July 1, 2011

Mummy's language

I have always believed that your mother’s language should be the first language exposed to you from the day you are born. It’s like mother’s milk being the first food that goes into your mouth the day you come into this world (in the ideal situation). The reason is simple. It is because we first came from our mother’s body and she is the very first connection we have.

Being a Singaporean married to Korean and living in Korea, my own language English is now a "foreign language". Even though these days, people are more aware of the benefits of introducing foreign languages to children from young age, they are still quite skeptical on the overall when it really comes into action.

I've never wanted English to be a foreign language for my kids because that is my language, their Mummy’s language. I want it to be part of them, in them, and always living in them. The word “Foreign” suggests different culture, alien, outside. Other than the literal point that their mother came from a different country, how can something which comes out from their mother be considered foreign? It doesn’t make sense to me.

That’s the main reason why I took pride in speaking to my kids only in my language from the day they were born. When they were still babies, my in laws would comment that I should be teaching them Korean first and not touch on English yet (until they go to school). They were concerned about the kids’ future in school. They were worried that if my kids grow up not knowing Korean, they would be looked down on in school.

However, that has never been my worry. Since their father (who doesn't speak proper English) and the rest of the world around them speak Korean, how can they grow up without knowing Korean? Instead, the more I should input English into their little minds since the only English speaker was me. So, there are 2 languages in our family - English and Korean.

I get the same question from everyone and I literally mean everyone - "Don't they get confused?" My answer is always the same "no".

I came from Singapore, a multi racial and multi language country. We get to hear at least 4 languages everywhere. Everyone, even children speak and understand at least 2 languages. This is nothing special to me but definitely not a common thing in Korea so I can understand why they see it that way.

My elder child was a late bloomer in speech and she only started talking a lot at about 33 months. Prior to that, everyone commented that the delay was due to her confusion with the 2 languages used at home. I remember that time I was under quite a bit of pressure that I became unsure about my decision to use both languages at home. Thankfully she bloomed shortly after that and all my worries were unfounded.

My 2nd child started speaking at a younger age and used a mixture of English and Korean words so it proved to me that using 2 or languages won't make your child confused. Now, at 5 and 3 years old, they speak neatly in English to me and Korean to their father, and not to mention simple translations.

I am happy that I made that decision to speak only my language to my kids. It is ok to be called a foreigner in Korea since I indeed am. However I will not allow myself to be defined as “foreign” in the eyes of my kids. Even if we are living in another country, married to a man from a different culture, let us take pride in our own language and bring them down to our kids because no matter where you go, Mummy’s language can never be a foreign language.

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