There is a small number of international schools in Singapore that offer a bilingual education in Mandarin (Putonghua), which is the most popular Chinese dialect. They offer bilingual programmes for students aged two to 11 years that are focused on the needs of native English speakers.
The time spent learning through each language varies from school to school. Some offer immersion programmes in which children are solely exposed to one language for a session or day; others may have two teachers speaking different languages in one classroom and students interact with both of them throughout a school day. Also, there is a choice of the UK, IB and IPC curricula, and a hugely varying cost with tuition fees ranging from $15,000 to $37,000.
Feeling confused? Here’s everything you need to know about the eight international schools in Singapore offering a Chinese-English bilingual programme, including method of teaching, admissions requirements, curriculum, cost, and location.
Read more: What is a Bilingual Education?
Invictus (Centrium) is offering one of the most affordable bilingual primary education programmes in Singapore. The school has existing primary campuses in Dempsey and Sentosa, and has a reputation for its low-cost, primary education; while the school currently teaches Mandarin lessons three times a week at Dempsey and Sentosa, Centrium marks its first move into bilingual education.
The new school offers classes in English and Mandarin; daily Chinese teaching ranges from 60% in Grade 1 Prep to in 40% in Grades 5 and 6. Subjects taught in Chinese include Mandarin language, music, art and PE; maths will follow the Singaporean curriculum.
The school says: “There will also be integrated Chinese lessons which include speech and drama, cultural elements and reading programmes. English will be the primary medium during maths and science lessons.”
While students can join the Invictus bilingual programme in Grade 1 without Chinese foundation skills, the curriculum is described as “rigorous” and they may struggle in class without supplementary Chinese classes. Joining a bilingual programme requires commitment from the child’s family, and Invictus reminds families that its students need to “have a strong interest to learn Chinese and a willingness to work hard”.
The school says: “Children will be assessed to possess the minimum Chinese skills before they are enrolled into the programme to ensure they can excel in their daily rigorous learning.”
The school’s founding principal is UK-born Dr Nicholas Duggan, whose experience includes secondary school principal of Yew Chung International School in Beijing. The bilingual programme’s vice principal is Chia Puay Leng who has a background of steering the Chinese curriculum for pre- and primary-aged children; most recently she was the director of Chinese bilingual programmes at Repton Schoolhouse.
Class sizes are a maximum of 25 students, which is larger than some other bilingual primary schools. As part of an all-through school, students can transition directly into the secondary school where instruction will be in English.
Read our full review of Invictus (Centrium).
GIIS launched its new bilingual programme in August 2020 at its SMART Campus. Open to all nationalities in Grades 1-5, the bilingual programme at GIIS offers equal exposure to English and Mandarin as part of the curriculum and is closely aligned to the IB Primary Years Programme framework.
Teachers who are proficient in both Mandarin and English deliver the curriculum in part English and part Mandarin; students in the bilingual programme attend classes that are separate from the mainstream IB PYP programme. GIIS offers one of the cheapest bilingual programmes in Singapore with annual tuition fees of $20,000.
The school says: "By teaching them the world's most spoken language, Mandarin, we are giving our students a competitive edge over their peers. The Programme is aligned with our vision of nurturing future global citizens, and prepares students to handle diversity and broaden their horizons for a better career."
Read our full review of GIIS SMART Campus.
SAIS’ bilingual programme offers “50/50 exposure to both Mandarin and English” to students who have the ability or commitment to go beyond the school’s daily Mandarin classes. Classes are taught by one bilingual teacher and the daily timetable is divided equally between the two languages; this means that students have equal exposure to both Mandarin and English across the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme.
Once in secondary, SAIS continues to support students’ bilingualism with 80-minute Mandarin sessions every other day and the opportunity to study Chinese in the IBDP. It’s interesting to note that, last year, 13% of the school’s IB Diploma Programme cohort went on to receive the IB’s bilingual diploma.
