Yes, I'm Chinese... but (I'm sorry) I don't understand the language.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

... should I even apologise?

Even before the hubs and I got married, it's always been a standing joke between us that any offspring of ours will face pretty tough times in the 2nd language (Mother Tongue) department.

Ok... we're both of Chinese descent and our 'Race' states Chinese on our Identification Cards. That said, we can't speak or write the language to save our lives. Sure, the hubs understands a smattering of colloquial Mandarin, but try having a conversation with him and you'll probably be trying to decipher what he's attempting to say, if he hasn't given up after the first two words. Even if he does form a sentence, perhaps you'll be left guessing what exactly it is that he was trying to say.

I took Malay as a 2nd language in school. I had that option because when we migrated to Singapore from Indonesia, we were still able to make a choice. The husband took Mandarin in school, but I believe he developed selective listening at a very young age. He was also plagued with voluntary amnesia, which would perhaps explain as to why he totally could not recall as to what was taught both conversationally or in written form. 

BabyMoo has no choice. He has to take Chinese as a 2nd language, and it doesn't take a genius to know that he may face a lot of problems with this requirement. Not only are we not able to assist him in learning the basics of the language, we come from predominantly English speaking homes - and thus the 'problem' is magnified to epic proportions.

I'm way past worrying. In fact, I have come to a point where I realise that BabyMoo needs help as early as possible in this aspect. I believe the trick to mastering any language is the frequent usage coupled with an interest in it. That's why I am exploring all available options... I've even considered enrolling him in a full-fledged Chinese kindergarten so that he will at least maintain a balance between English and Chinese.

However, I also recognise that forcing things down a child's throat is the surest way of developing an intense dislike for it. I wouldn't want it to come to a point where he becomes 'allergic' to the language, simply because he feels forced to communicate in it.

A friend of mine mentioned to me just a couple of months ago, that his 10 year old son suddenly started failing his Chinese. He's always managed passes throughout, due to the guidance of his father - but his grades started plummeting at a very obvious rate. It's as though he totally lost interest, and couldn't be bothered to even try. Upon probing, he clammed up, and refused to even address the 'problem'... however, after much cajoling from his Mum, he finally admitted that he feels pretty resentful and 'useless' because his chinese teacher made a pretty nasty remark about his Chinese proficiency in front of the whole class, and constantly picks on him. My friend isn't someone who will take up issue with the school over things - but this was one instance when he didn't stand for it and made sure that the teacher knows exactly what she was doing to his son... if not many others.

When I related this story to DaddyMoo, he told me that this was exactly what he went through in school, so much so that he developed a loathing for the language, and just stopped bothering to try. He was constantly asked to "出去 (Chu Qu)" - 'Get Out!' of the class... and did so willingly because he couldn't understand whatever that was going on in class anyways.

This is a classic example of the importance of having the right educators - because like it or not, they are a major influence on a child's formative and schooling years. As much as they can make you, they can also as easily break you.

This is precisely why I think that BabyMoo should start off being introduced to the language on a good note, in a conducive environment, so that he will not feel 'threatened' by the language. He should not be made to feel that he's lacking in any way simply because he doesn't have the benefit of having parents who are proficient enough in the language to guide him along the way.

I think I may have finally found a great place for him to get familiar with the language.


  1. Hmmm ok I've got something to share with you. I too come from a family that don't "speaker the chineser". My 2 elder brothers took Bahasa Melayu as their mother tongue as well. But as I wanted to be able to communicate secretly with my friends over the phone, I chose mandarin so my family won't understand a word I say! But I did as badly. Usually barely at the passing rate.

    On hindsight, I don't regret picking up the language as it is much useful. My children also struggles with the language but I'm very happy that they have not had failing grades thus far!! Early exposure is important, which I now know and finding out the hard way. So thumbs up for taking this step to help babymoo pick up his mother tongue!

    1. When i first came here, my parents' focus was predominantly to ensure that i am able to follow the syllabus, given that everything is taught in English. I suppose given their position, i would have done the same and chosen a lesser 'headache' to get over.

      Then again, i think my Chinese grades would have dragged me down, especially with no help whatsoever in the home front.

      That's why i recognise the importance of introducing the language to him, and ensuring that he doesn't get scared off by it!

    2. ok why are u repeating three times??

    3. Wait ah, I ask my mobile!

  2. Come speak with me more often haha~
    Or look for DinoEgg for companion, i'm sure he'll pass a word or 2 chinese to Caden :P

    Anyway, DinoEgg cant speak Chinese before 2yrs old coz his teachers were Malays & Filipinos, in come a Shanghainese teacher who teaches proper Chinese (not our broken chinese) n suddenly 1 day he starts speaking in broken Chinese. Why broken? Coz he directly translate the English to Chinese n say it out. Bad right? But better then not speaking a word.

    I exposed to him to Ni Hao Kai Lan, a cartoon in Nickjr, where they teaches Chinese words in each episode. Not too bad, he learn abit frm there but mostly fm school.

    Whichever school or enrichment class that u intend to put him in, teacher plays a major part. The teacher must be interested in the child and his progress rather then brushing them off n tell them to 出去! ^^,

    1. Playdate soon!!

      The boy loves Ni Hao Kai Lan leh!

  3. Can understand your worries. I used to hate chinese when I was very young & the moment I have to write chinese, I can doze off just like that so during my first n second year of primary school education. My dad decided to let me take up malay as second language. I was soooo happy.

    But my nightmare started when I was sent to Singapore for studies. My mum insist I took up chinese as my mother tongue language n at that time I dunno how to write simple chinese character. It was a struggle for me during my first yr in the school n I was always punished for my mistakes. But when I reached Pri 3, my chinese result improved tremendously n I started to love the subject. Most of the credit has to go to my Chinese teacher. I guess finding the right educator has quite a bit of impact on the child's interest.

    Both my older kiddos started talking in mandarin too mainly becoz my mum always expose them to chinese educational vcd (eg, 早安老师). They were very vocal in mandarin in actuql fact. But my youngest one watched too much Baby TV, so now he's more vocal in English.

    1. Yes... teachers are important!

      I suppose it's easier when they're younger :)

  4. my little girl very good in chinese! Caden can teach her english? pc

    1. Can!! They teach each other... we have kopi! haha!

    2. Come think about it, you can re-pick up the language (maybe the speaking part first) slowly and talk to him in simple Chinese. It would be able to attract his interest, that someone in the family does speak this language and she is my mama.

      I think you can! nothing can beat you;).

    3. Yes... I thought of that, but I don't know if I want to start him off on the wrong pronunciations!



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