Thursday, 21 March 2013

Raising a multi-lingual kid

... is what we hope to do!

Sito grew up speaking English and Mandarin. I grew up speaking English, Mandarin and Hokkien. We both learnt Japanese and we're learning Bahasa Indonesian now. But the last two are difficult as we started way past the sensitive period for learning languages.

Jo's boy could understand four languages - English, German, Mandarin and some Japanese from his childcare centre. I'm showing ZK English flashcards in the morning and Chinese in the evening.

That's the power of children. Early childhood is prime for learning languages. Even if they're spoken to in different languages by different people, they are able to differentiate them so no fear of confusing them.

We hope that ZK can speak both English and Mandarin well - important for school from a practical point of view. Yet, simply relying on the school is not enough - look at how many Singaporeans could master neither language despite (or because of?) our bilingual system! So we're starting at home from birth.

Sito can definitely speak English better than me, although I insist that my pronunciation of "tuition" is the accurate one :p So he's speaking English to ZK while I speak Mandarin.

Actually my Mandarin may not necessarily be better than his - he can carry out a long and difficult conversation in Mandarin, e.g. about buying houses, while I have difficulty doing so! How sad, considering I used to be so proficient in Mandarin. Blame the lack of use at work and the lack of speech when I was growing up :p

But for this early phase, ZK only needs to learn the basics so my Mandarin is definitely better - I'm pretty good with hanyu pinyin! Sito has a tendency to pronounce certain words wrongly, or in the "Singaporean Chinese way", I think, e.g. 撞 *.* But I'm nowhere near perfect either.

I recall my Chinese teachers in primary school, all pretty old-school type whose articulation was perfect. All the ch, sh, zh were properly "curled", all the terminal g (or lack of) was clear and all the 阴阳上去 were accurate. Even the 笔画 order was amazing! So I must improve my Mandarin if I want to teach him the right thing. First of all, I shall not be lazy and I must be sure to "curl" my ch, sh and zh!

We also would like him to learn Cantonese from his paternal grandparents. Many kids these days can't speak any dialect and I think that's a pity. Sito doesn't speak dialect (ordering dim sum aside!) and my Hokkien is very coffee shop-style, unlike that of my dear Grams. That leaves the grandparents. Hopefully, he will be able to understand his own dialect, unlike his parents!!

Anyway, at karaoke back in November, CY and I wondered how we could read 繁体 when we learnt 简体 Chinese in school. Singing probably helps since many of our fave songs are from Taiwan and Hong Kong which use 繁体!

PS: I had a very long PS on proper Chinese pronunciation so I've decided to move that to another post! I'm still researching on some usage so, akan datang :) (A preview here..)

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