In terms of quality of teaching, the school follows the standards of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) for Mandarin. Students progress through seven levels of proficiency in Mandarin and they are assessed through the globally recognised Youth Chinese Test (YCT) and STAMP (Standards Based Measurements of Proficiency) to ensure that they are placed in the appropriate proficiency levels.
The school says: “Our aim is to develop children to become bilingual, biliterate and bicultural… We recognise that some students have increased ability or commitment beyond daily instruction, so they have the option to be part of our Bilingual Programme from age three at no additional cost.”
Students attend SAIS’ dedicated Early Learning Village up until six years, and can then continue with the bilingual programme at the school’s main campus nearby. If a student wants to leave the bilingual programme for any reason, they can switch to the standard IB curriculum, which includes a daily Mandarin or Spanish lesson.
Read our full review of Stamford American International School (SAIS).
As one of the first international schools in Singapore to offer a bilingual programme, CIS has both the experience and reputation for being a dual-language school. The school offers a bilingual Chinese-English programme from kindergarten through to Grade 6, with two qualified teachers per class; one native English speaker and one native Chinese speaker. (CIS also offers a French-English programme for Grades 1 and 2.)
The bilingual programme is offered at CIS’ two campuses – Lakeside and Tanjong Katong – and teaching is aligned to the IB’s PYP. All subjects including maths, are taught in both languages. For example, when studying the ‘Who we are’ inquiry unit, students will learn the different body parts in Chinese, and how the brain functions in English.
CIS has developed a strong bilingual programme and currently has 43 bilingual classes spread across eight year groups. Students attend classes in English one day and in Chinese the next so they get full immersion in a language throughout the school day. Around 30% of students in each bilingual class are Chinese, which gives English-speaking students the opportunity to learn from their peers as well as the teachers.
All teachers follow the Big Apple programme, a series of books that were written by the school's principal for Chinese language and culture, Huali Xiong, and are used in international schools worldwide. And CIS’ two campus libraries are well-stocked with more than 8,000 Chinese fiction books.
To encourage students to become ‘bilingual, biliterate and bicultural’ the programmes focus on hands-on, immersive activities to teach not just the language, but the culture as well. And, when students progress into secondary school, the CIS curriculum maintains a focus on Chinese in the IB Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme; in 2019, 25% of the school’s IB Diploma Programme cohort went on to receive the IB’s bilingual diploma.
The school says: “The bilingual programme at CIS combines stimulating language learning with the PYP to provide a unique opportunity for students to develop their language skills in an integrated and stimulating way.”
Read our full reviews of CIS Lakeside and CIS Tanjong Katong.
Singapore American School (SAS) launched its Chinese immersion programme in 2017 in Kindergarten, and these classes will roll forward each academic year until Grade 5 by 2022–23. Designed for native English speakers, the programme focuses strongly on Chinese in the first year with a 75/25 model in kindergarten and Grade 1; 75% of the curriculum is taught in Chinese (maths, social studies, science and language arts), and 25% is taught in English (English language arts, art, music and PE). In Grades 2 and 3 this moves towards a 60/40 model in Chinese-English, then a 50/50 model by Grades 4 and 5.
Beyond the elementary school, SAS offers higher level language courses as electives in the middle school and then courses including Advanced Placement (AP) Chinese Language and Culture, and Advanced Topic (AT) Chinese Language: History in the high school.
Teaching follows the same US-style curriculum as the rest of the school, but teachers have been trained to deliver a bilingual programme and there are Chinese-speaking TAs in the classroom. There are dedicated classrooms for both English and Chinese where only one language can be spoken. And the school is committed to fully embracing Chinese culture and language; for example, elementary school students communicate directly in Chinese during their service-learning work.
The school says: “Students will go beyond simply learning the language. They will use the language for learning.”
Read our full review of Singapore American School (SAS).
Hillside World Academy (HWA) is the first international branch of Beijing Huijia Private School, which has kindergartens and IB schools across China. In line with all Beijing Huijia schools, HWA focuses on delivering a “Bilingual Bicultural education” and teaches the IB’s Primary Years Programme bilingually from Kindergarten through to Grade 6; all subjects are taught in both languages to ensure that students can work towards a very high level of Mandarin fluency.
