Roadmap to Graduation

As the beginning of a new term approaches, our lab director Prof Suzy Styles has a few words of advice through her own drawing of the Roadmap to Graduation! Here, she expands on the stops (and potential pitfalls) that students might face as they brave uni. Follow her Twitter account @suzyjstyles for more interesting tidbits about the brain, language, and intersensory perception!

START 💪

On the path to graduation, different people may encounter different things. Notice how the path is not straight? There are many twists and turns along the way.

Everybody has Real World Stuff outside of school that impacts the work they are able to do in school.
👉🏻Students can think about how to monitor these impacts.
👉🏻Faculty can think about how not everyone has the ability to reduce those burdens.

Everybody can lose their footing when unexpected things like illness, injury and trauma happen along the way.
👉🏻Students can think about how to communicate their needs.
👉🏻Faculty can think about how to respond compassionately.

If you are organised and lucky, working hard can put you in a position to earn YOUR BEST GRADE.
👉🏻Students can think about how not everyone is able to take this shortcut, and whether they can help others
👉🏻Faculty can think about how grades don’t necessarily reflect talent

Most people on the path to graduation will find themselves squeezed for time at some stage! What you do next depends on whether you have missed your deadline.

If the deadline has not yet passed, you have a chance to ask for help. Help comes in lots of different formats – study groups, you university’s study skills centre, the class TAs or even the student counselling centre. If you don’t want help you can always work super hard!

If a deadline has passed, and you have a valid reason for missing it, there’s another chance to ask for help!
👍It’s OK to ask for help!
👍In fact, please ask for help!!! Because it might save you from…

The FAIL-OUT PIT OF DOOM ☠️
👉🏻Students: Your main goal at Uni is to not fall in this pit on the way to graduation.
👉🏻Faculty: Help your students learn how to not fall in this pit on the way to graduation.

In summary…
Life can be hard
Some people are lucky
Be kind to yourself and to one another

Side note: Everybody looks great in graduation regalia! Let’s help you get that selfie ✌🏻

Footnotes:
Thoughts about compassionate teaching inspired by several great @bonni208 discussions on the @tihighered podcast
Thinking about how to help demystify the Hidden Curriculum inspired by conversations on the @TeachBetterCo podcast

Download for this handout is now available on @figshare! Click for high-res download:
🔗 https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare/11575644.v1

2019: A look back at BLIP Lab

Season greetings everyone! 

As we look back on the year that is coming to an end, we would like to thank all our mummies and daddies and the little ones, citizen scientists and collaborators! 

This year we began the first phase of our Baby Talk-A-Thon which will help us to understand more about the languages heard by little ones growing up in Singapore. 

We conducted a series of recordings of how parents talking to their babies when playing with books and picture cards. We have begun discovering all sorts of interesting details about how parents switch between their languages to make the interaction more fun for their babies. The language mixes unique in each household may contribute unique individual differences in language outcomes of Singaporean children! 

The Baby Talk-A-Thon will continue in the New Year – We will be contacting parents of children from 3 months to 3 years to invite 500 families to take part. Participating families will receive an individualized talk-report to help parents understand more about their child’s experiences with language. The talk-report details estimates of the number of turns taken by the parent and child, the number of adult words, and the number of child vocalisations. 

This year we also developed new materials and tools that will help us to understand how language begins emerging for children growing up in Singapore. These tools include context-appropriate vocabulary checklists of all four main languages – a measure of vocabulary size of children under 3. 

We also looked into special Red-Dot Baby-Talk words like mam-mam and shee-shee, which are some of the first words kids in Singapore learn to recognise. It is important for us to document and understand these Red-Dot words if we want to paint a fuller picture of a Singaporean child’s vocabulary.

Watch out on our Facebook for the launch of the first-ever study of these words in Singapore! We are asking people all over Singapore to help us understand how these words are used and when they are learned.

BLIP Lab has also presented our research at a number of different conferences: 

Wai Tung shared her systematic review of language interventions at the University of Oxford. 

