Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Because some things do get lost in translation

Happy New Year! Gong Xi Fai Cai! 祝贺大家龙年龙马精神,万事大吉!

Chinese New Year has always been one of my favourite times of the year. This is our second year with Dear Daughter in tow. And I have to say - things do get betterI had a fabulous CNY.

1. For one, being with our parents and the huge extended family means I have two hands to myself. This is something which they don’t warn you of in parenting books. Have a baby and learn to do everything with one hand.

2. I am able to savour the endless rounds of good food in peace. No gobbling an entire meal in two or three bites or chasing after a toddler in between stuffing myself with mouthfuls of food.

3. DD runs around entertaining our family members. Her joy is infectious and it is great to see others loosen up with her and laugh along. This is the year she gets very interested in dogs. It cracked us up when she stands at the door beckoning the family dogs to come over with, ‘Dog! Come here!’

Guess what she saw? 

Aww, lovely puppies which are as excitable as she is. Too bad condos in KL can't keep dogs.

4. I taught DD to do the ‘gong xi’ pose, the one where you put both fists together and shake vehemently as a symbol of congratulations. Children at this age learn quickly through mimicking adults (yes, that’s why we are role models). DD saw DH and I offering two mandarin oranges to our elders and copied us by bringing mandarin oranges to her grandparents. It heartens me.

It is very important to me that DD is exposed to the Chinese traditions. I want her to learn to greet her elders, to wait till the elders eat before she can start. I want her to know not just Mandarin but also her dialects.

After living in Hong Kong for a couple of years and covering the North Asia markets, I am convinced that knowing Mandarin is mandatory and basic, knowing the dialects is the next wave of advantage.

I remember when I first started out doing sales, my boss who was the Head of Sales told me that ‘D, clients don’t buy from you because you have the best product or best price. People buy from people they like.’ It’s true, and usually speaking the local language helps break the ice and brings people closer. The benefits of knowing languages are intangible but very real.

Unfortunately for the younger generation, they are generally exposed to English only and deprived of the opportunity to learn dialects. Here in KL, it’s pretty bad. From primary level, we would be forced to choose between going completely Chinese, completely Malay or pay through the nose at an international school. At the all important early childhood stage, there is a dearth of options.

Yes, many kindergartens claim to teach Mandarin. But you don’t pick up a language unless you are immersed in it. Allow the child to interact in the language so that his/her brain forms the right synapses. The system our school uses alternates between English and Chinese weeks, allowing full bilingual immersion and have successfully produced batches of effectively bilingual children since 1998. This is why I went through the drastic measure of importing a system.

Having said that the best way to learn a language is not through a taught environment but rather in everyday life. For DD, I speak to her in English, Mandarin and Cantonese. Occasionally we learn Japanese together (I studied years of it but don’t remember most of it since I have not used the language in years). When my parents are here, I ask them to speak to her in Hokkien as well.

Initially my parents resist here fearing it would make them ‘uncool’. I had to laugh when I heard this. This coming from my strict traditional dad. After I explained to them my rationale, my dad agreed that imparting her with dialect skills is an invaluable gift.

He questioned then if it would be confusing for DD to be exposed to so many languages at a tender age. I explained to him that when children are under three, their ability to absorb information is tremendous. Just expose them to the languages actively (ie. not passively through a DVD and hope for the best) and the little seeds are planted in their brains. You will be surprised how kids pick up the nuances of languages almost instinctively.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to me is that DD is happy. I will provide her a nurturing environment to acquire knowledge and skills in a fun way. A good foundation in early childhood serves as a springboard to realizing her full potential. After this, it’s up to her how far and high she wants to fly.


  1. Thanks for dropping by :) To answer your qn, I've been taking pictures of my girl since young so I guess she's comfortable in front of the camera. I guess she picks up poses from the way I take pictures, tv and other photos she comes across. Sometimes I'll guide her but usually she just plays along naturally :)

    I agree with u abt learning a language through immersion. For me now, the focus is to get my girl interested in cultures, her own and others, so that she will like them. You tend to want to learn the language of a culture you like as you want to find out more about that culture. That's what I feel anyway :p

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

    1. Hi Ai, it's true about getting kids interested in cultures. I think as they get to understand and appreciate other cultures, they grow up to be more open minded too.

      Our concern about languages is a very real one because of the education system here in Malaysia.

  2. Me Banana that's why I send Ethan to BaoBei and after only 5 months there he is conversing like a Chinaman already :)

    1. Hi Merryn, I have heard good things about BaoBei too. Glad Ethan is thriving there!

  3. Hihi, firstly wishing you and your family a happy CNY and blessed year ahead! I was a part time Chinese teacher back in Singapore and totally agree with you on how Mandarin is mandatory but neglected. So I actually teach Angel Mandarin before English and we speak to her in Mandarin every day too. =) Thanks for popping by my blog!


    1. Summer, that's great. You are in the best position to teach Angel then.