Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bilingual By Choice

I managed to read another book while I brought my brother to Beyond for Ohagi Class. I'm afraid he was a rather large nuisance because he kept wanting to win so badly. Well, thankfully for him, he won(: Because all the Sensei's voted for him. Haha.

Well, the book I read is called "Bilingual by Choice", and I didn't see the subtitle: Raising kids in two (or more!) languages. So it's as much a parenting book as it is about being bilingual.

You see, it's really strange. Singapore has a bilingual policy, where we have to learn English and our mother tongue, yet a lot of Chinese kids can't speak either (while other languages like Malay or Tamil or Hindi don't appear to have that problem). Well, if you're in schools like MGS or ACS, then you'll have people whose English is of a very very high standard. The kind where most people won't understand, and they laugh at weird puns. The ongoing jokes in my English Class (Basically Literature) are all based on our Lit books (Think Shakespeare, Twain, etc). And in my school, Puns are the norm/highest standard of humor. And even my brother, who's in a different ACS school makes so many puns a day.

But apart from the predominantly English schools (Good at English, almost non-existent Chinese), I've noticed when I'm out that other Singaporeans don't seem to have a very good grasp of either language. They speak in a mix of languages, which is really cool, since I do have friends who'll just mix like 4/6 languages, but when they do speak in one language, even I can hear mistakes. Which is not a good sign, considering that I'm being corrected (in English at least) whenever I speak. And on the radio, my dad always complains that the "youth" Station (Chinese) has horrible Chinese. Most of the time, I don't get it, but I do see, sometimes.

Yet, I grew up in a Chinese-English household. My audio environment when I was growing up was Hokkien/Chinese/English/Malay/Indonesian/Tagalog. My Church, for the first 15/16 years at least, was predominantly in Chinese. And to be honest, my sisters and I can get by in Chinese and English, although my Chinese is very very weak. And my Hokkien is even worse. Plus, I can't speak Malay or Indonesian (forgot whatever I learnt) or Tagalog (save a few scattered words). So it doesn't seem as though immersion is effective for language learning. The very prominent case: My brother. He grew up in the same environment, but only understand English.

And when I was in China last year, I more or less shocked the Chinese with my ability to speak Chinese (they spent about 4 days hearing me argue in English first). Plus, I'm currently learning Japanese. So I'm sort-of multilingual. And I've always did like languages (even though I spent a lot of time hating Chinese). But now, I even sorta like Chinese. I watch Chinese shows, and sometimes, I lapsed into Chinese when speaking with my parents (although speaking Hokkien/Chinese with my grandparents is a must).

So, this book basically gave me an opportunity to reflect on why I learn all these languages (it's fun, except the memorisation part) and what it means to be multilingual. I actually appreciate Chinese more now, and I've got some interesting ideas to try out to improve it. You should read this book if you take more than one language, it's quite useful(:

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