16 October 2011

How I Struggled

This post is about Language. Chinese in particular.

Since Daen was born, we have been speaking to him in English. But now, I've been increasingly using Mandarin. He's mildly bemused and replies in English.

My Mandarin is not good. My parents are English-speaking, so I never spoke any Mandarin till I started school at seven.

Until today, I remember my first Chinese lesson vividly.

I was practically stunned. I could not understand what the teacher was saying.

It did not help that she was really fierce, pronounced my Chinese name with the wrong 'ying' (intonation) - which made me feel lousy, and would throw my jotter book on the floor in front of the class.

The trauma did not end in Primary school. 

Because I did well in the PSLE, I had the 'privilege' of going to a 'SAP Secondary School' - short for 'Special Assistance Plan'. They told me that I belonged to the top 10% of students nationwide, and would be learning Chinese as a First Language. For four years. 

While others take Chinese as a second language - learning a less difficult level of it - I was thrown into the deep end, and 'forced' to learn a higher level of Chinese.

First Language? Chinese was not even a language I spoke.

Every day, for 4 years I struggled to find friends, to fit in, to find my place. Chinese lessons were 30 minutes of treading water, trying desperately to stay afloat.

My classmates spoke Mandarin effortlessly. Sometimes, I didn't understand what they were saying but pretended I did, just so I would fit in. I learnt what the hottest Chinese pop songs and stars of the day were. I memorised them via 'han yu pin yin'.

After four years, I did learn to speak Mandarin with the correct intonation. And I got a B grade for it. (The school had excellent Chinese teachers.)  

Did I learn to love the language? No. 

Did I want to speak in Mandarin? Most definitely not.

The only consolation was that because I had learnt it as a First Language for four years, I wouldn't have to take it as a subject in Junior College. I rejoiced that I would be spared another two years of the dreaded language. I could banish Chinese from my world once and for all, and never touch it again. 

Until now. 

When you have children, it seem like you live life all over again. 

And I am determined to do everything possible, to ensure Daen doesn't have the same experience as I did. 

It's just way too painful.

The time to turn the tide is now. When he is still open to learning anything. 

Already he is showing a preference for English, since mummy loves English too. He says a few Chinese words with an English slang.

Research shows that a child has to be exposed to a language 40% each day to pick it up.

Which is why I've had to take my Mandarin out of the closet and start wearing it again. Daily. 

I have had to convince my highly-resistive brain that the days of luxuriating solely in the English language are over. 

It is not that I dislike the language. I just had a bad time with its introduction and induction. 

But as we all know, practice makes perfect. The more I use it, the more effortless it is becoming. I can at least carry on a conversation with people in the park.

Perhaps the real reason is not that I don't want Daen to suffer like I did. 

Rather, it is me not wanting to relive that unhappy period of my life, when the time comes to coach Daen in his studies.

That, is enough to drive me to do whatever I can to prevent it from happening. 

It's time to dig that English-Chinese dictionary out of the drawer.