At which schools to learn a language in Singapore ::

How to select schools to learn a language in Singapore

In this article about "Selecting a language school", I talk about some things you may want to consider before signing up for a language course, such as location, quality of teaching and timing. To make it easier for you to get an overview of different your choices in terms of location, I have earlier also placed a map with the branch locations of language schools in Singapore on this blog.

In this post, I want to go a bit deeper into the different types of language learning options there are in Singapore. If you want to learn a language in Singapore as an adult, there are basically three options:

  1. The public school system
  2. Private Education institutions (PEI)
  3. Informal teaching


1. Singapore's public school system
Singaporeans are obliged to learn one language besides English, their 'mother tongue': Mandarin for the Chinese, Malay for the Malay, and an Indian language (typically Tamil) for the Indian population. Here, there is not much choice involved, because you basically join the class that is provided to you at your primary, secondary school, and junior college. There is no worry about quality, because all schools are overseen by the Singaporean Ministry of Education, which has all teachers on its payroll.

The level people reach at the end of their school education is considerable, but very much dependent on how much the language is used at home. Many Chinese families now speak mainly Mandarin at home, but more English in public life, while others speak mainly English. Thus, some people may find once working, that even though they learnt Mandarin in school to a considerable level, their Mandarin level is not sufficient to communicate smoothly with partners and customers from China.

2. Private education institutions (PEI)
The private education institutions exist to close this gap, and to teach other languages, such as Japanese, Vietnamese, French and Spanish. These schools, which are generally much smaller scale than the public schools, serve two audiences:

  1. Singaporeans and PR's who want to learn a new language, or improve their existing language skills
  2. Foreigners who come to Singapore, purely to learn a language, to pursue academic study in Singapore, or to work here.


Schools that want to serve the first category need to register as an education institution with the Ministry of Education. At the time of registrstion, things like building safety and quality of the teachers are checked, but it is a basic, one-time check.

To serve foreigners, schools need to be EduTrust accredited. The Council for Private education checks schools regularly to make sure that schools still adhere to the requirements, such as sound finance, honest communication of courses, and complaint procedures.

If you are a Singaporean, or living in Singapore as a permanent resident or employment/student pass holder, you can register with any school, but it's not a bad idea to check whether your school is certified anyway, because it guarantees that the basics are in place. And should you get into any trouble nevertheless, the school would know that their accreditation can be at stake. Here is the Edutrust registration status of language schools .

Another, more informal way to get a feel for the quality of language schools, is to check the language school listings of Yago, and see whether previous students have left any feedback.

3. Informal teaching
Some people may find the Private Education Institutions insufficiently flexible, or may find it too expensive to follow one-on-one language courses at a Private Education Institution. If you are willing to do some checking and homework yourself, you might find someone in one of the online directories, who can give you tuition at a lower price.

Obviously you won't have the backing of a school, but some people are genuinely good even if they don't hold a degree in the language they are teaching, a requirement of of many schools teaching languages in Singapore. Here are a few sites that you could give a try:

  1. 88DB
  2. ST701
  3. OLX

If you decide to go on this path, make sure you do your due diligence, and don't put any money down before you are comfortable with your teacher. While most teachers out there are legitimate, there is some risk involved. Good teachers are on this site, but you have little recourse if you are not satisfied with the teaching given to you, except to walk away and find another teacher.

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