Baby Ray, Parenthood, Teaching/Education

The right language environment for our kids – should we accommodate Singlish and dialects within this space?

28 Oct , 2015  

#sg50 #22mo #babylanguage

What is the right language environment for our kids in Singlishpore?

I am here to confess that I have no answers to this, for there is no perfect answer either! At 22mo, Ray is pretty vocal for his age, and you know he is a true blue Singaporean when he uses his singlish perfectly!

Example 1:

“Ray, why did you cry just now?”

Ray, who has since stopped crying, “I never cry what.”

Example 2:  “Mummy, Rayray wants to go out lah.”

Example 3: “Mummy, 这个是什么huh?”

Example 4: “I cannot find leh.

I am a little bit of a grammar nazi, so with Ray able to use his singlish thus perfectly, I don’t know if I should be happy or not! For the moment though, I find it cute haha. If he flunks English at primary one or something, please ask me again whether I think it’s cute LOL.

My take on our very special language is that singlish is just like any other language such as French, german etc. It is a language steeped in culture, with its own special set of rules. Words like “leh, lor, la” all mean different things when added to a sentence, a little bit like how an integral condiment can change the entire flavor of a dish. If our kids are able to use singlish perfectly at a young age, I guess we should be proud of the fact that they are able to understand the underlying rules and structural use governing Singlish?

That certainly doesn’t mean that we let our kids speak in Singlish all the time, because the ability to discern and switch effortlessly between Singlish and English will be critical in the mastery of the two languages. We do not have to and should not erase Singlish from our kids’ lives, which is such a funky, unique thing about Singapore that I am proud of, but we do have to teach them the difference between Singlish and English.

While I am all cool about Singlish though, what I am concerned about is when Ray says things like “I want drink milk milk”, instead of “I want to drink milk milk.” Of course, I don’t expect him to master English at 22mo, but there is a need to try to correct him as much as possible though, because perseverance (together with truckloads of patience) really pays off when it comes to kids!

When we parents are working, we are not the main caregivers to our kids on weekdays, so it could be our parents or a nanny that is taking care of bubs. My mom didn’t grow up with a formal education, and speaks broken English, which is not one and the same with Singlish. She is however, a multi-linguist of several dialects, such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and even Hakka. Many parents steer away from letting their kids immerse in a world of dialects, because this is a dying language, and is not much needed in the corporate world.

I don’t feel that way. Research shows that early exposure to different languages has great benefits to kids in terms of their cognitive development, and my question is, why should these ‘different languages’ only be limited to what a lot of people view as “atas languages”, such as Japanese or French? How about one of the other two languages that aren’t our mother tongue? Or dialect for that matter? Especially when we have a senior in the house who may already be a verbal expert at this language?

So this is what I always tell my mom, “speak to Ray freely in chinese, malay, hokkien or whatever dialect you wish to speak. Nevermind that he doesn’t get you now, eventually he will.” Because exposing him to our dialects and languages that the older generation speaks is preserving a part of our culture and identity that is slowly but surely, dying out. Isn’t preserving a part of our culture and history and seeing them take on a new life in a future that will no longer belong to us a truly beautiful phenomenon?

What do you envision for your own kids in the world today?



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