I was born and raised in New Zealand, and even though my grammar still has room for improvement (note my use of commas), English has always been one of my favourite subject at school. I love writing essays, reading novels and have always had a love of the language. 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 also felt more Kiwi in some ways, and 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 and to speak it, surround yourself with it and absorb it. Chinese is a beautiful language, and it’s important to remind oneself what a blessing it is to speak Chinese and English. There are certain cultural aspects of being Taiwanese that I cannot relate to, simply because I didn’t grow up in Taiwan and have never lived there long term. However, I’m much more interested in Taiwanese culture now. For me, I feel like if I ever had children I’d want them to be able to speak both languages fluently.
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, practicing, reading and listening to Chinese and trying to improve a little each day. I used to feel a little judged and guilty because I am Taiwanese, but my English is far more fluent, however my physical identity says that I should be fluent in Chinese. I have a few Asian friends who were also born here, and other’s who have grandparents and parents who all grew up in New Zealand. This means that some of them only speak English.
I’ve also had experiences where it’s assumed that my English isn’t good. I remember 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. Most of my classmates said I’m lucky I had that 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. Although I must note I grew up going to a school in the countryside, and was one of the only Asians there. English has always been one of my favourite subjects because I feel so much passion for it. The beauty of language is that it is a wonderful form of self expression and allows us to communicate to different people.
I remember being told that I should be fluent in Chinese because my Mum is a Chinese teacher. However, I remember feeling hurt by those sort of comments, because on one hand, I was very young when my Mum moved back to Taiwan after my parents divorced, and on the other hand, I was a pretty stubborn child and didn’t feel like I needed to know how to write Chinese at the time. It’s those sort of things that can really motivate you to keep on improving when you turn negative experiences into positive ones. Also, know that it’s okay that some people may have judgments, but just focus on yourself and your own self improvement. Don’t compare yourself to other Asians who are fluent in Chinese, and were born and raised here.
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.
Artwork – Modern Girl by Bodil Jane