I've been thinking about this for a long long while and haven't quite landed with an answer: do I bring my son up English-speaking or Chinese-speaking?
Being in Singapore, we are all more or less bilingual - we are required to learn English as first language and a mother-tongue as second language. The problem with these system is, well, most of us who come through are not exactly proficient in either. Especially for people like me who come from a Chinese-speaking family (my dad is Chinese educated!), we don't speak English at home and yet our Chinese is rather colloquial. Plus, these days English is my default language used at work, I think my thoughts in English these days and if I ever get into an argument, I would automatically switch to English. I also have become rather anal with English grammar and nuances when I write formal stuff. On the other hand, I take eons to read Chinese these days. I struggle to write in Chinese - very basic stuff only, please. So I can say my Chinese is only good spoken.
Call me narrow-minded, the kiasu parent in me feels that it's fundamental to get the foundation in English right. Its still THE language. If not, the child can't understand the lessons nor exam questions for even maths or science etc, how to do well right? I mean, have you seen the maths problems our kids in primary school deal with these days?!! Plus, so many kids struggle with Chinese anyway. So not being that good in Chinese is unlikely to put my child in as much of a disadvantage as compared to if he doesn't have a good grasp of English, no?? I recently attended a workshop for parents and the trainer advocated speaking good proper English to children when they are young, it helps them develop their language on the right footing. Its especially when the kids are young and learning is effortless, compared to having to correct their use of language when they are older, it's much harder. I am pretty convinced I say.
But, the thing is, so many friends have been telling me how hard it is to get their kids to learn Chinese. These friends who were brought up Chinese-speaking like me, chose to speak English only to their kids. These kids speak rather good English. But it feels kinda 'not natural' when their whole household speaks Chinese and then when the parents speak to the kids, it suddenly becomes Channel 5'. And at the end of the day, these friends send their kids to Chinese enrichment classes, to help the kids improve their Chinese. There lies my problem, my Chinese-speaking friends are sending their kids to Chinese classes because they have been bringing their kids up English speaking. Isn't it..... Ironic? Oxymoronic?? I can't quite grapple with this. I know there's no good or bad decision about this. It's a matter of choice and going either way has its consequences.
Of course, there's another group of parents who are purely English speaking and they wish their kids could do better with Chinese. And many people actually tell me that it's ok to speak let the child learn as much mandarin as he can cos there will be no lack of opportunity to learn and master English in school.
Well, I am a bit unsure which way to go. For one, my parents and parents-in-law are Chinese speaking and we speak a lot of Chinese at home. The boy speaks Chinese very well (according to my friends, rather impressive at his age). I try to speak English to him sometimes but he likes to respond in Chinese. For now, it seems like he's more comfortable in Chinese. I give him a good mix of Chinese and English stories at bedtime. I am taking a step at a time, but this is still at the back of my mind. So I am still thinking. Thinking.
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