i‑Learner Education Centre

Teacher Diaries

Teacher Diaries: Ms. Brenda – Love Speaking

“Why didn’t you speak in English or Mandarin to me when I was small?” That’s what I usually grumbled, blaming my parents, when I found speaking these languages difficult. Cantonese, my mother tongue, is the main dialect I’ve used at both home and at school. The language systems of Chinese and English, however, are quite different. It took me a while to speak a second or third language.

Research show that young children can efficiently pick up new languages as young as they can be. That’s why some parents are keen to expose their child to different languages when small. I know a Taiwanese lady whose husband is Swedish. They have a 4 year old son. She strongly believed little children aged 3 or younger can pick up 7 languages. That’s why she was trying hard to give her son a multilingual environment – she and her family and friends spoke to the boy each with a different language – she spoke Mandarin, her husband spoke Swedish, her husband’s friend spoke English, his grandfather spoke Hokkien and they showed him some Japanese videos everyday. Do you know how many languages he picked up when he was 3 years old? None! He hadn’t started speaking by then and his parents were so worried. Then his mother realised the reason why he hesitated was he might not know in which language he should speak. From then on, she and the rest of them only spoke Mandarin to him. He started to speak in half a year after that.

Quality sometimes outweighs quantity. Our own mother tongue is our strong support to learn a second or further language (even though the language systems might not be similar). Speaking a language well doesn’t just rely on being at an early age. With enough preparation, understanding of the language and motivation, adults can also learn to speak well in other languages.

You’ve tried that too, haven’t you?