Examinations in Singapore’s bilingual policy

Effects on Chinese language education


  • Cher Leng Lee National University of Singapore
  • Chiew Pheng Phua National University of Singapore




Chinese language education, Mandarin, Singapore bilingual policy, examinations, prestige planning, image planning


Singapore is a multiracial nation with three-quarters of the population comprised of ethnic Chinese people. The nation’s ‘English-knowing’ bilingual policy has resulted in a steady decline in Mandarin competency, causing much concern. While agreeing that prestige planning (related to the perceived status of the language) is lacking in Chinese language education in Singapore, some suggest that Singapore can leverage China’s economic success or strengthen the Chinese curriculum to arrest the problem. An understanding of the historical developments behind Chinese language policies is necessary to grasp the link between prestige planning and language-in-education in Singapore. This paper adopts a historical approach to show how examinations have been used as essential tools in Singapore’s meritocratic society to adjust the requirements of Chinese language education, directly affecting the learning of Mandarin and resulting in a shift from prestige planning to image planning (which relates to language identity). The primary sources used in this paper include transcripts of Parliamentary debates and reports from leading newspapers, both English and Chinese, which are critical to understanding the rationale of language policies.

Author Biographies

Cher Leng Lee, National University of Singapore

Cher Leng Lee is Associate Professor of Chinese Linguistics in the Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore. Her research areas are: politeness, compliments, Chinese pronouns, Singapore Mandarin and dialects, and Singapore Chinese education. Her articles have been published in journals including Contemporary Linguistics, Global Chinese and Pragmatics, and she has contributed chapters to Politeness in East Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and Chinese Discourse and Interaction (Equinox, 2013).

Chiew Pheng Phua, National University of Singapore

Chiew Pheng Phua is Associate Professor of Chinese Linguistics in the Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore. His research interest is in Historical Chinese Linguistics.


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How to Cite

Lee, C. L. ., & Phua, C. P. . (2021). Examinations in Singapore’s bilingual policy: Effects on Chinese language education. Journal of Multilingual Theories and Practices, 2(1), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1558/jmtp.13465