Fei Ting presented on new approaches to characterising multilingual infants at the British Psychological Society Cognitive Developmental Joint Conference in the UK. 

Various lab members also shared their work at the International Symposium of Cognitive Neuroscience held at NTU.

We also hosted meetings with our international collaborators in our new home – the Lifespan Research Centre in the LKC Medical School at Novena. 

In the coming 2020, we look forward to beginning our neuroscience studies involving EEG and eye-tracking, continuing with Baby Talk-a-Thon & Red-Dot Baby-Talk, and pursuing the promotion of Open, Replicable science. 

We look forward to having you involved in our upcoming investigations! Join us here

Handling failures: Fixed and Growth Mindset

We shared the news recently of Singaporean students and their fear of failure as reported in the well-being survey in the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment  (PISA) – an international assessment conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 

72 per cent of Singaporean students revealed that they are anxious about how others would perceive them when they fail. 78 per cent of the students also reportedly viewed failure as something that would cast doubt on their future plans – well above the 54 per cent average reported by students from the other 37 OECD member countries. Is this just a case of being kiasu or is there more to this? 

Being kiasu is the hallmark of a being Singaporean student – with high-stakes national exams and assessments for academic and non-academic activities. While this fear of losing to others may drive students to work hard but it may also ingrain an unhealthy mindset that focuses purely on outcomes and returns.  

So how can we encourage our children to be less afraid of failing? 

Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, is known for her research on children’s mindsets when facing challenges. She identified two core mindsets: Fixed mindset, the belief that one’s abilities are predetermined at birth and set in stone and the Growth mindset, the belief that one’s qualities and skills can be cultivated and improved through hardwork and perseverance.

In her research, she saw that children with the Fixed mindset have a predetermined idea of what their abilities are and see challenges as high-risk. They shrink back and avoid challenges, thus limiting their learning opportunities. When they do try, harsh criticisms, poor grades, failures become proof that they are incapable.

On the other hand, those with the Growth mindset see challenges as a way to improve their abilities and skills. They tend not to shy away from learning something new or something difficult.  For years, her research has influenced parents, educators and education policymakers. A teacher might praise a child for making an effort on a test even if he’d failed it, believing that doing so would promote growth mindset in that student. Encouraging our children to develop the growth mindset can help make them less afraid of failing. 

But, here’s a caveat – empty praises may actually impede the development of the growth mindset. 

In Dweck’s new book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she warns about the false growth mindset. She summarises the false growth mindset as 1) believing that a person has the growth mindset all the time for all areas, and 2) oversimplifying the growth mindset to be all about effort. 

An individual may have the growth mindset for an area that she has already experienced success, for example, getting all the math problems in an assignment right. She may then be more confident when taking on other math problems. However, everyone experiences triggers that can set us on the fixed mindset for example, encountering something outside your comfort zone or meeting a person who is much better than you in something you pride yourself in. The key is being aware of what your triggers may be and being mindful when we find ourselves falling into the fixed mindset. 

Secondly, we should never oversimplify the growth mindset and just simply praise all effort. Children who don’t do well may start to see the praise for effort as just a consolation prize. They may believe that you already see them as incapable and therefore are just praising them to make them feel better.

Dweck encourages parents and teachers to not just give empty praises but tie the praises to efforts that led to learning or growth. She says to also support the children in identifying strategies that worked for them and those that didn’t. In that way, failures become part of the process of identifying strategies that didn’t work.

Children need to know that when they fail, purely redoubling the effort in ineffective strategies may not lead to success. We should help them evaluate themselves and find more effective solutions to solve their problems. 

Read more about Carol Dweck and her new book in this interview

This post is crafted by Fei Ting:  lab manager, teacher, and budding psycholinguist. 

Are you a parent or educator? Or just someone interested in the Science of Learning? Here at BLIP lab, we are researching on various factors behind the science of learning – including what children are hearing in their environments. Join us in our research

Could cultural practices affect infant development?

