Anxiety for ‘banana’ parents


A child taking an online class in Mandarin.

CHINESE vernacular schools are known for their tough academic standards and amid the current pandemic, ‘banana’ parents are feeling added pressure.

‘Banana’ is a colloquial term for those who are ethnically Chinese but cannot speak or read Mandarin – a description embodied by the fruit that is yellow on the outside but white on the inside.

For mother Amber Choo, online classes have been a point of anxiety not only for her daughter but for herself as well.

“My mother is Eurasian and my father can speak his family dialect of Hokkien but neither of them speak Mandarin.

“Growing up at home, we spoke English almost exclusively, ” the 36-year-old said.

Choo’s child has just entered Year 1 at a local SJK(C) and now attends daily online classes held by the school.

“It’s very tough. Every subject except English and Bahasa Melayu is held in Chinese, which is understandable of course.

“This adds to my helplessness during the pandemic, ” Choo said.

Another parent, who wanted to be known only as Chuah, 38, said he spent a lot of time putting

written Mandarin messages through translation apps.

“The school has a WhatsApp group for each class and there are often questions asked by other parents that are written in Mandarin.

“I have to translate the messages one by one via Google Translate. It takes a lot of time but we’re afraid to miss anything important, ” Chuah said.

He added that although both he and his wife were working from home, they could do little to help their seven-year-old son.

“I’m not sure how much help

I can give my son by sitting next to him since I don’t understand any Mandarin.

“I feel immersion is the best way to learn a language so if my son can go to school and be surrounded by people speaking the language, he will adapt.

“Now, however, I don’t know how much he can pick up during online classes where the interaction is much more limited, ” Chuah said.

When asked about the issue, SJK(C) Chong Cheng principal Tan Wei Kuan assured parents that children could pick up a new language very quickly.

“We have a lot of pupils from families who don’t speak Mandarin at home.

“We welcome about 360 new Year 1 pupils every year and out of this, about 60 or so do not speak Mandarin at home.

“Within three to six months, however, they manage to pick up the language, ” Tan said.

Acknowledging that face-to-face interaction made learning Mandarin a lot easier, she advised parents not to worry too much.

“When their children return to school, they will catch up very fast.

“We often see pupils from non-Mandarin backgrounds competing well with their peers.”

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