Both my 12 and 16-year-old children study at Chinese schools because I want them to be able to speak English, Tamil, Bahasa Malaysia (BM) and Mandarin. Malaysia is a multiracial country so I think mastering the different languages makes it much easier for them to communicate and understand each other. When my daughter was four, I sent her to a Chinese nursery. She was never made to feel different. My daughter even picked up Cantonese over the years. When she started Year One, she had no problems keeping up with classes. At home, we speak to the children in Tamil, which they are also fluent in. Admittedly, I was initially a little worried that they would have trouble coping in a Chinese vernacular school but when I saw how well the teachers and other students treated them, I was confident that they would be okay. Children, especially at a younger age, learn languages easily. We live in Kepong where the majority are Chinese so it’s been very conducive for my children to practise speaking in Mandarin. Even at home, they speak among themselves in Mandarin. Because they started learning the language when they were young, they never questioned why we sent them to a Chinese school. To them, it’s natural to speak Tamil at home because their grandparents only speak Tamil; and to speak in Mandarin when they are in school. They have many friends in school and have never experienced any form of prejudice nor have they ever been teased for being different. I have no regrets sending them to a Chinese school because I feel that it has been very good for them.
Mother-of-two Thiru Selvi, 46
At kindergarten, the teacher made sure I was not left out. She started teaching in English first before slowly introducing us to Mandarin. So learning was easy for me. She was very patient. Even though I was the only Indian in the class, I fitted in well. We all played together and I had many friends. I am very happy that I can speak Mandarin. I can speak Tamil too but I cannot read. I think I am most comfortable speaking in English and Mandarin. Sometimes my younger brother, who also goes to a Chinese school, and I speak in Mandarin when we don’t want our parents to know what we are talking about. To me, an Indian speaking in Mandarin is not extraordinary. It’s normal. I am happy my parents decided to send me to a Chinese school. When I finish studying, I would like to become a teacher someday.
Student K. Dharani, 16
Although my husband and I can’t speak Mandarin, all our kids went to a Chinese kindergarten. From age four to 12, they studied in Chinese schools. We wanted them to know three languages and I felt that being in a Chinese school would keep them occupied as there are more things to do. Also, I liked the idea of them learning to use the abacus. It is very difficult when both parents don’t know the language because we can only help our children with their BM and English homework. But my children all attended Mandarin tuition until they turned 12 so they did not have problems in class. Also, they are very independent when it comes to their studies. Although she is now in a national school, my 17-year-old daughter goes for special tuition classes where all subjects – except BM and English – are taught in Mandarin. She said she understands lessons better when they are taught in Mandarin.
Mother-of-three Nora F. Ehsan, 48
It was quite tough for me to adjust initially because there were very few Malay students in my class. But over time, I managed to blend in by being friendly with everybody. I could cope with speaking in Mandarin but writing was hard. But by going to a vernacular school, I learnt something new.
Student Adam Hadhari, 15
“Having studied in a Chinese kindergarten made it easier for me to fit in when I went to a Chinese primary school. I already had my friends from kindergarten. Although I did experience bullying, it helped that I was friendly with everyone. Coping with studies was not a problem. I am glad I went to a vernacular school where I learnt Mandarin and made many friends who are fun.”
Student Nur Amirah, 17
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