The core aim of our program is for our students to take pride in their families’ roots, cultures, celebrations and values while being part of a global community. SAIS program hopes to help them integrate and be part of their native community within Singapore and when they return home. We also aim to help students strengthen their intellectual development as maintaining a proficient level of their home language will help with their readiness to develop a second language.

Read SAIS’ full profile on HoneyKids School Selector

home language programs

Photography: CIS

Heather Rogers Beck, Deputy Head of School Curriculum, Canadian International School

How is your Home Language/Mother Tongue program structured?
At CIS, we value our community’s linguistic diversity and are committed to promoting multilingualism. Our students come from more than 80 nations, and over 50 other languages are spoken by community members as their first language. Our mother tongue language program supports students whose first language is not English by helping them maintain their cultural identity, and retain and develop skills in their mother tongue.

For students in Grades 1 to 10, we offer two bilingual programs (for primary school students only) and a range of weekly classes as part of our after-school activities program. The latter is a paid service delivered on campus by independent external providers. Students in Grades 11 and 12 can continue to study in their mother tongue at IB Diploma level through Language and Literature classes offered by either CIS teachers or the IB online self-taught language program.

What languages do you accommodate?
Our bilingual programs are taught in French-English and Chinese-English while through our after-school mother tongue program, we offer Danish, Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish. For the IB Diploma, we offer language and literature classes taught by CIS teachers in Chinese, Japanese and French and 55 other languages through the IB online self-taught language program.

What is the goal of this program and how are students evaluated on their progress?
Our bilingual and mother tongue after-school programs aim to provide students with an in-depth understanding of the language. We cover all four language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and a wide range of topics to expand students’ vocabulary. We also integrate culture into all our lessons and use a variety of authentic materials. The goal of our IB DP Language and Literature program is for students to finish the course and graduate with an IB DP bilingual diploma.

Read CIS’ full profile on HoneyKids School Selector

home language programs

Photography: Singapore American School

Sally Lean, Director of World Languages, Singapore American School

At Singapore American School, we are able to cater for native speakers of Chinese, Spanish and French through our world language program. For Chinese native-speakers, there is a separate ‘Near Native’ Mother Tongue development program as part of our daily language program from Kindergarten through Eighth Grade for heritage speakers. For Spanish and French there are not enough students to run separate programs, so they are differentiated within classes based on their oral proficiency and literacy levels.

Students at higher proficiency levels from Intermediate Mid and beyond are evaluated on their proficiency in both interpersonal oral (listening and speaking) and literacy (reading and writing). Students are mostly assessed ‘in-house’ with assessments designed in professional learning communities, by teachers who are trained in oral proficiency interviews. In addition to regular assessments, there is one external test each year which is used to triangulate our data and proficiency ratings. SAS is introducing the proficiency-based STAMP assessments which are used for world language assessments across the US. In twelfth grade, students can also apply to qualify for the Seal of Biliteracy to be added to their high school diploma. There are several ways for students to qualify for the Seal. Currently, the Seal of Biliteracy is only available in the three languages taught at SAS. Once this newly introduced process becomes established, we will consider opening this opportunity to students who have other native languages.

SAS also has a Chinese language and culture immersion program, where students work toward fluency while building the foundation for continued academic success. The Chinese immersion program is open for enrolment in kindergarten. Beyond the first month of kindergarten, placement is by assessment – students need to have high enough language and literacy to test in. Through our bilingual program, students have language opportunities integrated into every moment, allowing them to gain a deep understanding of the language and truly become global citizens.

Read Singapore American School’s full profile on HoneyKids School Selector


GESS has a variety of Mother Tongue Language Programmes for German, Dutch and Danish, for Grades 1 to 12. It offers a Language Enrichment Programme (LEP) after-school for primary school students (Grades 1 to 5) with the option to practise Spanish, Swedish, Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin, French etc. in an immersive setting. It also offers a School-Supported Mother-Tongue Programme (SSMT), which allows Middle School students to study their mother tongue languages (on demand) as part of the curriculum but with the support of an external tutor arranged by GESS.

