Growing in touch with being a Chinese.

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Before I post my experience with teaching of our Mother Tongue language (i.e. Mandarin) to my kids, I thought I would describe my background first.

I was looked after by a nanny (babysitter) as a baby and only returned to home on weekends. Until I was P1. My nanny was a Peranakan, who spoke mainly English and Malay cum dialects. However, I only knew how to speak English. Only after I moved back to live with my parents did I begin to pick up Mandarin better. Even then, only my mum spoke Mandarin while my dad was English educated and conversed with us in English. Throughout my life, my holidays were spent with my beloved nanny and her family. My mandarin was really poor and I could recall the times when I got MANY eggs (0,0,0,0,0,0) for my Chinese Spelling.

It comes as no surprise that I feared and hated this subject. In Secondary school, the only way I survived reading out loud in class was simply through Han Yu Pin Yin! I was an expert in ‘reading’ my Chinese text. Naturally, I just spiraled down the vicious cycle of not recognising the Chinese Characters and disliking anything Chinese. My essays were most of the time fail without fail.

Friends who know me knew that I preferred to speak in English. If I do speak Mandarin, it would be like walking with my knees knocking into each other, tripping before another sensible sentence was formed. Basically, to most, I was ‘jiak gang dang’ (eat potato) Meaning I am more ‘English’ than Chinese. It was through much hard work and tonnes of practice with the Ten Year Series that I managed to pass my Chinese for ‘O’ and ‘AO’ levels! I vividly recalled in Junior College, 3 questions that I did in the Ten Year Series (during the train ride to take the exam) appeared on the Exam papers and I was elated! Thanking God for His grace! I even managed a B3 which stupefied both my lecturer and myself! If we passed the first Exam, we can be exempted from the second Year End Exam. I was just praying for a PASS and I would not look back! Can you imagine my giddiness when I got a B3? My lecturer was too stumped for words when I reported my grades and told him I won’t be sitting for the next Exam. : )

Ok, that was only a small victory as I was only being exam smart and not truly acquiring my language. I am uncomfortable speaking in Mandarin and I absolutely cannot read! It’ll be like 1,2, don’t know, don’t know, 3, don’t know, ?,?, 4,?????. Each number represents a character. So there, now you know how bad I am.

Ok, Here’s the part. How in the world am I going to teach and instill this language of mine to my own children??

God had a plan. He led me to fall deeply in love with this hubby of mine and in the end, I was also convicted to move over to his Church instead of the other way round. I moved over to a Chinese Congregation. Yes. I tried to hear (I didn’t understand though I heard) the Chinese Sermons and learn where in the bible is the pastor preaching from most of the Sundays. After struggling for 2 years after marriage, we had A. I was determined to NOT repeat the same mistake. I desired A to like and if possible love this language without going through what I had experienced. Both my husband and I decided to take the approach of speaking purely Mandarin to him from birth.

It was a chapter of my STEEP learning curve. I began to actively speak mandarin and seek for answers on the net and my Chinese dictionary became my best friend. My hubby of course would aid if I had problems with my phrasing. This translation website also became my right hand tool. I would search ‘bull dozer’ and it’ll instantly give me 推土机.

Lovely church friends showered us with quality children’s mandarin bible and story books to be read to A. I would do my homework by searching for the many words that I do not know before reading to him. It was really an arduous job as it took every fiber of my potato pattern to be re-tuned for Chinese Exercises like these!

I love to pray. But it was another thing to pray out loud in Mandarin! Nontheless, we had a purpose and goal, so I began to learn how to pray in Mandarin with my kids. As I taught my children through flashcards and stories, I was just one step ahead of them. Of course there were times when I succumbed to English and for a plain reason that I do not know how to describe something in Mandarin in detail! How to describe the fluffy white swan is swimming gracefully in the pond??? I had to go find most of the adjectives and nouns first!

During those times, I would find out from my hubby or friends after I describe in English and try it in Mandarin another time. It’s really an everyday affair of picking up the language conscientiously so that I can deliver it less awkwardly to my child.

Having shared the above, I thank God for the growth spurt in my grasp of my own Mother Tongue in these intense (6) years of learning together with my kids. My children speak Mandarin fluently and love to learn this language be it singing, reading or writing. I couldn’t ask for more. For your information, I also do speak English when I teach them lessons during the day and I read plenty of English Storybooks too. Just that, we make it a point to converse in Mandarin instead of English.

I am also slowly loving the depth and richness of my Mother Tongue Language. There, I’ve shared my crippled Mandarin background turned to crawling and standing stage I would like to think. heh. : ) I will be sharing more on how I teach especially the boys on how to read and learn to write their Chinese words soon. It is exciting to see how they’re learning what I’ve hated most of my life after I changed my own attitude. I hope that this will encourage mums or learners of language that it can be done if we put our heart and hard work. It is a matter of time too. This is my 9th year in my Chinese Church. And I’m grateful to be a part of this congregation and learning how to read the Chinese Bible on my own accord. : )

Do you have such struggles as well? Would love to hear your learning experience!

For more Chinese Learning Posts

  1. Our Favourite Chinese Picture Books
  2. Review of Chinese Comics, Chapter Books and More
  3. Resourceful Ways to Help Children Learn Chinese (四五快读 and More)
  4. Chinese Learning Video Series
  5. 47 Chinese Qns to ask instead of How was your day?
  6. Learning Chinese through a Chinese Translating App
  7. Chinese Copy Cat 1


  1. Inspirational!! The Chinese Bible is no mean feat to read! Teaching Chinese to me seems very much like a trial and error – unlike English, you know you can rely on phonics (somewhat graded). Chinese is very much… random? Doesn’t mean words with less strokes are frequent, and high frequency words can look so complex! Looking forward to reading how you teach your boys to read and write Mandarin!

    • Thanks Abigail for your encouragement! Yes, I agree. Chinese is a challenge and am still learning daily together with the kids! Which somehow makes the journey less intimidating and more inspiring! I am very direct with them that when mummy doesn’t know, we go search for the word together! : )

  2. Yes very inspiring indeed. Sophie’s Chinese teachers also told us that we should converse with her more in mandarin so that she can learn how to express herself better. And reading the Chinese bible, thumbs up!

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