I wanted to note down these small stories about Lucas (my 2-and-a-half-years-old son) so that I can remember all of these precious memories about my baby when he’s still little.
When Lucas was born, both I and my husband wanted to teach him both Vietnamese (his mother tongue – both of us are Vietnamese) and English. We live in Singapore so the main communication language is English. We have a full-time helper who is a Filipino who takes care of Lucas when we are both working. During the first 1 year, his first few words were English: papa, mama, baby, mummy, daddy, broccoli, milk, water, sleep, fish, apple, etc. because my helper, whom he spent most of the time with, speaks English to him. So I would say the first language that Lucas spoke was English. During the first one year, we spoke to him in both English and Vietnamese. One thing that we insisted on teaching him first is all numbers in Vietnamese. He was able to count 1-100 in both Vietnamese and English. However, because both of us speak to him in both languages, he pick up faster when we speak to him in English than in Vietnamese. Here came my challenge: How to raise him so that he can be equally fluent in both languages. Especially, I wanted him to speak Vietnamese like a Vietnamese. However, this is not an easy thing to do, something that you can just let it be and it will be naturally. It must be done with conscious effort.
1 year ago, I bought a book by Mr Lee Kuan Yew: “My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey”. In his book, Mr Lee insisted that his children must know Chinese though English was the language of administration and international communication and the main working language in Singapore. Not only for his children but this was the mindset that he set for the whole country: To be bilingual, one should know at least 2 languages: English and one’s mother tongue. Why did he insist one must know his mother tongue when today English is spoken around the world, parents can choose the easier way for their children by making them learning just one language? Because he believes language transmits values. Learning the mother tongue language means imbibing the core items of history, tradition, value, heritage, and culture. Because he believes one must have the self-confidence and self-respect knowing one’s root. And one can only do that if one can speak one’s mother tongue. Mastering both English and the mother tongue language requires tremendous effort, especially from the parents. I think what Mr Lee said applies to the context of Singaporean and Vietnamese’s who born in Singapore, like Lucas: Study English well, but never forget that you are not an Englishman and will never be. You must know your mother tongue, and your roots, because this is what defines who you are.
So after reading his book, I determined that I will make it happen for Lucas. Both I and my husband speak to Lucas in Vietnamese 100%. We teach him Vietnamese words and teach him how to answer us in Vietnamese. His Vietnamese picks up fast. During the recent Chinese New Year, we went back to Vietnam for 2 weeks. This time, my helper went back to Philippine so she didn’t accompany us to go back to Vietnam. During these 2 weeks, Lucas met up with his grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins and everyone spoke to him in Vietnamese 100%. After he came back, his Vietnamese improved tremendously. Both I and my husband have continued to speak to him in Vietnamese, no more English, and recently I observed that he was able to switch between the 2 languages naturally and effortlessly.
Here are some examples:
Lucas (wake up in the morning): Mẹ ơi, 1 cái vớ đâu?
Mom: À chắc nó rớt đâu đó á con
Lucas: Mẹ ơi thay tã
Mom: Ừa con ra kêu auntie Gina thay tã cho con, với kiếm 1 chiếc vớ nữa
Lucas (open the door to find my helper): Auntie Gina, change diaper.
Lucas (when my helper come to him): Auntie Gina, socks, 1 piece of socks
Lucas (see the small flashlight): Mẹ ơi, cái gì vậy?
Mom: À, cái đèn pin đồ chơi á con
My helper: Baby, what is that?
Lucas: Auntie Gina, new toy
Lucas (play a game with Mommy by choosing a vehicle in a book): Mẹ thích cái nào?
Mom (point to the car): À, mẹ thích car, tiếng Việt là xe hơi á
Mom: Còn con thích cái nào?
Lucas (point to the bicycle): Baby thích cái này, bicycle, tiếng Việt là xe đạp
And here are my 2 favorite examples:
Once in a long while, Lucas’s earholes are getting dirty so I have to clean for him. But because I scare he will move, so I told my husband to turn on the TV for 5 mins so that he can sit still. Yesterday I just did for him, Today, he told me:
Lucas: Mẹ ơi Ngứa lỗ tai. (Mommy, ears are itchy)
I talk to my husband that I just clean his earholes yesterday, how can today he feel itchy again. We shouldn’t clean it too often.
Then the next moment, we know what is the real reason:
Lucas: Mẹ ơi Ngứa lỗ tai. 5 phút ti vi. (Mommy, ears are itchy. 5 mins TV)
And now when I’m writing this.
Lucas (talk to my helper): Baby’s so cute.
Lucas (turn to Mom): Mẹ ơi baby đẹp. (meaning, Lucas is handsome)
So I admit: Having a baby is a greatest joy that one can have. Believe me!
More stories on Lucas’s bilingual journey to come, and this is fun to do.
Have a great Sunday everyone!