Bilingual Bites! - Mediacorp YES933 DJ Siau Jiahui 萧嘉蕙

For our first Bilingual Bite, we're honoured to have radio DJ, voiceover artiste and events / live-streaming host Siau Jiahui 萧嘉蕙 to share her bilingual journey with her daughter Little T, and how #StoryTimewithJiahui came about.

Tell us about yourself, your family, and your work!

Hi, I'm Jiahui! I've been in the radio industry for almost 20 years. In 2016, I gave birth to Little T, and she's in Kindergarten 2 this year.

How was your bilingual environment growing up?

I was raised in a Mandarin-speaking family. My parents were native Mandarin speakers and did not speak English at all. Things took a turn when I started to pursue my Mass Communications course at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, where my peers mainly spoke English. I initially found it difficult to express myself in English because I was so used to speaking Mandarin that I often internalized my thoughts in Chinese. However, as I progressed into the second and third years of my course, I later found slight difficulty expressing myself in Mandarin! I realized that the environment and the people we surround ourselves with powerfully shape our linguistic skills.

Do you think learning Mandarin is still relevant?

Definitely relevant! I'm a Chinese radio DJ! Mandarin is still my first language, and though I understand the current environment Singapore is English-dominated, I would still very much like my daughter to have a good grasp of her Mother Tongue. To at least have the ability to communicate effectively with people who speak the language. It provides greater exposure to the culture and philosophy and helps one grow as an individual. Personally, it's not just Mandarin that is relevant. It would be a massive bonus if one could master multiple languages in life.

Could you describe the language environment for Little T at home?

We're fortunate that Little T is in an ideal environment to be bilingual. Mr. T speaks to her in English while I talk to her in Mandarin. When she was around the age of 2, she was already like a little interpreter in our family, often relaying and translating my Mandarin instructions into English and vice versa. I’d say, “你 Daddy又没有关风扇!” and then she’d go to her Daddy and say, “Mummy says you didn’t turn off the fan again!”. She’s been growing up in this bilingual environment, so at this stage, I think she can still express herself pretty well in both languages.

I have heard, however, that primary school is a different ballgame entirely. With the immersion in an English-speaking environment among her peers, I foresee some challenges ahead. Still, I'm confident that things will be alright as the foundations are already there. As of now, she likes the language, or I would say, at least she doesn’t dislike the language. I think that’s important!

How do you nurture Little T's interest and confidence in Mandarin?

Since she was born, I've spoken with Little T in Mandarin, so listening and understanding Mandarin comes easily for her.

I'm very fortunate to have many Chinese books at home. Whenever I read to her, I try my best to read books engagingly, and I see that it spurs her to find out more about what certain words mean or how they are pronounced.

Apart from reading, we also have chit-chats, and she’ll tell me about her classmates. At times, she communicates using English and Chinese words in the same sentence, and I suppose this is typical of Singaporean children. I often encourage her to rephrase her sentences entirely in Mandarin.

What are your hopes for your child's Chinese learning journey?

I hope she scores at least a B grade next time! Jokes aside, I do expect that she doesn’t hate Mandarin and feels that it’s an exciting language. For me, this is enough. Having an interest in Mandarin would naturally incline her to develop and excel at it, even without our input.

As I grew up, I recall developing my Mandarin by watching Chinese drama serials on television, reading Chinese comics, and looking up drama synopsis in 电视广播周刊Chinese magazines (what came before i周刊!). I would also ask my Mum when encountering unfamiliar words. When watching drama serials, I’d listen to what is spoken in Mandarin but look at the English subtitles. Over time, I’ve built up my translation skills!

Likewise, I consider that developing an interest in popular culture is an effective way to build language skills.

Our family enjoys #storytimewithjiahui! What inspired you to start this series?

After COVID happened, a friend introduced me to a hashtag #savewithstories that was trending in the US, where Hollywood stars would read books and raise money for charity. Shortly after, about 7 April 2020, COVID circuit breaker measures were introduced in Singapore. A thought then came, many kids would be at home needing things to do, and parents would still need to work and get things done! How can I do something to help preserve a parent's sanity? I thought reading stories could be an excellent way to keep kids occupied and decided to try. To my surprise, I received many positive reviews and comments within the day. It inspired me to continue with these videos.

I’ve shared over 60 books through #storytimewithjiahui thus far, and it’s been a meaningful journey! Some parents share that their kids look forward to new episodes. Some kids who previously struggled with the language start to include more Mandarin terms in daily conversations after listening to my stories. This motivates me a lot!

Could you bring us through the process of how you do an episode?

When I am recommended or find a book that is particularly appealing to my young viewers, I would evaluate the storyline, the book's length, the illustrations, and the appeal of the characters. Books with characters and dialogue are usually more engaging and interesting. I would then bring the book to the studio where we have the professional mic, and simultaneously record the storytelling in audio form (for podcast) and visual form (video on my phone to upload on Instagram). The tricky part will be adjusting the ring-light to illuminate the book's pages, yet not create a reflection on the book. Editing may be needed too, before uploading.

Any tips to share with fellow bilingual parents?

Expose your children to different environments! Even if you don't speak Mandarin, create opportunities for language exposure. Of course, don't forget to tune in to my #StoryTimewithJiahui! There are lots of podcasts and videos available on various platforms nowadays. It's essential to find things that could spark an interest in loving Mandarin, as this will make our jobs as parents a little easier!

What are some of your child or your favourite titles from My Story Treasury?

She loves 妈妈买绿豆! Mum, Buy Green Beans! and often asks me to read it. Though there aren't many words, I would add a lot of details while reading. Sometimes when she remembers this book, she’ll ask to drink green bean soup the next day! Perhaps the interactions between the little boy and his Mum give my daughter a sense of familiarity and warmth, that’s why she likes it.

A title that I particularly like is 再见,电视机 Goodbye, Television. When Little T spends a little too much time on the television, I’ll remind her of this book. If she feels bored, we may look at the list of suggested activities at the back of the book. In a few instances, she did switch off the TV and found something else to do! I find that kids are more receptive to learning values and good habits from stories, rather than our incessant nagging.

小兔子学赚钱,存钱,花钱,捐钱 - 财商启蒙 Moneybunny Series - Teaching Kids About Money is another series of books that Little T loves and I often see her reading on her own. She’d tell me that the rabbit would have a certain number of carrots, some of it to spend and some of it to save up. I was pleased to know that she’s picking up bits of financial literacy from these books while being occupied on her own! The bunny characters are adorable and naturally attract children.

That's it for now! Thank you, Jiahui for taking the time to share with us more about your bilingual journey with Little T and behind the scenes of #StoryTimewithJiahui!

Be sure to check out her #StoryTimewithJiahui readalouds  and podcasts here. Jiahui currently hosts the 10am-2pm slot on local Chinese radio station Mediacorp YES933. Connect with her on Instagram or Facebook!

Images: Siau Jiahui's Instagram page

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