Friday, 31 May 2019
Gift of Language
I wrote this for the Mother Tongues Ireland in May 2019.
Raising multilingual children has always been a mission to me, I have gone too deep to give up.
After my second child was born, I gave up my job to give the gift of language to my children, posh Mandarin Chinese that is spoken in Taiwan. 😊 Despite challenges, with the great support of my “quiet” partner, my children are not only talking to me still, but we can discuss news in Mandarin.
Although bilingualism may come easily when children are young, as soon as they start to attend the mainstream schools, English, the lingua franca dominates their heritage languages. It is imperative however, to maintain the reflex of using mother tongue with your children regardless what language they respond back. At least, the listening skill is contained and there is a slight chance of passing the mother tongue to the third generation. My children and I have this mutual reflex that we must force our brains to speak English to each other when we had to, and it didn’t feel natural.
Everyone is aware of the benefits of multilingualism. The young generation’s second or third languages in European countries are far better than their peers herein Ireland where they spent the same amount of time studying a language. It is not only the lack of motivation, but also lack of environment. There are significantly more learning prospects in English than other languages in the media. Parents need to create the opportunities.
A few tips for parents based on my own experience. I meet up with friends who speak Mandarin to their children regularly. I read stories to them in Mandarin up to they were ten. I encourage them to read and study the same. I listen to Chinese songs with them. I volunteer in their school to promote Chinese culture and language annually. I spent time watching silly cartoons or movies in Mandarin with my teens. I take every car journey as an opportunity to discuss current affairs. I do not care if I embarrass them in front of their peers. I text them in Chinese words and pinyin too sometimes. I take them home to Taiwan as much as I can afford. I felt that I have invested in too deep that there is no turning back.
To finish I have a few words from my husband on his perspective.
“It is fantastic that my children converse with ease and fluency in Mandarin with their mother. It is the only language they speak with her. Even now with them in their teens, there is no resistance to conversing in Mandarin, its just a completely natural thing for them to do having always done so. For the most part it does mean I don’t know what they are talking about, but that can be a good thing sometimes as well”.Evan Furlong