In part 1, I discussed my personal experience with my chronologically first language, Cantonese. This week, I talk about my chronologically second language, but definitely my strongest and most native language, English.
I didn’t really speak much until I was 3 years old and I barely spoke English until I entered preschool. My parents made sure I went to preschool just to bring my English level up before Kindergarten. We spoke Cantonese at home, but my language of choice quickly became English as I entered primary school.
English is the language of my schooling and of my friendships. It is the language in which I think and dream. English is the language that shapes my views and my being. It is the language in which I am most comfortable. It’s the language in which I learn new things the easiest and it is the only language in which I can easily access literature.
As a teenager, I had a period of time where I rejected much of Hong Kong, and therefore Chinese, pop culture in the 90’s. I leaned towards English language music, television and games. If I had leaned the other way towards all things Canto, then I may have been more into the Chinese side of things. However, by the time I was a teen, my brain may have already been more hard-wired for English.
I’ve also had the joy and privilege of teaching English as a second language to speakers of other languages. It was one of most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. It is really a lot of fun to help a student understand something that I take for granted everyday.
To me, English is my native language. I’ve been seriously miffed when people assume that I am not a native English speaker based on assumptions of the colour of my skin or the origins of my ethnic heritage. A friend, who is also of Chinese heritage, tried to participate in a linguistics study at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The study was looking for native English speakers. At least that’s what the poster requested. She was turned away because she learned Chinese before she learned English, but she also felt that she is a native English speaker. She was upset by the denial. I was equally upset when I heard this story. If the study wanted people who learned English first, they should have made it clearer in their research poster rather than listing “native English speakers.”