Having used English as our first language for our family, we are faced with the challenge of educating them in their mother tongue – the Chinese language, or “putonghua” or Mandarin. We did not send them to Chinese school to learn the language, nor did we engage any tutors for them. The best place for them to learn it would be at my parents’ house in Ipoh!For the girls, it was easier – they spent their early days with their grandparents when we were contemplating on settling down here in good old Ipoh.
So they had early exposure to Cantonese and Mandarin with their gung-gung and por-por, and ah-tai (great-grandmother, before she passed away). This early immersion was significant for them to understand and communicate in simple Chinese. As for our Subang-born son, it was a different story. Growing up in Subang Jaya, where even the hawkers speak English, have not helped in his acquisition of his mother-tongue. So, he would declare that he is not Chinese because he speaks English, thus he is English! That would start us panicking and worrying about what their por-por would say! And she had said many things concerning the importance of the Chinese knowing their language and culture over the years for us to know that that kind of innocent declaration would spell disaster for us if they were to reach her ears!
So it is with great joy and relief that during this trip back to Ipoh, our son has suddenly broken his resistance barrier and is attempting to speak Chinese! He says that he is now in Chinese land (since this is the only place he hears Chinese being spoken a lot!) and so, he shall turn himself into a Chinese! Good thing he likes acting and he is taking this as play-acting! All of a sudden, he is speaking in sentences and asking us how to say this and that in Chinese! And of course the person with the biggest smile on her face is Por Por!
Lesson learnt: Do not fret about our kids learning languages – all they need is the environment to immerse themselves in the language (as long as we do not make them hate it in the first place by nagging or criticizing them!).
I took the opportunity of the coming Mid-Autumn Festival to teach the kids to make mooncakes (it was also my first attempt at it bit thankfully a successful one!). Giving them some background history of the culture was important for them to appreciate its significance but the fun of hands-on mooncake-making really did it for the boys! They learn the name of the festival (zhong qiu jie) and mooncake (yue bing) and recite a simple poem:
Zhong qiu jie, kuai lai le
Wo men zhuo yue bing
Zhong qiu jie, kuai dao le
Wo men chi yue bing!
Mid-Autumn Festical is coming
We all make mooncakes
Mid-Autumn Festival is coming,
We all eat mooncakes!
It is also a good opportunity to connect with grandma because her knowledge and experience in making mooncakes were needed. It was very good that the girls were able to learn this skill from her. In this digital age, where kids go online or play digital games, it can be a challenge to find a common ground for the older generation to connect with these young kids. So traditional festivals like this one is a good time to do that.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival everyone!