Growing up as a bilingual child, I remember my Father telling me that I would speak to the neighbours in Mandarin with a Kiwi accent! It was before I started learning to speak English around 4 years old, and I could only get a grasp of what English sounded like. Mandarin is the first language I grew up listening, reading, writing and speaking. It’s also common that some Asians that grew up in New Zealand may prefer speaking in English with their friends. Language connects us with one another. It allows understanding, embracing one’s culture and communicating with more people.
The most common Chinese dialect is Mandarin (Putonghua), and it is the most widely spoken language in the world with over a billion speaking Mandarin. Growing up in a Western country, it’s easy to speak English for predominantly most of the time. Exposure is important. When I was younger, my parents would read books to us, and my favourite were the ones by 幾米. They had these beautiful illustrations, and moving stories. I also loved watching some animations in Mandarin. However, the more we speak a language, the more we connect with those who speak it. Your mother tongue can strengthen your cultural ties and allows you to communicate freely with your family.
I grew up having English as one of my favourite subjects. It was something I enjoyed, as I love reading and writing. Maths and Science were not my best subjects, but I was often asked for help in Maths classes. I like to joke that English runs in the family, as my grandfather was an English professor in Taiwan, and my Uncle is an English lecturer. In the article by Amy Tan titled Mother Tongue, she talks about her experiences of the Englishes she grew up speaking. I highly recommend reading it, as it allows us to understand the power of language. I truly feel that if we don’t keep our mother tongue alive, we may risk losing a part of ourselves.
What is your Mother Tongue?