Not all of us can speak our mother tongue. Just because we look a certain way doesn’t mean we speak or write a certain language.
The dialect Cantonese runs in my Chinese-Malaysian family. My parents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts and extended family speak it fluently (and Mandarin too). While I have no trouble listening and understanding a conversation in Cantonese, the language doesn’t come easy to me when I speak it.
Defining mother tongue can be tricky as I’ve blogged about here. It can be what we call our native language. Or family language. It could even be our second language. For this post, let’s refer to it as the language from the motherland – the lands where our family are from, the languages our ancestors spoke throughout centuries.
It’s a fact that many Chinese like to eat dumplings. Chinese people eat dumplings during the Lunar New Year. They eat dumplings for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And countless others around the world regardless of background like eating dumplings too.
Growing up, when my Chinese-Malaysian family went to out to yum cha, that was when I got to eat Chinese dumplings. These days, whenever I catch up with my Asian and non-Asian friends here in Melbourne, Chinese dumplings are usually on the menu.
There are so many reasons why we like eating dumplings.
Defining ‘dumpling’ can be tricky. All over the world, there are dumplings of all shapes, sizes and fillings. Dumplings can be loosely thought of as ‘small pieces of dough…often wrapped around a filling’, either sweet or savoury, steamed, fried or boiled. They are often thought of as an easy, simple meal. But different dumplings have different origins, and each of us has our own reasons for eating dumplings.
Come December, many of us around the world celebrate Christmas, or at the very least acknowledge this festive occasion one way or another. This includes my Chinese-Malaysian family for as long as I can remember.
No one in my immediate Asian family goes to church or follows the faith Christianity. We’ve never put up a Christmas tree at home. Never went caroling. But when I was a kid growing up in Australia, my parents wrapped presents for me and my brother in the lead up to Christmas day. They did pretty much the same when we later lived in Malaysia and Singapore – among other things too around this time of the year.
Not all of us commemorate the history behind Christmas or the birth of Jesus Christ but still get into the spirit of this season. Different cultures around the world have different ways of celebrating or spending it, or even similar ways of celebrating.
We all have passions and dreams, which our parents might not always agree with. In a stereotypical Asian family, artistic and creative dreams tend to be frowned upon, and we might have second thoughts about chasing them.
Writing is something I love. Seven year old me rushed home after school and wrote fictional adventure stories in my bedroom, and loved writing essays for English classes. These days after work, I write for this blog and work on my first book. But for as long as I can remember, my Chinese-Malaysian parents have never been keen on me spending time writing.
When we are home, the language we speak may come naturally to us. Or not. Depending on who we’re talking to at home, we may switch between speaking multiple languages and that can either be easy, or a bit of an effort.
I was born in Australia, and English is the main language of instruction in this country. It is my first language and that was what I spoke to my teachers and classmates at school. But behind closed doors back then and up until today, I speak a mixture of English, broken English and broken Cantonese; Cantonese is my Chinese-Malaysian parents’ first language.
Behind each door can be one or many languages spoken.
It can be tricky defining “first language” and “mother tongue”. In general, the terms refer to the language(s) we speak at home, and/or the languages spoken by family. As there are more diverse families around and we get opportunities to live in different places, it’s becoming more common for many of us to speak more than one language at home.
Family dinners are still quite the norm in Australia. According to a survey in 2012, 77% of Australian families eat dinner together at home five or six times a week, albeit a proportion of this in front of the TV. There’s certainly something significant about eating with family at the dining table. It’s more than just a habit.