Monday, January 7, 2019

Languages & mother tongues

I am severely limited by the languages I know or do not know. In Singapore more than once I was embarrassed by Chinese uncles and aunties because I could not speak Mandarin well. My mother tongue is Cantonese and as a little child until Primary school I spoke only Cantonese. My mum and grandma told me that I could speak as early as 1 year old while my son started to speak after 2 years old. But my Cantonese is at best moderate and when asked to pray in Cantonese I refused. My mum is Hakka and I picked up some Hakka in my younger days as my maternal grandparents spoke only Hakka. My grandad loved me a great deal and when I was in JB for my SPM he was already in his 70s but he would drive me to and fro English College where I attended school and played sports almost every afternoon.
I still remember that my grandad on occasions would stop at a stall for tea break seeing that I was hungry and thirsty and at my uncle’s home I needed to wait until dinner at 7pm. But my primary language is English, having learned it at school from Primary 1 and started speaking it regularly albeit not on a daily basis. So if you ask me to preach, English is my favourite medium and I can express numerous idioms and some poetry as well. But Malay is a powerful language and I benefited from the Malay medium schooling from primary 2 onwards. We were the first batch to sit for SPM or O levels in Malay except for the English paper. I remember my Malay was the envy of the class including Malays and native speakers. They would seek help from me to write in good Malay. I guess it came down to my habit of reading. From primary school I loved reading English story books Famous Five and Agatha Christie. Then Secondary school I loved reading Malay classics like Hang Tuah and Malay poetry. My school teachers would often pick on me to recite poems or syair and in class there were occasions for “berpantun”. Yesterday I preached in Malay  I have done so since almost 5 years ago when I returned to Sabah from Singapore. And before that from 1994 to 2008, all in Malay. Yesterday I was not fluent at all times; anyhow it is my second or third language but it was a powerful sermon anointed by God’s Spirit. Now I am writing two books. My memoirs are done in English and I probably have to translate it to Malay for a bigger audience but John’s commentary is written in Malay and I will continue in a day or two from Chapter 11.

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