Credits to Karasik, L, Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Ossmy, O., Adolph, K.E.

In recent years, there has been an uptake on promoting open, reproducible, and replicable science. One aspect of reproducibility is the replicability of experiments in non-WEIRD communities (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic) but therein lies the question of cultural differences – What if our cultural behaviours change us? 

In our recent journal club session, our lab manager, Fei Ting shared an interesting article from Science News on how culture helps shape when babies walk. We invited researchers from the Rehabilitation Research Institute of Singapore (RRIS) for the session to hear their insights on cultural differences in motor development.

The idea of strapping our babies in a cradle under swathes of cloth so that only their head can move for up to 20 hours a day in their first year may be shocking and unacceptable to some. However, this practice is common in Tajikistan, where mothers secure their babies in gahvoras – traditional cradles which infants are bound tightly in. The infants are not unwrapped for feeding as mothers bend over the gahvoras to nurse and the infants defecate through a hole in the cradle.  

This practice of bounding infants and restricting their movements is largely unheard of outside the region of Central Asia and has never been studied before until recently. In contemporary child-rearing guides, parents are often encouraged to move their infants’ limbs and let them roll onto their tummies. Some paediatricians warn against binding limbs of infants as it can lead to severe long-term damage to their limbs and stun their motor development. However, that is not the case with these children who go on to develop regular motor skills despite the restrictions. In general, they reach milestones like crawling and first steps at a later time compared to children in Western societies but by age 4, they are no different from their peers in other societies. 

Now, scientists want to find out if this cultural practice affects other areas of development. 

A baby’s sensory perception of the world changes when they move from lying on their backs most of the time to being able to crawl and then walk on their own. These changes in sensory perception are also coupled with changes (mainly an increase) in interaction with caregivers – you can now point to an object, name it, then ask your baby to crawl towards it and perhaps name it again. In psychology, developmental cascade refers to the cumulative consequences of development across different developing systems e.g., motor, sensory etc.; where acquiring a certain set of skills (such as walking) influence the development of other skills (e.g. language). 

So do babies who reach developmental motor milestones slower, also acquire language slower? That is the question that researchers like Lana B. Karasik are trying to find out. 

At the end of the presentation, our lab director, Prof Suzy Styles shared with us her observations about Singaporean parents being less likely to put their kids in strollers and prams compared to parents in Australia. Here, parents carried their children if they aren’t walking, which gives them more opportunity to develop neck muscles at an earlier age. Researchers at RRIS also shared about how culture may also have implications on motor development, using the “Asian squat” as an example! 

Can you think of more cultural practices we do here in Singapore e.g. using the baby bouncer? How do the different cultures in Singapore interact with the way we learn language?

Here at BLIP Lab, we’re interested to find out more about how our diverse language backgrounds influence language development for children in Singapore. Join us in our exciting discovery by clicking on this link: https://blogs.ntu.edu.sg/blip/baby/join/

 

 

 

 

 

This article was originally drafted by Shaza and edited by Fei Ting.

Myths about early childhood bilingualism

Photo credit: vitieubao on pixabay

Will my child get confused? When should my child learn another language? My child has a condition which delays language learning, can he/she still learn a second language?

Most Singaporeans, like more than 60% of the world’s population, are bilingual or multilingual (Wei,2000). With our education system having a bilingual policy, many parents in Singapore have many concerns about raising bilingual children:

Learning more than one language limits my child’s ability to acquire language

The number one fear is that the child doesn’t only perform poorly in a second language—the “main” or first language gets affected too. However, studies have found that bilingual children:

      • Achieve similar critical milestones such as babbling and first words within the same time frame as those born in a monolingual environment (Maneva and Genesee,2002)
      • Produce first words around the same time as monolinguals (Genesee, 2003; Patterson & Pearson, 2004)
      • Are often found to know fewer words when each language is considered separately, but equivalent or even more words when the languages are considered together (Pearson & Fernández, 1994)