In kindergarten, 50% of teaching is dedicated to Chinese, and the other 50% to English; in primary, 60% of teaching is English, and 40% to Chinese. As a bilingual primary school with a such a strong emphasis on Mandarin, half the number of teachers for KG and primary are Chinese. Students are also immersed in Chinese culture, with after school activities including wushu and Chinese calligraphy, and many opportunities to celebrate Chinese holidays.
Located in the North East community of Hougang, HWA has been designed for bilingualism with its purpose-built bilingual classrooms, library, and audio room. It is one of the smaller bilingual campuses in Singapore with just 400 students across its primary and secondary school. And, as a solely bilingual school (there is no option to study the PYP in English only), you are likely to find Chinese being widely spoken beyond the classroom and across the campus.
While instruction is all in English in the secondary school, the bilingual system continues into the IB's Middle Years Programme and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme; HWA says that “many of our students complete their high school with a IB Bilingual Diploma”. The school also runs an annual Beijing student exchange programme with its sister school when students experience total Chinese immersion. Several European languages, particularly Spanish and French, are also available as after school classes.
Read our full review of Hillside World Academy.
Dulwich College (Singapore) immerses pre-schoolers and primary students in what is described as a “dual-language environment” where “purposeful play is combined with a focus on learning to read and beginning to write in both English and Mandarin”. Lessons are taught by a native English-speaking lead teacher with a Mandarin-speaking assistant teacher to children from the ages of two to seven.
The school’s bilingual programme runs from nursery to Year 2, known as DUCKS, and teaching follows the UK’s Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework and UK National Curriculum. The timetable also includes daily Mandarin classes from the age of four, which are streamed according to ability.
Dulwich is slightly different to many other bilingual programmes. The main language of the curriculum in DUCKS, in key areas such as maths and literacy is English, but Mandarin is used by the assistant teachers in contexts such as at snack time or greetings in the morning. In Years 1-2, the UK National Curriculum is led in English, but learning is supported by a native Mandarin-speaking assistant teacher.
As the College says, “our aim is for our children to be confident and competent in both languages”.
“Our dual language approach in DUCKS gives our youngest students an opportunity to become comfortable speaking two languages at an early age… Within the framework of the English National Curriculum, linguistic development in both languages will receive equal attention and be tailored to meet each child’s individual needs.”
For such a large school, class sizes remain small – 16-20 in DUCKS and 22 in Years 1-2.
As students move into the Year 3, Dulwich builds on the foundations of its dual language programme by teaching daily Mandarin lessons, which teach Mandarin as a native language, second language or foreign language; these lessons also use art, music and drama to teach students the local culture and traditions. Students then continue to study Mandarin from Year 7 and into secondary, when they can also take IGCSE Chinese as a Second Language and IB Chinese B standard level or high level exam courses.
Read our full review of Dulwich College (Singapore).
EtonHouse’s Broadrick campus offers a bilingual pathway from nursery through to primary. Since 2001, this all-through school has been teaching a fully immersive bilingual option that is aligned with the IB’s Primary Years Programme. Teaching is delivered by two qualified teachers (one native Mandarin speaker and one native English speaker) in each classroom; they jointly plan and teach each lesson, “taking turns to deliver different parts of the class in their native tongues”.
The school’s bilingual programme follows on seamlessly from the Chinese language programme offered at EtonHouse’s pre-schools and kindergartens from the age of three. As well as teaching how to speak, read, write and understand Mandarin, the programme “integrates culture into the curriculum to build an appreciation and love for the language”. Students also attend two daily 45-minute sessions – one for English and one for Mandarin – that focus on grammar, reading and writing skills.
The school says: “Your child will hone their speaking skills through song, poetry, presentations, conversations and reading aloud. They’ll soon be able to spontaneously engage those around them in both English and Mandarin.”
Read our full review of EtonHouse International School (Broadrick).