English was one of my favourite subjects at school as I loved writing essays and reading novels. Although there’s still many aspects where I can improve (note my use of grammar and structuring). My mother tongue is Chinese, as I grew up learning Chinese first before English. We used to go to Saturday Chinese school as children, but I was quite lazy and didn’t feel any motivation to learn it since I was speaking English at school. Perhaps it was because all my friends spoke English, and I wasn’t living in a place or going to a school that had many people speaking Chinese.
However, now that I’m older I embrace the fact that I’m both Taiwanese and Kiwi. They are both important aspects of my identity. I realise how important it is to keep your mother tongue alive. It’s important to remind yourself what a blessing it is to speak Chinese and English. When I look back, I am incredibly grateful that my parents only spoke Mandarin to my sister and I, because language is such an important part of us. I appreciate growing up being surrounded by books and building a huge interest in reading. Now that I’m older, I put more effort into writing, reading and listening to Chinese. I used to feel a sense of guilt and shame because my Chinese wasn’t fluent but my physical identity says that I should be.
In high school, my English teacher said that it’s okay that my essay had a few grammar mistakes, because English is my second language. The trouble was that she was more lenient with me even though I was keen to improve my writing. Most of my classmates said I’m lucky I had English as a second language as an excuse, but to me it seemed quite stereotypical, because I was more fluent in English and when other classmates made grammatical mistakes it wasn’t focused on what ethnicity they are.
The beauty of language is that it allows us to communicate to different people. I’ve been asked many times if I’m an international student or what country I moved from to New Zealand. It’s understandable, because Auckland is quite a multicultural city and there are people from a vast majority of different countries. However, it does remind me of my identity and being asked these sort of questions many times has made me more assured of my own cultural identity. I suppose in writing this, I’d love to encourage you to embrace your mother tongue. Having that is such a precious part of you that can never be taken away from you. If you are also an Asian that is more fluent in English, know that you can improve your mother tongue through self motivation, practice and patience.