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Should I teach my child English or Chinese first before they enter primary school?

In a multicultural and multilingual country like Singapore, parents are often faced with the question of which language to teach their children first – English or Chinese. Don’t worry about being alone.

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, the decision ultimately depends on a variety of factors, including the family’s linguistic background, the child’s exposure to the different languages, and personal preference.

Let’s talk about English first.

English is widely spoken in Singapore and is considered the lingua franca of our country. It is also the language of instruction in schools, making it a practical choice for parents who want their children to excel academically. Furthermore, being fluent in English opens up opportunities for communication and exchange with people from all over the world.

What about Chinese?

On the other hand, Chinese is one of the four official languages in Singapore and is deeply rooted in our country’s culture and heritage. Being able to speak Chinese allows children to connect with their cultural roots, as well as the wider Chinese community in Singapore and around the world. Additionally, learning Chinese can have cognitive benefits, as it is known to enhance problem-solving skills and memory.

Should I focus on one language or can I teach them both?

While it is possible to teach both languages simultaneously, many experts recommend focusing on one language first before introducing the other. This allows children to establish a solid foundation in the first language and develop stronger language skills. Once the child is comfortable with the first language, the second language can be introduced gradually.

Another factor to consider is the child’s exposure to the different languages. For example, if the child is frequently exposed to English at home and in their daily environment, it may be easier for them to pick up the language. On the other hand, if the child is exposed to Chinese at home or has a Chinese-speaking caregiver, it may be more appropriate to focus on teaching Chinese first.

Ultimately, the decision on which language to teach first should be based on the family’s priorities, the child’s needs and exposure, and the parents’ preferences. There is no right or wrong answer, and the most important thing is to support the child in their language learning journey.


The decision on which language to teach first – English or Chinese (phonics or hanyu pinyin) – for toddlers in Singapore is a complex one that depends on various factors. While both languages have their own advantages, the decision ultimately rests with you as the parent and your child.

Whether it’s English or Chinese, the goal should always be to create a supportive and nurturing environment that encourages language development and learning.

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