Singapore might not be an obvious choice for students wanting to learn English overseas but the country has a thriving EFL sector for international students due to the fact that English is the first language spoken by inhabitants. The international atmosphere is also a plus for students as, along with the four official languages of English, Malay, Tamil and Mandarin, as many as 20 different languages are spoken by the locals.
The city’s reputation for cleanliness and safety is also an attraction for students as Graham Sage from inlingua Singapore explains. “Singapore has a modern, clean, safe, multi-national, English-speaking environment. Students come here for the living as well as the learning experience.” The unique environment that combines a busy business atmosphere with multilingual locals and a thriving nightlife scene means that few students are disappointed with their experience.
Language schools in Singapore offer an array of courses such as exam preparation for those wanting to go on to further education, business English and general English for those interested in learning the language for its own sake. The fact that Singapore is the only English speaking country in Asia means that many international students learning English tend to be from this world region.
“English is the medium of instruction in all schools in Singapore,” says Vernon Sim from SSTC School of Further Education. “The total cost of studying English in Singapore is generally lower than in other English-speaking countries like the USA, UK and Australia. For the younger Asian students, Singapore’s proximity to their homeland is another factor. Parents can visit their children more often.”
Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean tend to be the top nationalities at EFL schools in Singapore, although some schools report that they are seeing enrolments from students from further afield. Sage says, “The predominant nationalities for overseas students are Russian, Thai, Chinese, German and Japanese. We used to get more students from the ASEAN [southeast Asia] region but through our website we are attracting a more global clientele with even students from South America and Africa asking about our courses.”
So Ryeong Kim from Geos Singapore says that the top nationality at their school is Japanese. “I think it’s because we are a Japanese company,” she says, adding that students like studying in Singapore because “they can study Chinese and Mandarin at the same time and [it is] safe”.
Other schools have seen a slight decrease in demand. “There seems to have been a slight drop in Chinese and Korean students in the last few years but we’ve seen an increase in numbers from other markets like Mongolia and Russia,” Sim adds.
Marketing efforts among Singapore English schools are also expanding with many schools using education agents to reach new students and markets overseas. “We use reputable education agents and our website for overseas marketing,” confirms Sage. “Agents tend to send groups. Individuals contact us directly.” Sim says that they also use education agents, as well as targeting students who are already studying in Singapore. “A big percentage of our students come via word-of-mouth referral from a past student who is a sibling or relative,” he adds.
While safety and cheaper costs are important factors in encouraging more students from different countries to study English in Singapore, another are the opportunities available to EFL students. Many international companies have offices in Singapore and the strong business focus of many of the people living there mean that, according to Ranitha Naidu from Ascend Education Centre, it is “easier to land a job”. Potential work opportunities may also fuel the motivation behind another group of students coming to study in Singapore those hoping to progress on to higher education there.
Goh Hung Wei from PSB Academy says of their EFL programme, “The PSB Academy Certificate in English Proficiency prepares students academically for progression into various diploma and undergraduate programmes offered at the institution. Students exiting the programme successfully are deemed to have achieved an Ielts equivalency of 5.5.”
Studying English in Singapore can be a springboard for students with plans to proceed to further education elsewhere. Kath Upshall from the International School Singapore says that they offer an English medium secondary education for local and international students and that international students come to study with them due to the fact that “many students would like to study in the west Australia, the UK and the USA [after graduating with an IB diploma]”.