Saturday 7 May 2011


Heritage Education: How to Nuture Your Child's Mother-Tongue Ability?

Many children living in an environment, where his/her mother-tongue is not the predominant language of the society, will when entering kindergarten or primary school, refuse to converse any longer in his/her mother-tongue.

I discussed this with a few cross-cultural mothers, and here are some ideas, which I will be trying out to sustain Joshua's interest in his heritage and mother-tongue, Mandarin Chinese:

1. Expand Vocabulary before Kindergarten

My friend, Yang Li, and I have been analyzing the issue of why children refuse to speak his/her mother-tongue. Upon entering kindergarten and primary school, the child's language ability will explore due to the exposure he/she gets when interacting with others. The child will naturally use the language that he/she has the most words and can express himself/herself best.

To prevent refusal from speaking mother-tongues from happening, according to my friend, Yang Li, Chinese mothers need to be very determined and diligent in expanding his/her child's vocabulary to be on par with the dominant language in kindergarten and school.

Daily conversations with Mommy is no longer enough. More sophiscated, deep and rich expressions are needed to carry the child through for his/her need to express himself/herself in their increasingly expanding world. This is done through reading, reading and reading to your child. Here are some books she recommend from China based on her contacts with the Chinese teachers in China:

Read to the child story books with increasing text and expressions that will still capture the child's interests. The best children's books are actually the story books which are translated from English to Chinese, because nothing beats the Danish and English fairy-tales, which never fails to capture a child's interest in story-telling and reading. Hans Christian Andersen, for example, is one of the most popular Children's authors in China. 

Next, read to the child the children encyclopedia in Children Chinese edition. You will find that even Chinese mothers in China had a hard time knowing all the Chinese terms. Here are some book Chinese Children's Encyclopedia's titles.

The above books are appropriate for a child from 2 - 3 years old.

I fully agree with Yang Li, but this is a very tall order for a cross-cultural working mom like me. It is a long journey ahead, I am not sure I will be able to do it, but I will do my best.

2. The Secret Language

My colleague, D, shared this tip: Tell your child that this language is the secret language that Mommy and child share exclusively, that his/her classmates do not understand. I think this is a brilliant idea too.

3. Make a List of the Successes of your Heritage

Very often, the child stops speaking the mother-tongue, because the language has a low status in the environment he/she is growing up. The child becomes ashamed of his/her mother-tongue and heritage. No matter how small the successes of your heritage is, make a list and share it with your child. Teach your child that he/she has much to be proud of his/her heritage and should not be ashamed.

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