But will my child be confused and mix up the two languages? To answer this question, it’d probably be more accurate to ask, “will my child use words from two (or more) languages in the same sentence”? Yes. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing! Even if your child “mixes up” both languages (code mix), we can look at it this way: that this indicates their awareness of grammatical structures and constraints of each language, and their ability to activate both language systems simultaneously in a conversation. Children who are exposed to more than one language are actually competent in communicating and are usually able to adjust how much they should code mix according to who they’re speaking to. In fact, research has found that bilinguals rarely grow up using incorrect mixed sentences, especially if they receive formal education in that language in school.

Younger age = better acquisition

Some of us are aware of a ‘critical period of language acquisition’ where kids learn best. The problem is that age is usually linked to exposure, but these two factors sometimes don’t go hand in hand. There is also no consensus on whether exposure to a language at an earlier age on its own helps with achieving native-level language skills. There is evidence that other things being equal, young second language learners are more likely to attain levels of oral proficiency like those of monolinguals or, at least, greater proficiency than learners who begin to learn a second language when older (Birdsong & Vanhove, 2016)

More exposure = better acquisition

Studies report a positive relationship between exposure and language proficiency, which means that children who are more exposed to a language showed higher proficiency. In Singapore, English has become the most frequently reported main language at home for children between ages 5-10 (2010 Singapore Census). Understandably, these children might be more likely to show poorer competence in a second language, especially if they have no interest in learning it, much less using it. By encouraging the use of both languages for entertainment and fun, caregivers can help enrich their children’s language skills, and show them that there is more to learning a second language than just doing a subject in school.

My child has language and/or developmental problems, should they be learning more than one language?

Studies found that bilingual children with language impairments such as Developmental Language Disorder (or Specific Language Impairment), and developmental impairments such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, were not at greater risk of “worsening” their condition compared to monolingual children, nor do they fall short on language skills compared to monolinguals who have similar conditions (Bird et al., 2005; Hambly & Fombonne, 2012). However, these children are often excluded from bilingual programs and may have an impact on their future, such as employment opportunities or acceptance in a community, and cognitive benefits associated with bilingualism. More research needs to be done for us to learn more about how individuals neurological disorders deal with having two languages.

Here at BLIP Lab, we’re interested to find out more about the language landscape in Singapore, and how this might affect children’s language skills! We know that most children would be exposed to more than one language and are excited to see how language environments possibly change language outcomes. Join us in our discovery by clicking here.


Bird, E. K., Cleave, P., Trudeau, N., Thordardottir, E., Sutton, A., & Thorpe, A. (2005). The language abilities of bilingual children with Down syndrome. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 14, 187–199. http://dx.doi.org/10.1044/1058-0360(2005/019)
Birdsong, D., & Vanhove, J. (2016). Age of second language acquisition: Critical periods and social concerns. In E. Nicoladis & S. Montanari (Eds.), Lifespan perspectives on bilingualism. APA and de Gruyter.
Hambly, C., & Fombonne, E. (2012). The impact of bilingual environments on language development in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42, 1342–1352. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10803-011-1365-z
Genesee, F. (2003). Rethinking bilingual acquisition. In J. M. deWaele (Ed.), Bilingualism: Challenges and directions for future research (pp. 158 –182). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Genesee, F. (2015). Myths About Early Childhood Bilingualism. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 56, 6-15. doi: 10.1037/a0038599. (main ideas in this post was drawn from this review article)
Maneva, B., & Genesee, F. (2002). Bilingual babbling: Evidence for language differentiation in dual language acquisition. In B. Skarbela, S. Fish, & A. H.-J. Do (Eds.), Boston University Conference on language development 26 Proceedings (pp. 383–392). Somerville, USA: Cascadilla Press.
Patterson, J. L., & Pearson, B. Z. (2004). Bilingual lexical development: Influences, contexts, and processes. In B. A. Goldstein (Ed.), Bilingual language development and disorders in Spanish-English speakers (pp. 77–104). Baltimore, USA: Brookes.

