Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech last year that 71 percent of Chinese households speak English as their main language at home, up from 42 percent two decades ago.
The trend here is the same for both Malay and Indian households.
Prime Minister Lee stressed that Singaporeans "need to make more efforts to promote the use of Mandarin in our daily lives".
The founder of Luka Reads, Janice Tan, feels the same way. She told Vulcan Post that her children "struggle with their native language" and she believes many Singaporean families can relate to it.
As the Singaporeans begin to lose their bilingual lead, their company has done everything it can to be the first to bring the AI-powered robot Luka to the Singapore market.
Over 90,000 titles available
Photo credit: @ytshoots
Luka, the reading robot, was built with the latest AI technology and can read
loud picture books, which are placed in front of him, page by page, in any order.
According to Janice, Luka recognizes over 20,000 English picture books and 70,000 Chinese titles, with new ones being added every day.
In addition to books in the Luka Cloud Library, parents can also read and record picture books themselves so that Luka can read the books with her voice.
Suitable for children up to 12 years old, it can read nursery rhymes, play audiobooks and sing babies lullabies, as well as encourage older children to read aloud.
Luka was invented by the main China-based company Ling Technology. It was launched in late 2018 and started attracting customers outside of China from 2019.
Janice started Luka Reads in mid-July this year as the sole distributor for Luka in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific region.
The company started with two main products: Luka and Luka Hero. The latter is an "updated version of Luka" and has a "Point and Read" function, with which English words and Chinese characters can be read at the touch of a finger.
It also translates the English word into Chinese, which is reflected in the form of Luke's eyes on the LED screens.
The 35-year-old announced that since Luka Reads started in Singapore, “Luka introduced more than 1,000 children to the joy of reading”.
The company has since started selling Luka-compatible Chinese picture books and also shipping the robot and books internationally – from Switzerland to other Southeast Asian countries.
Raising a generation of book lovers
Photo credit: @ytshoots
Janice first found out about Luka "from mom bloggers and through Facebook groups that focus on education and raising bilingual children."
She already had plans to start a business and raved about Luka from her business partner.
The product won over both herself and her partner and she “knew they had to be the first to introduce it to the Singapore market and to countries in the Asia-Pacific region”.
The mother of three young children found the product “a great learning tool for children”.
She believes Luka will encourage children to read more, read independently, and improve their vocabulary and communication skills in both English and Mandarin.
Janice stresses, however, that Luka is not meant to be a substitute for parents who read to their children.
Instead, "Luka is there to play a supportive role – to encourage children to read independently when parents are busy with work and housework," she said.
It's evident that Janice values time with her children, which has led her to work at very unconventional hours.
Build a stronger Chinese-speaking community
Photo credit: @ytshoots
In addition to running Luka Reads and looking after her three children (ages 11 months, three and six years old), Janice also has a part-time job.
After sending her two older children to school that morning, she takes care of her youngest child in between.
She makes sure to spend time with her children when they are all home and doesn't start working until they all go to bed.
“My official working hours usually start at 10 pm. There were days in the first month of the company's formation where I worked until 5am, ”Janice told Vulcan Post.
Her business partner is also a mother with two children, and Janice admits that her biggest challenge is reconciling her existing job, Luka Reads, family and children.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they also faced many challenges and delays in logistics and shipping.
Despite the challenges, she hopes Luka will help build a stronger Chinese-speaking community and support parents who are concerned about their children's Chinese language skills.
"We have had so much great reviews and feedback from parents who are learning Chinese with their children," said Janice.
You and your partner also strive to diversify and expand the product range for Luka Reads, to source and introduce innovative and educational products.
"One of our goals is to see how we can restart the Speak Mandarin campaign here in Singapore," she said.
Selected image source: @ytshoots