星期一, 7月 26, 2010

好文共賞 (一)


Cantonese, Please
Published: July 22, 2010

HONG KONG — I had always presumed that speaking to your child in your native tongue was the most natural thing in the world. Apparently not everyone thinks so.

When we held a birthday party for our two-year-old daughter several months ago, I had a bit of a shock.

The first sign came when a four-year-old Chinese boy looked annoyed and frustrated when I asked in Cantonese what snacks he would like from the table.

“No, no, no!” he yelled in English. His mother promptly translated what I said into English.

This baffled me. The boy was born and bred here in Hong Kong, and his parents are both native speakers of the dominant Cantonese dialect, but they speak to their children only in their less-than-perfect English.

It turned out they have a simple reason: They want their children to get into a prestigious international school.

They worry that if their children speak Cantonese at home they will not learn enough English to pass the interview.

The mother is delighted with her achievement. Her son has been accepted by an international kindergarten and her younger girl’s first words were all in English.

I quickly realized that she wasn’t the only one who thought like this. I noticed that several other parents at the birthday party were also speaking broken English to their children.

“I will show you how does it work,” said one father in heavily-accented English, showing a toy train to his 19-month-old son.

He admitted with slight embarrassment that his English pronunciation and grammar were not great, and trying to communicate with his toddler in a language he himself is struggling with has led to problems.

“One day I was trying to tell him this is how you button your shirt,” he said, switching into Cantonese. “But then I couldn’t say it in English, so I had to ring up a friend and ask.”

I asked: Doesn’t he think it is better to talk to his toddler in the language he is most at ease in?

“I think you’ve lived abroad for too long — you don’t understand what parents here have to think about,” the boy’s mother said. “Competition for international schools is fierce. If we don’t make sure he speaks English now, he won’t pass the interview.”

I looked at her very cute toddler, who was busy chasing a ball on the floor, and felt a bit sad.

The boy is not yet two, and he was still babbling away in baby words. Yet in this competitive world, it is considered better for him to be exposed only to English, a language that his parents are not confident speaking but one they believe is more valuable than their native tongue.

More and more, ambitious parents in Hong Kong are giving their children a head-start in English by putting them into English-speaking play groups, kindergartens and international schools. At these elite institutions, Mandarin Chinese is sometimes taught as a second language.

As for the local Cantonese dialect, who cares?

I am saddened. What will happen to those age-old nursery rhymes our grandmothers taught us, the songs we sang at kindergarten, those Tang-dynasty poems that every preschool child was taught to recite?

And surely the classic tales of the “Twenty-four pious sons” — the stories that the Chinese have used to teach their children about the Confucian virtue of filial piety since the 14th century — can’t have the same cultural resonance when translated into English.

Besides, Cantonese carries echoes of ancient Chinese that no longer exist in the official Mandarin. It is a lively language full of colorful expressions.

It is our heritage, and if we don’t pass it on, who will?

When these children are not taught to speak the language of their ancestors, a connection with their native culture is bound to be lost.

And when they grow up, how will they see themselves? Will they still have a sense of belonging to Chinese culture? Will this society’s future elites be international in outlook, yet somehow rootless in culture?

Perhaps I’m being alarmist, but I wonder whether there will be a day when we in Hong Kong come to regret the decline of our language. By that time, it may be too late.

Verna Yu is a freelance writer.

10 則留言:

Ebenezer 說...




文仔 說...

師兄,篇嘢出自“The New York Times"喎!

HHH 說...


要擔心的,應該係果D屎英文父母和D"假香蕉"。 到佢地十幾歲的時候就大家部冇話可說。

匿名 說...

毋須過慮, 此等父母人數不多. 兒童學習英語當然愈早愈好, 兩歲是適當時候, 但要教授得法, 否則可能弄巧成拙, 而企圖以英語取代母語(粵語), 弊多利少, 愚不可及.

Gideon 說...

I would say the writer is worried too much for the kid, as it will be the kid's choice to pick up the Chinese culture when they grow older. but I'm more worried about those fucked up adults. With their broken English, very soon they won't be able to communicate with their own kid. What's wrong with them??

匿名 說...

to 匿名: 此等父母人數"非常"多....多到你唔信。BB一出世, 未改中文名, 先改英文名, 未識行,先排隊報幼稚園,第時未讀書,先報會考...下刪數萬字....

xiao zhu 說...

同意 10:52匿名所說的,真的有很多。

匿名 說...

如果我英文有咁好, 可以寫文章, 我都叫人地個仔由細講廣東話講到大啦. 咁個writter 本人會唔會比自己既仔女返一d上堂只講中文既學校 ? 我覺得佢既主要內容是強調父母英語水平不高, 但硬要同d仔女講英文, 如果父母是英語流利香港人, 同仔女溝通講英文是否變成合理化 ...?

匿名 說...

Not everyone may ace two languages, sometimes you need to pick and choose. However, I think every Chinese should be able to speak Chinese (it does not matter which dialet you speak).

Prefer not to tell this time 說...

Totally agree with 10:52匿名 & Xiao Zhu!!!

So, with my background, people would be surprised that we have not even given our baby an English name! And in fact, surely I have an English name, but I am not using it even at work. So I am like the only person in the same grade who do not use the English name at work......

Frankly, when I hear the kind of irritating 'English' those people speak to their poor innocent infants, I feel rather sad and annoyed. My baby now starts to understand Cantonese, while she does not respond the same to the Mandarin her grandparents speak to her or the Shanghaiese her Papa sometimes say......

If she can't speak all the languages we speak, at least she has to keep Cantonese!!! It is such a traditional, full-of-wisdom culture, instead of just a language!

(Btw, sorry that I can't type Chinese here!)