Singapore Snapshots – Hannah’s story

Hello everyone!

My name is Hannah, and I grew up in an English-speaking household. My language background is a little different from that of the typical Singaporean’s, as I was exempted from taking ‘Mother Tongue’ classes when I was in primary school. As a result, my exposure to the Chinese language came from my experiences of being sequestered to the back of the classroom with stacks of Chinese workbooks, a class name list, and instructions to check off the names of the pupils who had handed in their homework – by matching the Chinese character names on the workbooks to the name list. This task generally took the better part of the class time and was often fraught with mistakes due to the characters all being incomprehensible and perplexingly similar to my untrained eye.

Despite this rather unconventional childhood exposure to the Chinese language, I still managed to muddle through early life with an understanding of basic, commonly spoken Chinese words and phrases, likely gleaned from kindergarten and the daily conversations of the people around me. This was satisfactory until I entered secondary school when I decided that I wanted to learn more Chinese. In order to achieve this goal, I began listening to Chinese radio stations regularly,  started watching more Chinese television programmes with the subtitles on. This regimen went on for a while with little obvious result until one day, I found that I had understood most of a story that was being told by a radio deejay! I still remember the story till this day, due in equal part to my surprise at having effortlessly comprehended a good stream of conversational mandarin, as well as the unfortunately shocking nature of the story involving accounts of grievous bodily injuries.

Although my second language ability may still pale in comparison to most other Singaporeans’, I am happy to know that I can understand at least a little of another language, as it opens up a whole new world of communication and adds a splash of extra colour to my conversational life. One tiny problem, however, is that I started learning basic French during my undergraduate years, and now find that my brain often accidentally substitutes French words for Chinese ones that I can’t remember on the spot. This can be a tad embarrassing when attempting to order lunch at the local food court by asking the aunty to jia (add, Mandarin) un peu plus (a bit more, French) cai (veg, Mandarin), merci (thank you, French), and being met with bemused confusion.

 

 

Hannah is a PhD candidate at BLIP Lab examining aspects of language learning including statistical learning.

Uniquely Singaporean terms?

Credits: Maxpixel.com

When we talk about languages in Singapore, we automatically think of Singlish. While it is true that Singlish makes our language landscape unique, we’re forgetting that we already have three other languages besides English—Mandarin, Malay, Tamil! These languages are referred to as our Mother Tongues. You’re probably wondering, “How can our Mother Tongue languages be uniquely Singaporean?”

While I was in Australia, I was delightfully surprised to find that not all Malay words I use were words Malay-speaking folks from other parts of the world were familiar with. They either use the same terms differently, or they’ve never heard of them in the first place! Here are some words that we use often here in our Red Dot but not necessarily anywhere else in the world:

Unique Singaporean words (in our Mother Tongue)

More commonly used as a verb “to lie”, Malay term bedek can also be used as an adjective “fake”, usually referring to an object. There’s a related Singlish term – Action bedek, used to refer to a pretentious person or someone who is all-talk-no-substance. Some Mandarin terms for everyday things such as HDB flats (组屋 – zǔwū) and Medisave (保健储蓄 – bǎo jiàn chǔ xǜ), is more common in Singapore than anywhere else in the world. Due to Singapore’s history and linguistic mixing, terms like kampongs (甘榜 – gānbǎng), markets (巴刹 – bāshā or pasar in Malay), and food (such as 沙爹 – shādiē which means satay), are what makes Singapore, well, Singapore. Perhaps this is why some words have found themselves in our Mandarin dictionary, much to the confusion of our fellow Mandarin speakers from overseas!

