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Languages in Singapore: GESS students study native tongues alongside English

Are you moving to Singapore with kids, but struggling to find an international school that offers education in your home language? It’s a fairly common dilemma, with our small island playing host to families from all over the world.

Like many parents, it’s likely that you’ll gravitate towards an English-medium school. You’ll be sure to speak with your children in your mother tongue at home… but will it be enough to maintain and develop fluency?

When children are studying in English, conversing with English-speaking teachers and playing with English-speaking friends, this will eventually become their most powerful voice. Holding a conversation – let alone reading and writing – in their native tongues will be increasingly difficult to keep up as they grow older.

This is why one of Singapore’s international schools has decided to take a different approach when it comes to preserving the cultures of their students. The German European School sees language as part of a child’s identity – inseparable from thinking and learning. Thus, they actively invite other languages into the classroom. Eithne Gallagher, an expert in multilingualism who has worked with GESS’s teachers, calls this ‘inter-lingual teaching’.


Fluency in another language is a great resource, and so GESS plans for kids to speak, read, research and write in their native tongues alongside English, in class and at home. The school actively encourages pupils to stay in touch with their family and overseas, even helping them to do so using modern technology.

As a result of learning, chatting – and thus thinking – in their own languages, students develop the linguistic flexibility to truly communicate bilingually, keeping their future educational options open. It also helps children to value their native culture – an essential part of themselves and what makes them different. 

The GESS European Section enables ‘mother tongue classes’ to be built into the academic school day – eliminating the need for extra tuition elsewhere. German is offered from K to 12, Danish and Dutch from grades 6 through 12, and Danish at pre-school. At GESS’s Primary School, after-school support is provided for Danish, Dutch, Italian, French and Spanish mother tongue speakers, plus – after listening to the needs of parents – more options are being planned for during the school day.

Are you interested in hearing more about GESS’s approach to native languages – and in general? Click on the link to register for their Open Houses now.