It’s worth noting that, when Singapore became independent in 1965, very few ethnic Chinese spoke Mandarin as their primary home language. During self-rule from Britain in 1959, Singapore chose to become a multilingual nation. English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil were chosen as the four official languages.
The Speak Mandarin Campaign was established in 1979 to encourage the use of a single Chinese language across China’s many distinct dialects. The campaign that year was “多讲华语，少说方言” which would be translated as “Speak More Mandarin, Speak fewer Dialects.”
Early Chinese Singaporeans, as well as their parents, were from distinct dialect areas in China and had significant regional and dialectal variations. Because of their different dialects, my parents’ marriage might have benefited from a common communication platform.
The Speak Mandarin Campaign was an extension of the government’s bilingual education initiative, which began in 1960. The Singaporean education system required that children be fluent in two languages — English and their native tongue. The government recognized a pragmatic need to operate internationally in the English language, but it also recognized the importance of preserving Asian languages and customs.
As a third-generation Singaporean, I was brought up in the benefits of this bilingualism initiative. English remained the common mode of communication among Singapore’s diverse language-speaking ethnic groups, and children were able to maintain contact with their heritage and cultural values through their Chinese, Malay, or Tamil mother tongues.
While I don’t speak my native language very often these days, I must confess that it still conveys a sense of closeness and familiarity. Incidentally, the last campaign message for the Speak Mandarin Campaign 2011/2012 was “华文华语 多用就可以”, meaning “Mandarin. It Gets Better With Use.”
Take a trip back in time to the Speak Mandarin Campaign’s beginnings in Singapore at Campaign City: Life in Posters at the National Library Building. City: Life in Posters is a recollection of famous national campaigns conducted in Singapore throughout history.
Campaign City: Life in Posters
Level 11, Lee Kong Chian Reference Library
National Library Building
9 Jan 2013 – 3 Jul 2013