The Importance Of Keeping Your Mother Tongue Alive


Growing up as a bilingual child, I remember my Father telling me that I would speak to the neighbours in Mandarin with a Kiwi accent! It was before I started learning to speak English, and I could only get a grasp of what English sounded like. Mandarin is the first language I grew up listening, reading, writing and speaking. It’s also common that some Asians that grew up in New Zealand may prefer speaking in English with their friends. Language connects us with one another. It allows understanding, embracing one’s culture and communicating with more people.

The most common Chinese dialect is Mandarin (Putonghua), and it is the most widely spoken language in the world with over a billion speaking Mandarin. Growing up in a Western country, it’s easy to speak English for predominantly most of the time. Exposure is important. When I was younger, my parents would read books to us, and my favourite were the ones by 幾米. They had these beautiful, colourful illustrations, and moving stories. The more we speak a language, the more we connect with those who speak it. Your mother tongue can strengthen your cultural ties and allows you to communicate freely with your family.

English was one of my favourite subjects growing up, as I’ve always loved reading and writing. I like to joke that English runs in the family, as my grandfather and Uncle were English professors in Taiwan. In the article by Amy Tan titled Mother Tongue, she talks about her experiences of the Englishes she grew up speaking. I highly recommend reading it, as it allows us to understand the power of language. I truly feel that if we don’t keep our mother tongue alive, we may risk losing a part of ourselves.

What is your Mother Tongue?

Photography by Sun Jun

8 thoughts on “The Importance Of Keeping Your Mother Tongue Alive

  1. Language holds in it so much culture! More than we ever know or seem to realize! My brother and I grew up surrounded by Thai, but we never were taught it. And we didn’t pick it up as folks might think – to my mother it was so important that we know English.

    Hawaiian culture was taught at schools, and the Japanese had a big influence in Hawaii, as well. I grew up with Japanese cartoons, and Japanese food. The Chinese side of my family had very little influence on me, culturally speaking, unless you count Christianity.

    1. Yes so true, I’m nodding my head as I read your comment! I feel it so deeply when I converse with my parents and realise how important it is to keep Chinese alive. I see that’s so interesting to know! and our environments, interactions, and upbringing can really influence what languages we speak.

  2. My mother tongue is Vietnamese but actually my first language was Russian as I was born in a Soviet country and moved back to Vietnam when I was 3. I forgot all of Russian now. I love studying English when I was at school and then started studying Chinese 9 years ago. Sometimes it is quite interesting to witness how I behave little differently when speaking different languages.

  3. I grew up in Singapore where we’re required to learn at least other language (usually our mother tongue which was Chinese for me)! However I don’t think I’ve really mastered mine haha–we primarily use English in our daily conversations so I don’t get opportunities to practise speaking Chinese. It’s quite the tragedy :/

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kelly. I remember visiting Singapore back in 2012, and loved it! It was such an enjoyable time. I suppose our environment and how often we speak a language can really have an impact on the level of fluency!

  4. I am tri-lingual, Tamil – my mother tongue, English – a second mother tongue almost (as evident :P ) Bahasa Malaysia – national language.
    I do speak a sputtering of Mandarin.
    Ni hao! Wo de ming ze jiao ha li wen de (哈里文得仁)! :)

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