Same meaning, different words

In Malay, guna means “to use” while pakai means “to wear”. However, Singaporeans generalise the word pakai for everything, especially in conversations! It still gives some of us the giggles when someone says “tak guna” to say “(I’m) not using it” because to me, it means “I’m useless”. Other words that refers to the same things but uses a different word are found in food names, such as: roti prata, kuih dadar, puteri salat, roti kirai, and epok-epok (referred to as curry puffs or karipap in neighbouring countries—our karipap refers to another type of flaky pastry!) Mandarin speakers tend to use 老龄 (lǎo líng) instead of 乐龄 (lè líng) to refer to old people, and 德士 (déshì) instead of 出租车 (chūzūchē) for taxi.

Same word, different meanings

Originally a word for “strong” or “tough”, speakers of Singaporean Malay kental have given it a  completely different meaning! Here, when we say someone or something is kental, we’re actually saying that they’re boring or lame. Cue the look of confusion on my housemates’ faces when I told them that a boring movie was kental

Many Malay words that are “uniquely Singaporean” are often used in informal conversations and not in formal writing or speech. My Tamil-speaking friend that uniquely Singaporean Tamil words are also rare, especially in formal writing or speech. Words like chocolate are coklat in Malay and சாக்லேட் (cāklēṭ) in Tamil, which is essentially the English word written like how it would sound in Malay or Tamil.

Could you think of more words that are uniquely Singaporean? Do you use any of these uniquely Singaporean terms with babies or young children? We will be launching an online game soon to help us find out about terms that Singaporeans use with young children. Join us on our exciting journey by clicking here!

 

 

 

This post was drafted by Shaza Amran,  Research Assistant on the BLIP team.

Singapore Snapshots – Lei’s Story

Dà jiā hǎo! Wǒ shì Pān Lěi.

Born in southeastern China, I was raised in a Chinese-speaking household. My parents speak Gan Chinese to each other while speaking Mandarin to me most of the time. During my school-age years (5 to 12), my nanny spoke Cantonese to me. Since my early childhood, I experienced code-switching between two to three languages and was fascinated by the variety of the languages spoken at home and in some communities.

Growing up in Guangdong Shenzhen, which is a city filled with migrants, I came into contact with many different languages and dialects. I quickly developed a passion for learning words in these languages, mainly through conversations with people whom I have met. I would get particularly excited when I came across a new language with phonetic features or syntactic structures that are different from the languages I spoke. This passion led me to examine spoken word recognition in my undergraduate studies and to explore psycholinguistics and language development for my Master’s dissertation, as well as my current PhD thesis.

Besides Mandarin Chinese, Gan Chinese and Cantonese,  I also speak English (began learning in primary school) and Korean (began learning in high school). In order to help words in these foreign languages “stick” in my mind. I joined the film subtitles translation group, where I honed my listening and reading skills in group activities. For now, English is my main language in the workplace and within the world of academia. I can handle basic Korean with my Korean-speaking friends.

 I feel lucky that I grew up and have been experiencing life in multilingual communities as I can have the opportunity to acquire and experience diverse languages and the abundant culture they carry. Imagine if the majority of languages and dialects were not spoken by humans and the whole human race had only one language. Will we still hold on to our culture? How will we identify ourselves? 

 

 

Pan Lei is currently a PhD candidate at BLIP Lab where she examines psycholinguistic similarities and differences among people who speak different languages.

Happy Deepavali!

Deepavali is the Festival of Lights, a celebration of the triumph—of light over darkness, good over evil. 

Did you know that the term ‘Deepavali’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Dīpāval’i, which is formed by two words, ‘dipa’ meaning light or lamp and ‘avali’ meaning series or row. In Singapore, Malaysia and South India region, most people use the term ‘Deepavali’ whereas, in parts of North India, most use the term ‘Diwali’ (some interesting syllable reduction! Perhaps due to influence from the Indian languages spoken in the North). 

Before we celebrate the festive day itself, there are some preparations that need to be done—like spring cleaning, decorating our homes, and shopping for traditional outfits!  Every year, we choose a colour palette. And then we go shopping! This year, I’ve chosen a palette of deep pink, purple and yellow hues. Finding The One (the ultimate desired outfit) is always deeply satisfying. We also spend time putting up various decorations to usher in the Deepavali vibes. 

