A little girl grew up in a family that didn't speak much English. Her parents were educated mainly in Chinese and Malay. They learned bits of English in school, or as her mother would fondly recount, "We had only 1 English textbook."
This little girl was taught basic ABCs by her parents and in school, the teachers helped to build her vocabulary bank and grammar structures. There were plenty of English (and Chinese) books at home. Some were bought while the rest were preloved from relatives. Reading, or sometimes just trying to read, was a regular pastime. Sitting on a red stool, with a newspaper bib around her neck, she would read while her mother trimmed her hair. Enid Blyton. Roald Dahl. Famous Five. Secret Seven. Nancy Drew. There were too many to be remembered but the experience of reading and trying to read would not be forgotten.
She watched television programmes and listened to songs in English. Conversations with classmates and schoolmates were often in English. So were the chats with children in the neighbourhood. For work purposes her father tried hard to learn English and for the little girl, it was inspiring to watch. At home the parents spoke mainly in Chinese to their daughter; they did not attempt to teach her English other than what they knew. At the same time, they encouraged her to use English whenever she could. The emphasis on a bilingual environment was clear - both languages were equally important, neither was superior to the other. There was no cultural snobbery or inferiority complex. She was taught to respect the languages she came into contact with.
Little did they know that this little girl would choose to become a History and English teacher when she turned 18.
A language-rich environment can be built in many ways. It goes beyond the phonics lessons, paperbacks and educational videos. Children seek direction from parents and caregivers. What would the adults model for the children?
I am blessed to have parents who believed in the importance of all languages, who had realistic expectations of me and knew clearly that it was not a matter of giving their all to me, but giving me what was necessary and appropriate. It was the same for many of my peers, and I wish the same for my children and their peers.
#parenting #singapore #english #education #reading #caregiving #teaching #learning #parenthood #development