Learning Passage

I cannot remember how we grew up bilingual.

My parents are getting rather worried about Oliver’s mandarin. Well, I have concerns, but I will rather laugh at him. Well, because it was really funny. Dad was aghast and exclaimed to my sis that his son does not know what 零 (pronounced ling) is, and he was only verbally asking him, not even asking him to read the character. Well, it means zero, and was one of the digits in the passcode to dad’s iPad. So sis and I just gave Ollie a very puzzled look, “零是什么?” (what is ling?) and he whispered Zero while looking at the iPad. Sigh, it just means that he knows the passcode in English but not in Mandarin.

So, trying to either prove a point, or to test him, Sis asked him a few more numbers in Mandarin. AND .. oh gosh, she gave him hints in Japanese. “八是什么” (what is ba?) and I took over the hinting in my little whisper, 「はち」(pronounced hachi in Japanese). Well, after a bit of finger work, he could tell us Eight.

Why I would laugh at an almost-five-year-old’s plight is not out of meanness, it was really hilarious. Sis was in the lift with Ollie, when someone asked in Mandarin, which floor he stays at. (Context: Singapore flats are really tall, I live on the 18th, and the highest in our block is the 21st). His reply was, “一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九”。“九楼。” To translate it, it was “first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth. Ninth floor.” Fortunately, the question was not posed when he was on the way to our place. 😀

There are just too many cases of him speaking Mandarin with an English structure or accent that makes it too funny. Yet, we cannot laugh, because mom gets really pissed off when we do that. For my sis (and everyone of us in this “village”) not speaking enough mandarin to him, and also for her theory that us laughing at him will only make him shun off the language even further. Which I totally agree with, but I find it really hard to contain my smirks.

Now with Oliver having paved the way for a “bad” passage, everyone is pulling their weight in having Oscar not face the same issue. And I can now slowly recall how we turn out to be bilingual. We speak to Oscar mostly in mandarin. Except when he’s really upset, I will console him in English. Mom has now fixed a new curfew-like rule: after a certain time each day, they are only allowed to watch youtube videos in mandarin. I came home seeing how pissed off Oliver was, and Ruirui (almost-six-year-old) telling him off, “just look at the cartoons, if you don’t like Chinese, just don’t listen”. Yups, that was probably how it worked out for us – we grew up watching cartoons spoken or dubbed in mandarin, like Doraemon. We watched Chinese television programs. (We even used to watch Tamil movies before our swim class, I remember.) Even our neighbours spoke in mandarin to us, they spoke in dialects when talking among adults. All my aunts and uncles spoke in mandarin to us, they also spoke in dialects when talking among themselves (they still do that. tsk).

Maybe the bigger question to you would be, where then did we learn the English part of that “bilingual-ness”. We spoke only English in school. Other than Chinese class when we spoke in Mandarin. We used to get fined (twenty cents, fifty cents) by our teachers when we spoke words of English in Chinese class, and when we spoke words of Chinese in any other classes. When I returned home, the language reversed!!!!!!!! Dad would ask me about school in Mandarin, he would chat about history, current affairs with me in Mandarin. I had to read Chinese newspapers. When I got confused with my Chemistry homework, he would explain them to me in Mandarin (what the heck!). He must have been aghast with my language standard there and then, but I must have risen in ranks since his grandson started speaking. 😀 😀 😀

It really takes a village to raise a child. People in our current “village” speaks English by default – where can we find neighbours to speak to him in Mandarin these days? No wonder mom is pressurising his aunts and uncles to speak to him in Mandarin. Owww. And his silly uncle can’t even tell what is the “correct Mandarin” and laughed at him when he spoke correctly (perfect tone, perfect articulation). TSK! Tough times ahead.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. An early memory of Singapore was listening to four, probably high-school kids on a train chatting back-and-forth with each other in at least three different languages. I was impressed. It was a struggle for me to re-acquire serviceable Japanese after eschewing it for years during my teens. It’s certainly easier when you’re young.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. leapingtoes says:

      Regretfully, I could only switch two languages back-and-forth when I was younger. It was only when I went to Uni, that I got exposure to the different dialects and … to … Singlish…

      Liked by 1 person

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