Speaking Mother Tongue with Children – Mother Tongue Co-Learning Group

One should not feel any stress at all when using one’s mother tongue; it should be natural. The Hsinchu Mother Tongue Promotion Association (新竹市母語推廣協會) not only organizes a mother tongue co-learning group weekly, they even have separate groups each learning the Hakka language and the Hoklo language. Moreover, they also hold a family market whereby participants communicate with one another using their mother tongues, helping to create a mother tongue-speaking environment for children. In the process, many adults rekindled their affinity for their mother tongues as well.
Hsinchu Mother Tongue Promotion Association
(Images: Hakka TV)

The Hsinchu Mother Tongue Promotion Association was established in 2020, and convener for the mother tongue family market Lin Hsiu-shan (林秀珊) stated that “in the beginning, I just wanted to help my child find a partner to speak mother tongue with.” She had a simple idea; find a group of like-minded parents and hold weekly gatherings whereby they narrate stories to their children using their mother tongue. Not only would the children be able to get in touch with their mother tongue, the association hoped that even the parents themselves can pick up their mother tongue once more, Lin stated.
Lin Hsiu-shan

Presently, there is a Hakka language co-learning group that meets every Tuesday, while a Hoklo language co-learning group gathers every Wednesday. Through narrating stories from picture books, playing games and so forth, parents and children alike communicate via their mother tongue.  

Li Chia-jung (李佳蓉), a parent who is part of the Hakka group, stated that “I lived with my grandmother when I was young, and communicated with her using the Hakka language. When I grew up however, I moved to Taipei for my studies, and I found that my Hakka language proficiency dipped quite a bit. I found it difficult to express what I wanted to say when speaking with my grandmother in the Hakka language when I went back to Hsinchu. That is why I joined the group, as I want to have the opportunity to practice my Hakka.”

Tai Yun-ssu (戴蘊思), another parent from the same group, has a 3-year-old son Toto who has no issue switching between the Hakka and the Hoklo language when conversing with his mother and his father respectively. Tai added that “kids who have not hit the schooling age pick up languages very quickly. I’m not concerned that Toto would get the languages mixed up, because it’s so natural for him to switch back and forth between languages. I slowly picked up the Hakka language again in the couple or so years since I gave birth. Many families who participate in the activities recognize the importance of their mother tongue for the next generation.” 

The association also enlisted the help of YouTuber Lōa Éng-hôa (賴咏華), who also actively promotes the use of mother tongues, to give a talk. Lōa opined that 2020 was a year of ‘the absence of mother tongues’, adding that “an entire generation does not know how to speak their own mother tongue. Such a phenomenon is already in place, even though we might not realize it is so as these kids are still young. Mother tongues are disappearing quickly, as the present environment is not conducive to the passing down of these languages.”
Lōa Éng-hôa

Hence, the importance of groups such as the Hsinchu Mother Tongue Promotion Association becomes even more pronounced. In such groups, parents and children alike would feel more attuned with their mother tongues. In the first family market the association held, there was a large number of participants – a clear sign that many adopted the same stance vis-à-vis their mother tongue, highlighting the necessity of a platform that integrates and a group that lends their support as all come together to share, learn, and create a mother tongue-speaking environment. Children can immerse in a stress-free mother tongue-speaking environment – and adults as well!

(Translator: James Loo
In collaboration with Fu Jen Catholic University, Department of English)