Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The trouble with teaching my children Cantonese

Coming from a Cantonese speaking family I hope that one day my children will be able to speak it well enough to converse freely with my parents, their grandparents.  I was brought up speaking Cantonese and never spoke a word of English until I went to school.  I like to think that I am fairly fluent in the language; I know enough of it to be able to get about in Hong Kong and translate for my parents.  I enjoy Chinese television and music but being married to an Englishman it has been difficult trying to provide all the Chinese exposure to my children to the same extent as I have received them when growing up in England.

When my eldest was born I made a conscious effort to speak to her in Cantonese and she did understand what I said but, unfortunately, was reluctant to speak it back to me.  She was however able to understand what I was saying and responded in English.  As she got older her understanding of the language became increasingly limited, especially when she started attending nursery more often (her increased time there being as a result of me having to go back to work full time out of necessity rather than choice).  She cannot understand many of the things I say to her now and she is shy when I ask her to repeat things in Cantonese.  

As the years rolled on I continued to set aside some time to teach her using flash cards that my parents had bought from Hong Kong (the problem with these is that they had Mandarin pinyin, not Cantonese).  Unfortunately, she was showing a distinct lack of interest in learning the language.

I would like her to be around my parents more often but only I can travel to go and visit them, they cannot travel to come and stay with me which means I do not see them as often as I would like.  My mum has no understanding of the English language despite having been in this country for almost 40 years and my dad's competence in this respect seems to be getting worse with age!

Now she doesn't know any of the Cantonese I speak and whenever I visit my parents I have to translate everything for both sides.  She does, however, know how to address my parents and my brother in Cantonese, albeit her pronunciation is a bit off.  I am also happy that she does have a favourite Chinese song.  I make a point of only listening to Chinese music in my car and it has paid some dividends.

Now that my 2nd daughter has come along, I always speak to her in Cantonese and at times my older daughter shows some interest and asks what I am saying.  In time I hope that she will be able to pick up what she has lost and that both my girls will be able to appreciate the Chinese half of their heritage.

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