21st February is International Mother Language Day which aims to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. As a Singaporean, I am fortunate to grow up learning both English and Mandarin. Although we didn’t speak much Mandarin at home, we watched a lot of local Chinese TV and listened to Mandarin Pop. Somehow, I picked up both languages “naturally” even though my Mandarin proficiency has always been weaker than English.
Ever since I left Singapore, my Mandarin speaking skills have deteriorated a lot. I don’t even think in it much. It hasn’t been a problem till we had Theo.
We want to raise him bilingual (at least) – English and Mandarin. He goes to a local playgroup in Germany, so we aren’t concerned about him not picking up German. That should come really naturally for him. But I am encountering a lot of issues on my part when it comes to finding the right words or phrases in Chinese when speaking to him. And because he’s not growing up in a Chinese speaking environment, we need to put in more effort to make sure he’s exposed to the language.
For a 21 month old, he says a fair amount and it’s obvious that English is his strongest language right now. As he’s picking up vocabulary so quickly these days (and articulating them), I feel the pressure (especially from my husband!!!) to make sure I put in 10000% more effort to speak to Theo in Mandarin.
Apart from pragmatic reasons, we feel that it is important for Theo to learn Mandarin as he’s after all half Chinese. We want to make sure that he gets to enjoy Chinese cultural activities on top of all the British and German fun.
So, how do I go about speaking more (accurate and better) Mandarin to him?
Here’s my plan:
1. Read Chinese books daily
We read English books everyday. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be reading in Chinese. That said, I’ll probably need some help from my Chinese-guru friends on how to read some characters!
2. Watch programmes in Chinese
Currently we watch Peppa Pig together in Chinese. It really helps ME in picking up everyday language.
3. Speak solely in Mandarin without providing the English translation
I’m starting with simple greetings, commands and questions. Just after a couple of days, Theo can already say things like “Byebye”, “open”, “close”, “hello”, count from 1 to 10 when prompted and name some body parts in Mandarin. Seeing results motives me to continue speaking in Mandarin to him too!
4. Prepare thematic vocabulary
If we are going to the Natural History Museum on a weekend, I’ll prepare a simple vocabulary list for myself. I’ll look up words related to perhaps dinosaurs, museums, the sounds certain animals make etc. This means I’ll be able to provide simple description in Mandarin on what we’ll see and I won’t be standing in front of displays wondering what to say to Theo in Mandarin as his dad goes on in his Queen’s English!
Wish me luck on raising him bilingual! I’ll need a lot of help from those of you who are super proficient in Mandarin!!!