Responsible parenting tip. Teach your own mother tongue to your kids.

Starting this year 2019, I decided to pull out my 4 years-old daughter from nursery and bring her around with me. Why? Simply because I want her to learn my own mother tongue - Hokkien(Northern Malaysia version... similar to Medan,Indonesia).

Not because the nursery is doing a bad job. The operator did an excellent job of educating her, but because in the nursery..... they only focus on English and Mandarin... my daughter doesn't speak or understand a single Hokkien word. It is not their fault but rather entirely mine.

My eldest son speaks English at home with me and right now I'm regretting my earlier decision of not teaching my own mother tongue to him. Luckily I still have room to correct my mistakes. I'm teaching him Hokkien now as well.

One of the greatest gifts from our ancestor is our language. Hokkien is the language that I first learned at home and the language that I used to speak with my grandparents before they passed away. I cherished the Hokkien wisdom, the jokes and the songs they passed to me. I cherished the sweet memories of the time I spent with them.

For example, a hand game that we play when there is no dice. The game is played by flipping the hand palm to determine whose turn to be selected or eliminated next in a physical game:

La-li-La-tam-pom, Ah-pek-ciak-apom, Apom-tim-lok-hai, Ah-pek-ciak-kau-sai


La-li-La-tam-pom(meaningless sound?)

Ah-pek-ciak-apom(Old man eats pancake)

Apom-tim-lok-hai(Throw pancake into sea)

Ah-pek-ciak-kau-sai(Old man eats dog poop)

la li la tam pom

Image credit :

Age of Artificial Intelligence(人工智能时代)

As a computer guy, I strongly believed that ability to speak different languages will be more important. Ability to speak a language that have a few variants will be more important. Today, artificial intelligence program already has the ability to read ahead and understand our thoughts....such as when typing in Gmail.

First class languages should be considered as languages that artificial intelligence(A.I) won't be able to crack yet. When A.I is unable to decipher your thoughts, at least you will have "some form of protection" comparing to those that only know English and Mandarin.

This is one of the many reasons I insisted on teaching my kids Hokkien and Cantonese.

Anglophile and Mandarin-phile

In Hokkien, there is a term for anglophile - Angmor-sai or should I add another one - Mandarin-sai. These are the people that Hokkien people described as only speak English or Mandarin exclusively.

Our parent insisted us on learning English and Mandarin because they know these two languages will become important one day. However, that's during their time. Our time is different. I know that mastering own mother tongue is even more important in the days of A.I

About English, remember that Britain is no longer "Great" Britain. Today, they are more well known for Brexit mess.

Once upon a time. There's a country that called itself Great...

Once upon a time. There's a country that called itself Great...

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America is no longer great too...otherwise they won't be using the slogan Make America Great Again. At this moment of writing, they are experiencing government shutdown and their focus is building the Great Wall of USA along their southern border.

About Mandarin, remember that in China, people still speak their own mother tongue(方言) at home and use Mandarin as common language(普通语).

Now, please don't get me wrong. I'm not belittling anyone or any country. In present day and age, Bahasa Malaysia, English and Mandarin ... all are important, these are unifying and content languages.....but since my kids can learn them in school, why not teach them something they don't learn in school? Such as Hokkien, Cantonese, Telugu, Tamil, Batak or whatever your own mother tongue is?

Home report card for my kids.

My father knows 7 spoken languages - HengHwa(莆田), TeoChew, Bahasa Melayu, English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien

I speak 5 languages fluently - Bahasa Melayu, English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien

My nieces and nephews only know 3 languages - Bahasa Melayu, English and Mandarin

See a pattern here? The numbers are decreasing.

I'm putting up effort to teach and throwing a challenge to my kids. At minimum, they should try to match my level of mastering 5 spoken languages.

Conclusion: Don't wait till Hokkien ends up like Gaelic

In the United Kingdom, the government is spending £2.5 million to bring back a language - Gaelic - from extinction. See

Hopefully, Hokkien language doesn't have to reach that stage like Gaelic.

In Singapore, a country with strong base of anglophile and mandarin-phile is now airing more "dialect" content. See Facebook video on the Hokkien series Ho Seh Bo 《好世谋》.

I'd met couple of Hokkien people that no longer speak Hokkien. They seem regretful and blamed their parents for not teaching them or blamed themselves for not learning Hokkien.

I don't want to end up as a parent that don't teach my own mother tongue to my kids.

Let's us not forget about own mother tongue and let it die. Pass them down to the next generations.


  1. Instead of being a dialect, Hokkien is a mother tongue, similar to Cantonese with classical Hanzi(汉字) writings.

  2. Vietnamese used to use Hanzi, but replaced with romanized/latin script during the French colonization period.

  3. Pretty much similar to Bahasa Melayu which is written in Jawi script but got replaced by Rumi(Roman)/Latin script during the Portugese colonization period.

  4. In Peninsular Malaysia, Sankrit used to be dominant, replaced by Arabic leaning Jawi, replaced by Rumi-Jawi during Portugese-Dutch-English colonization period and finally replaced by Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia that we know today.

  5. I'm teaching and speaking Hokkien at home with my kids and refused to meet their demands/requests if they don't speak to me in Hokkien.

  6. Mandarin(which is originally from the Malay word Menteri and in turn Sanskrit Mantri) was used first by the Portuguese when they first visited China. Portuguese captains picked up this word in South-East Asia and they assumed that the Chinese people used the same word to describe their government officials or civil servants. Somehow the English picked up the word and thus came the word - Mandarin - or the language used by the elite/court or people in the palace. Mandarin or 普通話 or 中文 originated from China's central plain. That is also where the middle kingdom 中國 name from.

  7. Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and English languages are being taught at school so no need to fear that your children won't pick them up later. Only parents can teach the children Hokkien,Telugu,Cantonese, Bengali, Hainanese, etc...

  8. Hokkien or Mingnan is spoken generally in Southern Fujian province, Taiwan and parts of South-East Asia.

References: Ho Seh Bo Characters 《好世谋》人物介绍

  See also : Responsible parenting tip on using street cleaners as example to teach children

By Adam Ng(黃武俊)

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