My family also participates in traditional practices that many Singaporean households observe during Deepavali, such as lighting up oil lamps at doorway entrances on Deepavali Eve as a mark of inviting of prosperity into houses. We mark newly bought traditional outfits with turmeric, a symbol of sanctity, and place them at the altar to show respect for the festivity and invite blessings for the whole family. On the morning of Deepavali itself, all family members apply a mixture of oil and shikakai (botanical term: acacia concinna, a medicinal herb) on the tip of their heads gently with three fingers. This practice is believed to help remove all impurities, after which family members go for their baths and change into their new clothes.

Throughout the day, there are many different traditions adults and children both enjoy, such as playing with sparklers and poppers. And don’t forget another enjoyable tradition—savouring goodies! Families indulge in festive treats and delicacies such as murukku, omam podi, pakora, kueh tarts and kueh makmur. My favourites are murukku and kueh tarts; the crunch and spice of the murukku cannot be found anywhere else! And, of course, who can say no to a kueh tart (or two, or five?).

My family looks forward to these fun and classic parts of Deepavali celebrations. We also love inviting non-Indian friends to participate in the festivities and share our joy. In a multicultural Singapore, it is common to have friends of diverse ethnicities come together during various festivals and have a taste of all the different practices and celebrations!  On behalf of BLIP Lab, I wish everyone a very Happy Deepavali. 

 

This post was originally crafted by Eshawaaree, a research associate at BLIP.

Singapore Snapshots: Jin Yi’s Story

I am a Chinese Malaysian who was born and raised in Singapore. The fun thing, linguistically, about growing up in Singapore but spending a significant amount of time in Malaysia is that you end up being exposed to a much larger range of languages and also to a greater extent. My parents both understand Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, English and Malay and speak all the above languages to different extents, so I grew up hearing a lot of language-mixing: questions can be asked in one language and answered in another. My parents don’t think it’s impressive that they can speak and understand so many Chinese dialects and languages because they have been taught to believe that only “Mandarin” and ‘English” are viable. Please don’t think like that. All languages and dialects are beautiful.

 My father is Cantonese and my mother is Hokkien. The fact that I never picked up Hokkien and started speaking Cantonese as soon as I could speak. I thought it was chalked down to the naturalness of patriarchy, but actually, it was just because no one really spoke Hokkien much around me. I gradually lost the use of Cantonese, though, because of the bilingualism education policy of Singapore, we were only regularly exposed to English and Mandarin. One of the reasons why I enjoy linguistics is that I get to examine how language policies such as the bilingualism education policy of Singapore shapes language beliefs and attitudes. We commonly come across people who think that all Indians in Singapore speak Tamil (not true!), or that Chinese dialects are inferior to “proper” languages (definitely not!). A whole host of Indian languages are spoken here, including Malayalam, Hindi, Punjabi etc.  In fact, Indian children in the Singapore school system can choose to take Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi or Urdu instead of Tamil. Chinese dialects are great and they have vocabularies and grammatical structures are as rich and diverse as Mandarin.   

I learnt Japanese in school because I was interested in Japanese culture and art. I even started learning Arabic for fun!  Based on my personal experience, I think it is great to let your child learn other languages. My mother was somewhat concerned about letting me learn a third language before I was in my teens because she thought it would confuse me. I suppose she must also have viewed herself as confused because as mentioned, she was speaking at least four languages by the time she was 10.  When exposed to more than one language, your child might mix up some parts of languages here and there, but don’t worry! Very often, they are just piecing information together to figure out the patterns of each language. Their developing brains are hard at work!   

In our lab, we are currently running the Baby Talk-a-thon project for us to find out more about the diversity in language environments of Singaporean children. Perhaps like me growing up, your child is hearing a whole host of languages now from their different caregivers! If you’re interested to find out more, click here

 

Jin Yi is a Research Assistant at BLIP lab who is working on the language mixes project.