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Love our Languages! Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism Community Series  


Home > Resources > Personal Reflections > Ms Janet Ang, Managing Director, IBM Singapore Pte Ltd
By Ms Janet Ang, Managing Director, IBM Singapore Pte Ltd 
 
I grew up in a family where Mandarin and Hokkien were the prevalent languages spoken at home. My language environment was influenced largely by my maternal grandmother who had bound feet and my Chinese-educated mother who was a Chinese language teacher. My dad is English-educated but sufficiently proficient in the Chinese language to court my mother and steal her heart.  The standard of my Chinese language is average but I dare say that I can understand most part of the the spoken language and can communicate well with Chinese-speaking people.
 
My four children, unlike me, grew up in an English-speaking family environment as they did not have the good fortune of having my mother around them when they were growing up. In fact, sadly, my mother had passed away even before I got married. When I asked my daughter Lilyanne, how she acquired her Chinese language skills besides through her Chinese tutor and her Chinese language classes in school, she shared with me that my singing to her and her sisters in Chinese language when they were young, reading Chinese stories to them at bed-time, and my husband and my effort at speaking in Chinese at home every now and then, all contributed positively to their learning of the language. Therefore, one tip I would encourage young parents to consider is to implement a "speak only Chinese" day or evening at home when your children are very young, and to keep it going throughout their growing years. This of course, assumes that at least one parent is proficient in the Chinese language. Listening to the language from young, according to Lilyanne, helped her feel comfortable with the language as she grew up.  She subsequently spent eight and a half years in Beijing, China.
 
Another tip is to immerse the child in the language from young especially in song, poetry, dance, and music.  For me, this has proven to be useful to develop a child’s understanding of the language, and maybe in some cases, even develop a love for the Chinese culture and the language.  My teenage daughters who most of the time, refused to speak Chinese even when my husband and I spoke to them in the language, are often "caught" belting some popular Chinese songs with absolute ease. I recall that that was also one of the ways I had grown up with the language - by singing and performing for my mother's students and friends, in Chinese.
 
When I was posted to Beijing for eight years, I began to appreciate and acknowledge the advantage of knowing the Chinese language, even if only as a second language. Knowing the language helps in my communication with the Chinese people and bridges the gap of apparent differences in culture, thought process, history and perspectives. This is very helpful at work as it builds trust and relationships and develops opportunities along the way. Upon reflection, I recognise that the Chinese language is a very rich language in itself and steeped in history. The four character proverbs in Chinese are deep in meaning and often portray colourful stories.  A third tip I have for parents is therefore, story-telling and watching Chinese movies together with your children, especially, those stories that are steeped in history or in the portrayal of values. 
 
Lilyanne described it well when she said that for her, Hua Yu is "normal" and not strange for her and in her brains. She feels that she has two separate channels to manage English and Chinese language concurrently and synchronously. She feels that this skill will put her in good stead later on in life as China will be a superpower in her generation.  The Chinese language is difficult and the Chinese tutor is helpful to have, but more important than the formal learning of the language is the informal learning of the language through Chinese movies, music, songs and dramas.