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Do You Speak Dialect?

My father taught me Hokkien. His reason is that I will learn Chinese language and English language at school, but not dialects. By speaking Hokkien to my family members, I feel the sense of belonging. Furthermore, though I may not realize it when I was younger, learning Hokkien has helped me to grasp the idea of Chinese language grammar better.

Some parents may worry that learning dialect might confuse the children with other languages because of the difference in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. No, young children are good at language learning. There is no worry about confusion. The child only needs to be in a dialect-speaking environment and learn sufficient vocabulary to converse about daily life activities. Furthermore, there is no test for dialects, the child will learn happily without pressure.

Learning dialects burden the children? If it is the case, why my students who do not speak any dialects are still struggling with mother tongue? Why I, who speak Hokkien and Cantonese, can speak, read and write English language and Chinese language without problem?

Learning dialects at a later age? Why not start young when the grandparents and parents can be the child’s best teachers? Not only the child learns the dialect, he or she also learns to communicate with the grandparents and parents which will reinforce family relationship.

When I was at Hong Kong airport, I heard a child speaking fluent Cantonese. I was so touched and excited because we do not hear Singapore children speak fluent Cantonese or other dialects. I believe when the child grows up, no matter where he or she is, he or she can proudly say, “I speak Cantonese, I am from Hong Kong.”

In Singapore, the younger generation is not learning dialects. The grandparents have to learn English language or Chinese language to communicate with the grandchildren. This is very sad. When the grandparents pass away, the grandchildren will have no chance to learn dialects at a later age.

You argue that the parents can still teach dialects when their children are older. Yes, they may. But, language is a strange thing. When we first meet, the language of the first sentence that we speak to each other will determine the language we use for the rest of our relationship. It means that the parents have been used to speaking English language or Chinese language to the children, it is awkward to start speaking a dialect when, let’s say, the children are 20 years old. Thus, dialects should be learnt as early as possible.


“We are of different colours, but we speak the same dialect!”

Studies have shown that bilingual children are smarter and faster over single language children. If that is the case, multi-language children should have more advantages. Why stop at bilingual (English language and Chinese language) when we can provide the children more?

I am thankful to my father who had the foresight to teach me Hokkien. When I first met my grand-uncle, whom I have not met before, even in the absence of my father, I could confirm that he is my grand-uncle because he spoke “my” Hokkien. My father had given me the identity, the best gift that money cannot buy. It is my root, an important item to identify and define who I am.

Parents, would you teach your children to speak the dialect that you speak?



  1. duaimei says:

    I would teach my children Chinese, but I don’t speak it fluently enough. It only works if it is natural sounding. That won’t stop me from buying me niece and nephew bilingual toys (usually in America it’s English/Spanish)

    • Wendy says:

      I don’t speak Hokkien good enough too, I still mix it with English or Chinese.

      But I will certainly teach my children Hokkien.

      Bilingual toys? I should start to look around for one.

      • duaimei says:

        I was walking out of the gym today, and this lady was saying something that sounded a bit like ‘meimei’ to a child in a stroller. I slowed down, heard enough that I thought she was just saying her grandma nickname ‘Mi-ma’, but then as I was walking away, she started saying some really bad Chinese to the kid…

        Toys-R-Us usually has some. I bought my cousins a cinderella toy that spoke chinese when I was in China. I thought it was cool…

  2. Belindq says:

    You wrote a great post. Totally agreed with you. I missed the opportunity to learn since lived in Singapore while my grandparents lived in Malaysia. My cousins who live with my grandmother can speak fluent teochew.

    • Wendy says:

      It’s a pity Singapore TV bans all dialects. I learn Cantonese by watching Hong Kong drama series.

      I read about an adult who learn dialect from internet, but I am not sure if it’s effective

  3. William says:

    Yes, speaking dialects is really useful both as cultural heritage and communicating with Taiwan and Hong Kong. It’s a pity that dialects may become extinct in Singapore.

    • Wendy says:

      No, some young parents have realize the importance of speaking dialects. It is not too late to start teaching dialects to the children.

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