It is indeed very difficult to make our children maintain their mother language under a foreign context. As such, I would prefer a laissez-faire attitude, not insisting them to speak Cantonese at home.
But I have changed my mind after my wife’s sharing.
After a small car accident, she has not yet had her neck and shoulder returned to the best condition. Recommended by her physiotherapist, she met a massage therapist.
Though looking like a typical Asian, her name was not at all. Here I just call her “Katy”.
Katy’s mother, a Hongkonger, settled in 1970s in Canada, where she met and married with Katy’s father and had their daughter then.
As soon as my wife sat down, Katy asked like Sherlock Holme, “Lemme guess! You’ve a Chinese surname and you’re a Chinese, right? You come to Canada because of the policies lately. Correct?”
My wife told her she was a Hongkonger, too. The identity should have brought the two ladies closer. However, Katy was unable to chat in Cantonese.
Her father only understood English, while her mother did not urge her to learn Cantonese. As a result, English became her native language, with knowing only a few Cantonese words, merely from “one” to “ten”.
Now Katy has also become a mother. She told my wife heartfeltly, while focusing on her therapy, “You MUST urge your children to learn and speak Cantonese! How come I didn’t learn it? I wish my mom had urged me and I’d have managed it now… What a regret!”
Her words did surprise my wife. Later she knew that Katy’s mother was suffering from a kind of Alzheimer’s disease which could erode patients’ language ability. As doctor foresaw, they would only be able to remember their mother language.
“If that day finally comes, I won’t be able to communicate with my mom…I’ll only at most understand the degree of pain she has from “one” to “ten”.”
I do think when Katy was young, she had never imagined her few Cantonese would finally be in great use, but in such tragic context.
“You and your brother must keep on your Chinese and Cantonese!” When my wife shared this regretful story to my daughter, I knew she was, ironically, planning which Chinese exercise books could be the best for them.
In fact, this was already the third time for me to hear such regretful story about mother language. My young Vietnamese colleague has also ever heartfeltly persuaded me to urge my children to speak Chinese.
“I do wish I’d communicate in deep with my parents and grandparents in Vietnamese. But it’s too late.” He spoke like a cancer patient urging you to quit smoking, as if he was Yul Brynner.
I think from now on, I’d better urge my children to talk with me in Cantonese. Of course, I can teach them lessons more conveniently. But other than this, I believe only in the mother language can the caring words be the most touching, memorable and long-lasting.
按摩師擁有一個西方人既名字 – 我叫佢做Katy吧，但係外表卻完全係典型亞洲人面孔。