Native Tongue

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I want my children to learn Chinese because:

  1. I’m Chinese.
  2. It is important to me that my children retain a cultural connection.
  3. I have always regretted that I am illiterate in my parent’s language.

It was always a given that my children would learn Chinese. My wife and I did not question it. The dilemma occurred when my wife and I were deciding which dialect they would learn: Cantonese or Mandarin? The other issue is that I really don’t like the way Chinese is taught. The classroom is very traditional and uninspiring.

I do not have fond memories of Chinese school. My parents stopped sending me shortly after I started. I got into fights with the other kids. I started late, so was a year or two older than the other kids. My friends played baseball on the weekend. I didn’t think it was fair I had to go to school. I speak Cantonese awkwardly and am completely illiterate.

I cannot even write my own name in Chinese. I have to ask my father to write my children’s names. I don’t even know why I insisted my children have Chinese names. My Chinese name serves no other purpose than to remind me of my shortcomings. Even my grandmother called me by my English name when she was alive – and she was the one that gave me my Chinese name!

So I wonder about the wisdom of sending my children to Chinese school. It is “awakening” for me to be in the position my parents where in when they registered me for American kindergarten in Queens. They did not have an intimate knowledge of the English language, just like I don’t have an intimate knowledge of Chinese. I struggle to understand everything I am being told. My wife and I speak English at home. We do not share a common cultural dialect.

I toy with the idea of going back to school and getting a BA in Chinese Language. I want to be able to read in Chinese, regardless of the dialect. But I know I am a poor student. I have tried several times to learn Mandarin and have not made any progress. It is struggle to stay focused.

I wonder if my sending my children to Chinese school is a decision made from ego (a way to compensate for my own shortcoming) or if I truly believe it is beneficial for them in the future.

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