Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The bilingual speaker: New respect accorded to them.

Or even better, multi-lingual to be exact!

When I was much younger, my mother considered sending me to a chinese school and my dad opposed , and finally I was sent to a malay school. In most cases, the Chinese people who can’t speak any Mandarin are generally labelled "banana". Some of the chinese educated students (in school then, and even now!!) seem to have an issue about any chinese who are not able to speak or write any Chinese characters or Mandarin for that matter.

What do I say to that? Actually, I really could not care less whether I can speak or I can’t speak it. (I never did anyway to begin with!) But I did take up some classes.
Not so much because I want to learn, but because I HAVE to learn. It is not exactly my favourite language in the world, and I could care less about learning it, (I’d rather learn Spanish, coz it’s much more easier than French and is more similar to English).

The kids in school (a lot of them) speak Mandarin. In order to converse with them (or to make them comfortable in conversing with me), I had to learn some Mandarin in order to communicate with them.
Whatmore, with the current unit I am taking, Cross-Cultural Communication, it discourses on the importance of bilingualism and the advantages of being bilingual.

Among the things pointed out in the readings were that "children from non-speaking backgrounds who were ex posed to English at a preschool age had a strong desire to learn and function in English, and through this rejected their first/home language. This rejection resulted in a breakdown of cultural communication- in many cases having devastating effects for family backgrounds (Filmore, 1991).

I feel that this is the case with my family as well with my nieces and nephews (who are now residing in English speaking countries). When I was younger, I was practically a non-English speaker until...well.....I don’t know. For me, it was not really a case of such, but it was for my brother. When I was younger, he didn’t like the fact that I was always speaking in Cantonese and didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of his friends! (my mother’s words!).

The other are my nieces/ nephews who are now overseas. Well, their grandfather is not pleased that the grandchild hardly/ barely speaks any Cantonese, but the thing is, it cant be avoided. The fact that there are barely any cantonese/mandarin speaking acquaintances around her, and the mere fact that her parents speak more "rojak" cantonese at home, does not really help much in the situation.

The new wave in ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching (sequential acquisition) now goes that "the emphasis in learning should instead be placed on maintaining the first/home language in a way that allows children to learn by bringing their basic linguistic background to the fore. If the first language is well developed and understood, the second language will follow the same pattern" (Giugni, 2002).

This statement is agreed by many others, including Cummins (1991) who states that successive bilingualism allows children who are already literate in one language would be able to transfer their reading skills to the other, depending on the extent of similarity between both languages, which to some extent I agree to.

In fact, research has shown that the students learn best (at the age range of 15, plus minus a few years), as they already have a basic grasp of their own home language. However, they may lack the skills in pronunciation as compared to younger learners who may achieve native pronunciation as compared to adult or teen learners.

Many parents are going into the one parent-one language approach (simultaneous acquisition) , whereby one parent strictly speaks in one language. I have seen this happen, with a friend of mine, whose mother only speaks Hokkien, and his father speaks English. This was not done intentionally, but merely out of convenience, and the friend of mine is fluent now in both languages. In the process, however, he picked up Cantonese from watching television serials (and friends as well!) and the Malay language from school.

Once the child has developed cognitively to understand that both parents are actually speaking different languages (and the child may only attain this level of cognitive understanding after the age of 5 and above!) it is important that parents continue to model proper grammatical structures for the child to follow after.

Another thing that a lot of Malaysians do, (and not just Malaysians either!) is code-switching, whereby the speaker usually mixes language to enhance communication. This is common when we can’t find the appropriate word to describe the situation or object, and we switch to either make the listener more comfortable or to better describe the situation.

In Malaysia, this is commonly known as "rojak" (which is very apparent!). However, this is not a wise practice to do in front of the child (if you intend to do the one parent-one language approach), but is fine within the context of conversing with other adults and friends. Constantly doing that will lead the child to
imitate the same, as well as cause confusion in the child to which language belongs to which!

There’s actually a lot of studies that has gone into this aspect of cross-cultural communication, and it is important that teachers of foreign languges (or those intending to teach English as a second Language) be aware of the current trends and the developmental stages of the learners and their learner styles before attempting to do so.

Even if you just intend to teach tuition, having some psychology background knowledge and strategies can really help you avoid headaches and avoid demotivating the child too much if they don’t seem to be progressing much in their learning!

1 comment:

KY said...

if you are interested in this topic, read up on "The langauge instinct" by Steven Pinker.

Some of your not-exactly-quoted stuff are there, some contracdicts..

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