News Details | 10-Jun-2013

Bilingualism's challenges: NTU hosts Asia's first international symposium on languages

Special workshop tailored to Singapore’s environment highlights potentials and challenges of raising bilingual children

How do we convince our children that their native languages are worth speaking? What are the hands-on tips for educators and parents to enhance the learning and social environment for our children to maximise their proficiency in languages? Should countries review their bilingual education programmes as the world becomes more linguistically complex, with people, information and services moving more fluidly across national borders?

These are some of the issues that educators and parents can look forward to being addressed by a panel of internationally renowned experts during the 9th International Symposium on Bilingualism (ISB9) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Held for the first time in Asia, the four-day multi-disciplinary conference which starts today will see world-leading sociologists, psychologists, linguists and educationists coming together to share their views and new ideas on bilingualism and multilingualism.  

Ms Sim Ann, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Communication & Information, launched the conference this morning, attended by about 600 experts from more than 45 countries, including Australia, China, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Turkey and the United States.

The theme of this year’s Symposium, ‘Multilingualism’, reflects Singapore’s status as a thriving language hub, as it is home to at least 20 different languages. Singapore is also located at the heart of the world’s most linguistically diverse region, providing an excellent backdrop for a conference devoted to the study of bilingualism and multilingualism. 

Special workshop tailored to Singapore’s education environment

Besides being a platform for the exchange of ideas on bilingualism and multilingualism, the conference this year will feature a special workshop on Early Childhood Bilingualism, sponsored by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism. Targeted at educators, parents and caregivers, the workshop will be led by a panel of leading experts to discuss issues surrounding language acquisition, learning and literacy in the early years, with a special focus on Singapore’s education environment.

Among the experts presenting their latest ideas and findings at this workshop include Associate Professor Xiao Lan Curdt-Christiansen from NTU’s National Institute of Education, who will show how early bi-literacy experiences are of critical importance for children's academic and social development; and Associate Professor Elena Nicoladis from the University of Alberta, Canada on how children can be convinced that their native language is useful and worth speaking. 

Professor Alan Chan, Dean of NTU’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, said, “This international symposium marks a milestone in the history of Singapore and NTU, as it is the first time that it has come to Asia, and it is also one of the biggest conferences to be held here in recent years, with 600 participants from over 45 countries.”

“The conference also complements NTU’s efforts to make our mark internationally and promote research excellence in humanities and the social sciences by bringing together the best of East and West,” Professor Chan added. 

Professor Randy LaPolla, Head, Division of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies at NTU’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences said, “Singapore has been associated with bilingual, not to say multilingual, education since its independence. We are delighted and proud to be able to organise a forum for sharing ideas and experiences for all of us who are deeply committed to bilingualism and multilingualism.”

World experts discuss wide range of multilingualism trends and issues

The keynote speakers at the Symposium include renowned international experts such as Nick Evans, Professor of Linguistics at the Australian National University, who will discuss the importance of multilingualism for society and how history shows that humans are innately built for multilingualism, rather than a tendency to see it as a recent phenomenon or a product of colonialisation or globalisation.

Drawing from experiences in classrooms for language-minority children in the United States and worldwide, City University of New York Professor Ofelia García will highlight the importance of approaching multilingualism and bilingual schooling not solely based on pedagogy, but also grounded in a quest for greater social justice.

Learning and using a second language can cause a change in the native language of the bilingual. Tapping on her research investigations and evidence from neuro-imaging studies, Professor Monika Schmid, from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, will suggest reasons why there is interaction between the first and second language in the brains of bilinguals. 

Professor Lionel Wee, Head of the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore, will discuss some of the factors that might influence an organisation’s willingness to commit itself to valuing multilingualism in the workplace. 

For more information about the Symposium, please visit:

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Media contact:

Feisal Abdul Rahman
Senior Assistant Director (Media Relations)
Corporate Communications Office
Nanyang Technological University
Tel: (65) 6790 6687

About Nanyang Technological University

A research-intensive public university, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has 33,500 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the colleges of Engineering, Business, Science, and Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences. It has a new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, set up jointly with Imperial College London.

NTU is also home to world-class autonomous institutes – the National Institute of Education, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Earth Observatory of Singapore, and Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering – and various leading research centres, such as the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) and the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight (ACI).

A fast-growing university with an international outlook, NTU is putting its global stamp on Five Peaks of Excellence: Sustainable Earth, Future Healthcare, New Media, New Silk Road, and Innovation Asia.

Besides the main Yunnan Garden campus, NTU also has a satellite campus in Singapore’s science and tech hub, One-North, and a third campus in Novena, Singapore’s medical district.

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