Singaporean parents are putting more effort into getting their children to read Chinese, and publishers are responding by releasing more Chinese-language books. These books were showcased at a major book fair over the past two weekends.
According to a survey involving 10,000 respondents in 2004 by the Chinese Language Curriculum and Pedagogy Review Committee set up by Singapore's Ministry of Education, most parents wanted their children to learn the Chinese language for cultural as well as economic reasons.
Even parents in predominantly English-speaking homes agreed about the importance of learning Chinese - 92 per cent of them to be precise.
Teachers, on the other hand, point out the problem for students is that many don't like studying Chinese because it is difficult.
During the Bookfest@Singapore - the biggest book fair in Southeast Asia - which wound up on Sunday, parents and their children stocked up on Chinese books.
Janice Chan, a Singaporean mother of two, brought her two sons along and splurged more than S$300 (HK$1,520) on Chinese books, mostly Chinese-language versions of comics such as Doraemon.
Mrs Chan said comics were an easier way of stimulating children's interest in Chinese than novels.
'They were not interested in it before, but I would like them to learn more as China is becoming stronger and a lot of people are going there to work,' she said, adding that her younger son's Chinese skills had improved through reading comics.
Junior high student Jasmine See dragged her mother to the book fair to stock up on her favourite reading material - Chinese teen romance novels. She said previously she was not keen about Chinese books, but the cover of a Chinese novel that her mother brought home from the library raised her interest.
She said since she started reading, her Chinese had improved immensely and she had become the top Chinese-language student in her class.
The National Library of Singapore says more people have been borrowing Chinese titles and it will acquire more Chinese books for readers.
Chou Cheng-ngok, chairman and managing director of Popular Holdings Limited, the organiser of the Bookfest@ Singapore, pointed out that most classes are taught in English in Singapore but he hoped to encourage more Singaporean youngsters to read Chinese books. But Mr Chou admits he has a challenge on his hands.
Even if Singaporeans realise how important Chinese is and want to read it more in theory, in practice they prefer to read English.
Mr Chou said Singapore's culture of reading Chinese had weakened significantly over the past few decades. He said he hoped to help youngsters develop the habit of reading Chinese books. Sixty per cent of the books at the fair were Chinese-language titles.
'We would like to encourage children in Singapore and Malaysia to read Chinese books by continuing to organise book fairs in Singapore and Malaysia,' he said. He added that he aimed to do the same in Hong Kong over the Christmas season with the launch of the first Bookfest@Hong Kong next month.