Lycée Français de Singapour

On top of its immersive French-English bilingual curriculum “French Passerelle”, LFS has launched an after school Italian Mother Tongue Programme for the Elementary School. Extra-curricular classes are conducted once a week with qualified teachers from the Association for the Promotion of the Italian Culture in Singapore (APICS). This is a semester-based program with 13 90-minute sessions at $280 per semester. It will offer Spanish and Mandarin classes from September 2019.

SJI (International)

SJI International’s Home Language Programme (HLP) takes place during curriculum time for students of all Grades with a significant linguistic or cultural connection to a language not taught as part of the mainstream curriculum, with entry points in G7 to G11. Classes offered are subject to demand and have offered Japanese, French, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese and German.

Nexus International School (Singapore)

Nexus offers a Mother Tongue program as part of its CCAs, provided by LanguageOne. It allows students to connect to their native tongue as well as providing enrichment in the history and cultural storytelling of the language. The program is open to Years 1 to 6 and currently offers a weekly class in Danish, French, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Polish and Russian.

ISS International School

At ISS International School, the Mother Tongue (MT) language programs are incorporated into the curriculum. For Kindergarten to Grade 5, MT languages are used as tools to support non-native English language learners at ISS through various in-class activities and ongoing library programs. This is in addition to Chinese being taught as a second language for all students. For Grade 6 to 8, ISS offers the following languages as a 2nd language: English, Chinese, French, Japanese, as well as a partnership MT program, where the MT teacher works in partnership with the student and parent (or language tutor) on any MT language of the student’s choice. For Grades 9-12, ISS offers Chinese, Korean and Japanese programs.

Chatsworth International School

The Mother Tongue Languages Programme in Chatsworth follows International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Year Programme (IBMYP) and Diploma Programme (IBDP) curriculum, with the support of external Mother Tongue teachers. In IBMYP, Mother Tongue curriculum is part of IBMYP Language and Literature curriculum, and is mostly project-based with guidance by the teacher. Students also study outside of school and sometimes during lunch hour with native-speaking teachers and tutors. In DP, mother tongue languages are studied as School-Supported Self-Taught (SSST) Literature subjects as well as classes with the SSST Curriculum Coordinator and Mother Tongue tutors. Chatsworth currently offers 14 mother tongue languages, including Arabic, French, Hindi, Italian and Korean.

Dulwich College (Singapore)

Dulwich College (Singapore) offers co-curricular mother tongue programmes in French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Hindi and Portuguese. These languages are offered at beginner, intermediate as well as mother tongue level. All students from the ages of five (Year 2) are welcome to sign up to be a part of these CCAs.

Australian International School

At Australian International School, mother tongue lessons in Korean and Mandarin are conducted within the curriculum to achieve maximum language immersion. For all other languages like Japanese, Spanish, Hindi and Tamil, students take up to 18 classes each term, twice a week, after school hours. Its extensive Mother Tongue Program is offered in all languages from Prep to Year 12, supporting its diverse community of over 50 nationalities. If a student wishes to learn his/her mother tongue not currently being taught, AIS will seek a tutor of the highest calibre in order for that AIS student to be immersed in the language and culture of their origins

Tanglin Trust School

Tanglin Trust School offers a Mother Tongue Program for students with a native or near-native command of a language other than English. In Infant and Junior Schools, these classes are part of the sports and recreation clubs or extracurricular programme. Junior students who already have a high competency of Mandarin also attend daily enrichment sessions. In the Senior School, Chinese, French and Spanish Mother Tongue lessons can be included in the students’ normal timetable, while non-core languages (currently Japanese, Italian, Hindi, Russian, Portuguese) classes occur during lunch or after school.

Top image: Stamford American International School

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