As China rises, a knowledge of Putonghua is being seen as an economic necessity, alongside the ability to speak English, in Southeast Asia. Bilingualism, though, isn't easy. Even in the former British colony of Singapore, where over three-quarters of the population is ethnic Chinese, neither English nor Putonghua is the native tongue of many people. Government posters with the tagline 'How you speak matters' hang on the sides of skyscrapers to remind Singaporeans to use proper English. But with the rise of nationalism, there is resistance. 'If you insist that I speak in proper English, then I won't,' said blogger Lee Kin Mun. Although English is widely used in professional settings in the city state, what is often spoken on the streets is a localised version called Singlish. It sounds like a combination of English words with Chinese grammar, but some, like Lee (pictured), say it's a dialect in its own right. Known to his fans as Mr Brown, Lee is the first to feature Singlish prominently on his podcast. It's a reflection of how Singaporeans speak in daily life, he said. He peppers his speech with 'lah' and 'one' - typical markers of Singlish - at the end of sentences. His show has become so popular that fans from China have translated his podcasts into Chinese for those interested in Singlish. The government sees the hybrid language as a poorly spoken form of English and has for years discouraged its use for fear it could make the country less economically competitive. Indeed, English is believed to have helped the city state earn the title of the world's easiest place to do business from the World Bank. Lee argues that it is a matter of cultural pride. Singaporeans know how to speak proper English but just don't do it in their daily lives, he said. 'It's odd for me to go to my friends upstairs and say, 'Would you like to partake of a beverage?' Everyone would look at me funny,' Lee said. There's concern about being elitist when using grammatically correct English, the language of the old colonial masters, among Singaporeans. 'It's not appropriate sometimes to speak to people, like taxi drivers, who are not that good in English. because they won't get it,' Lee said. Authorities are also pushing Singaporeans to be fluent in Putonghua. In 2009, during the global financial crisis, the government began offering subsidies for citizens and permanent residents to learn Putonghua. The courses proved popular. It was a chance for people to upgrade themselves and prepare for the economic upturn, in which China is playing a crucial role, Singapore Chinese Chamber Institute of Business spokesman Alwyn Chia said. Some businesses are desperate for people who can speak both English and Putonghua, he said. But to be truly bilingual is tough. Tan Li Yi, a former DJ at a Chinese-language radio station and now a lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, said only about 10 per cent of students are fluent in both languages. Putonghua is also an acquired tongue for many Chinese in Singapore, most of whom speak dialects like Hokkien, Chiuchow or Cantonese. Since 1979, the government has urged Chinese dialect speakers to unify by using Putonghua. The Speak Mandarin campaign has tried various tactics, from promoting cultural pride to pointing to the example of young foreign students from the West reciting Chinese poetry in a perfect Beijing accent. It was a way to shame Chinese Singaporeans Tan said. Although more of them use Putonghua now, most do not speak it well, she said. Many young Singaporean Chinese speak English at home and are exposed to Putonghua only when they start school and are tested on their ability to write Chinese. It's a shock for many pupils, Tan said. 'So there's this increasing feeling of resentment towards that language,' she said. But she believes that the added economic benefit of being able to speak the language of a rising China will generate more enthusiasm for Putonghua. China is now the largest trading partner for the Southeast Asian trading bloc. But historical hang-ups make it difficult for countries like China's southern neighbour Vietnam to embrace Putonghua. Tensions between the two countries continue, with the most recent anti-Chinese protests being held last year over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. Since the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese war, the Vietnamese government has stopped teaching Putonghua in schools and public universities, said leading economist Le Dang Doanh. This has led to a severe shortage of teachers of Chinese. Le believes that this move by the government was a mistake - one that the Vietnamese authorities may come to regret down the road as China's economy gets stronger. Instead, the government is pushing for English. It has ambitious plans for young Vietnamese to have a good command of the language by 2020. For now, developing countries like Vietnam have an easy choice between English and Putonghua. Le said learning English is the first priority, as it is needed to master science and technology: 'If you look at innovation, it's coming from the United States. It's no accident that the Nobel Prize laureates are mostly Americans.' China is getting stronger, he said, but it still has a long way to go.