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The Little Prince is a famous book, but it has never been in my bucket list because of my education background. During school, we have a long list of Chinese story books and novels to read that I have never thought of reading The Little Prince.
One day, my friend lends me the book. Maybe it is time for me to read the book?
小 = little, small
王子 = prince
作者：Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This is a bilingual book. I read the Chinese language section while referring to the English language section once in a while. After reading the book, the impression I have on The Little Prince is only one word: sad.
The Little Prince, whom we do not know his age, has his own views on the universe. He seems pessimistic at times, but he is optimistic at other times. I believe people at different ages read with different perspectives and gets different conclusions. As a mum-to-be, I think about my child’s future while thinking about the philosophy that I would teach my child in future.
I like the words from a three-petals flower the most:
“They have no roots, and that makes their life very difficult.”
Literally, the flower is happy that she has roots that help her not to be blown away by the wind. On the other hand, we can think of roots as our traditions and cultures that define us. I start thinking about what types of “roots” to give to my child.
Have you read The Little Prince? If no, please have a thought at reading it, at least once. If yes, please consider to read it the second time or the third time or the n time. The simple story is sure to give you some surprises even you have read it before.
For children, I would recommend this book to be read as a story book to learn new vocabulary and learn two languages at the same time. For the philosophy part, we leave it to the adults.
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.
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?
I teach my students to use Chinese language idioms or phrases in their composition so that they can get higher marks. Unfortunately, with their English-speaking family background, most of them can write well in English language but not Chinese language. One of my students even told me that there is no equivalent translation of Chinese language for some common English language phrases. (She wants to translate directly from English language to Chinese language). I want to prove her wrong.
1. 狼吞虎咽 → wolf down
狼 = wolf
虎 = tiger
吞、咽 = swallow
This idiom means someone eats hurriedly and hungrily like a wolf and a tiger.
He has not been eating for a day; once he sees the food, he wolfs down the food immediately.
2. 一眨眼之间 → in a blink of an eye
一眨眼 = a blink
之间 = in between
This phrase means something happens so quickly that it is done before you realize it.
Mother prepares the dinner in a blink of an eye.
3. 热锅上的蚂蚁 → like a cat on hot bricks
热锅上 = in the hot pot
蚂蚁 = an ant / ants
This idiom indicates an ant in a hot pot, which means a person is anxious or nervous.
The younger sister is missing; the mother is like a cat on hot bricks.
There may be no direct translation between the two languages, but we can try to find similar phrases that have the same meaning. Instead of using Google Translate, we can try Google Search to search the phrase, you may be surprised that there is an equivalent phrase. Are there other phrases or idioms in English language or Chinese language that you find difficult to translate?
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I am a Chinese-educated person. I learn Chinese since kindergarten until secondary school. Although my family language is not Chinese, my Chinese is considered good among peers. In university and working life, we use English as the main communication language.
My father foresees that English is important to me if I want to achieve something great. For the sake of his precious daughter, he sent me to a private and notable English centre to learn English when I was 15. My English was not that bad. I ace the entrance test and was in a class with working adults. My English is considered good for a Chinese-educated person. During my working life, I have received praises for good written English.
Enough with all the kudos. What other people do not know is, I learn both languages with a lot of time and effort. There is no easy way to learn a new language. We did not have fun apps or software to help us. All are learnt step-by-step, day-by-day. I watched English movies and took notes of unknown words that I can learn. When other people were enjoying Chinese movies, I looked at the translation to search for new English words. I had a lot of Chinese writing to do in school, learning each Chinese character stroke by stroke. I still remember my primary teacher asked the class to make a HanYu PinYin (汉语拼音) dictionary each from scratch…
If you ask me, is it difficult to learn English / Chinese? The answer: No, as long as you are willing to put in the effort. All the effort are worthwhile when you receive the praise, sometimes from a stranger. But the praise will not come in one or two days, not even one or two years. Praise aside, when you know the language and can appreciate its beauty, “have fun” with the language. It is something that cannot be bought by money. Besides, I enjoyed the movies I watched, and I still do.
Nowadays, there are many language learning centres and many tools to help us with language learning. It should be easier to learn a new language now compared to 10 – 20 years ago. So, make use of the technology, enjoy the learning process and wait for your effort to bear fruit 🙂