The other day, I was talking to my colleagues about teaching our languages to our kids. One is British born Asian, who speaks Hindi with her parents and her husband speaks Punjabi growing up. One learnt Cantonese as a child. His wife is English and aside from his mum, he doesnt really speak Cantonese much. Then there is me – I speak Malay with my parents and older generation in my family. I speak a combo of Malay and English (Manglish?) with my siblings, younger gen of family and friends. As for daily life, my kids are only exposed to Malay with me. Like my colleagues – we are essentially the sole speaker of our language to our kids.
Fair to say, they were where I was last year. I always thought the language would just permeate into their lives like osmosis. I’ll just keep talking in malay (though reality is that it was 80% english and 20% malay) and they will just get it.
Except they didnt!
There was also the thought of he’ll get it one day, when we go to Brunei. Except I can see that as they get older, the need for the language dissipates and their comfort in English grows.
Would it matter anyway for him to speak Cantonese? We’re going to stay in the UK and its only his grandma who speaks Cantonese. My colleague muses.
I guess, for someone who is multiracial, only they can answer if being multilingual benefits them. Will it fill a gap in their cultural identity? Or will it not matter because you wouldnt know what you’re missing if you havent had it? Certainly knowing an extra language is always useful (also fun when you can use it as code speak). But does it matter? Will we only know decades down the line whether it is a regret not to teach the language? (I dont think anyone who is bi- or multi-lingual ever said they regretted learning another language)
In my kids case, I want them to speak the language so they can communicate with their grandparents (my parents) better.
We’re far from the goals I’ve created for them (to speak and write like a native of their peers and have a flowing conversation with grandparents) but I can’t give up.