According to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a speech last year, 71 per cent of Chinese households speak English as their main language at home, up from 42 per cent two decades ago.
The trend is the same for Malay and Indian households here.
PM Lee stressed that Singaporeans have to “put in more effort to encourage the use of Mandarin in our daily lives.”
Founder of Luka Reads, Janice Tan, also feels the same way. She told Vulcan Post that her children are “struggling with their mother tongue” and she believes that many Singaporean families can relate.
As Singaporeans are starting to lose their bilingual edge, her company has gone all out to be the first to introduce AI-powered robot called Luka into the Singapore market.
Over 90,000 Titles Available
Built with cutting-edge AI technology, Luka the reading robot, can read
aloud picture books put in front of him, page by page, in any order.
According to Janice, Luka recognises over 20,000 English picture books and 70,000 Chinese titles, with new ones being added in each day.
Besides books in the Luka Cloud Library, parents can also read and record any picture books on their own so Luka can read the books in their voice.
Suitable for children up to 12 years old, it can read nursery rhymes, play audiobooks and sing lullabies to babies, as well as encourage older kids to read aloud with it.
Luka was invented by its China-based principal company Ling Technology. It was launched in late 2018 and started to gain customers outside of China from 2019.
Janice started Luka Reads as the sole distributor of Luka in Singapore and the Asia Pacific region in mid-July this year.
The company started off with two main products: Luka and Luka Hero. The latter is an “upgraded version of Luka” and has a ‘Point and Read’ function that reads English words and Chinese characters at the point of a finger.
It also translates the English word to Chinese, which is reflected on the LED screens in the form of Luka’s eyes.
The 35-year-old shared that since Luka Reads’ launch in Singapore, “more than 1,000 children were introduced to the joy of reading by Luka.”
The company has since started selling Luka-compatible Chinese picture books, and also sent out the robot and books internationally — from Switzerland to other Southeast Asian countries.
Raising A Generation Of Book-Lovers
Janice first found out about Luka “from mom bloggers and through Facebook groups that focus on education and raising bilingual kids.”
She already had plans to start a business, and was “raving” to her business partner about Luka.
The product won both herself and her partner over, and she “knew [they] had to be the first to introduce it to the Singapore market and Asia Pacific countries.”
The mother of three young kids felt that the product was a “great educational gadget for children”.
She believes that Luka will encourage children to read more, read independently, and better their vocabularies and communication skills, in both English and Mandarin.
However, Janice emphasises that Luka is not meant to be a substitute to parents reading aloud 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 chores,” she said.
It is evident that Janice values quality time with her children, which has led her to work at very unconventional hours.
Build A Stronger Chinese-Speaking Community
Besides running Luka Reads and looking after her three children (aged 11 months, three and six), Janice also has a part-time job.
After she sends her two older children to school in the morning, she works in between caring for her youngest child.
She makes sure to spend quality time with her kids when they are all home, and only starts working after they all go to bed.
“My official working hours start usually at 10pm. There were days in the first month of starting the business where I worked till 5am in the morning,” Janice told Vulcan Post.
Her business partner is also a mother with two children, and Janice admits that her top-most challenge is juggling her existing work, Luka Reads, family and kids.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they also faced many challenges and delays with logistics and shipping.
Despite the challenges, she hopes that Luka will help build a stronger Chinese speaking community, and support parents who are worried about their kids’ Chinese language ability.
“We’ve had so many great reviews and feedback from parents who themselves are re-learning Chinese together with their kids,” Janice said.
Her partner and herself are also looking at diversifying and increasing the product range for Luka Reads, sourcing for and bringing in innovative and educational products.
“One of our goals is to see how we can reboot the Speak Mandarin Campaign here in Singapore,” she said.
Featured Image Credit: @ytshoots