Eunice doing her mother tongue homework at her workstation
Jessie and Eunice at Legoland
In the learning interactivity, Mandarin was used to talk about the Chinese exercises, as it is the common language between Eunice and her maternal grandparents and parents (her biological mother tongue is Hokkien, spoken in her paternal household).
peaking Mandarin is very different from learning the written Chinese characters and understanding the syntactic constructions. A very young Chinese speaker such as Eunice, who may be fluent in spoken Mandarin, was unable to identify all the corresponding written Mandarin characters in complex phrases. Eunice also had difficulties in construing and producing syntactic segments according to a common Chinese scheme of knowledge, especially when she was already getting used to the logics of English scripts constructed for children in programs like Hi-5, Disney Junior, Okto Channel.
Eunice and her cousin, Jiayi, undoing their mother tongue on stage in their glocal world
One may be interested to know that (Chinese) adults who sing the Mandarin pop songs of Jay Chou and Wang LeeHom may not recognize each Mandarin characters in the lyrics. A cognition with sound symbolic mapping capability and tone-sensitive filter would be sufficient for the musical rendition (cf. Sew 2014a on Mandarin /chun/ or spring being construed as leftover in Hokkien by means of sound symbolism).
The same principle applies when one sings in Hokkien, a southern Chinese dialect, because the target verbal Hokkien words are matched with the corresponding sound symbolic Mandarin characters since there is only one set of Chinese character for all the Chinese dialects.
Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese do not share the same tones. For example, /sui/, or pretty in Hokkien is represented with 水, or water in written Mandarin on the Kara-oke screen. Although the tone of the Hokkien-/sui/ is different from 水, a 'polyglotal' Chinese may easily sort out the dialectal mapping almost instantaneously. Most of the time, however, the dialectal-phonetic-tonal pairing is irrelevant because only singing and performing matter in the verbal repertoire for singing out loud.
The metacommunication of learning interaction in a multilingual society is a form of complex primary speech much more complicated than the monolingual prints on the exercise sheets (see MacCorquodale, 1970, p. 95 for a explanation on primary speech). In fact, the mode of metacommunication reflects the contemporary language use in a global world that involves a mixing of language codes (Hall & Cook, 2012). The complex dialogue structures in the English conversation between a female representative of an international organization with a prominent local figure in a Guyama community is a good example (Bartlett, 2014, p. 23).
Despite the romantic belief that language learning occurs in the guise of the formal language, spoken utterances on the fly either in a formal, or informal (learning) interactivity do not adhere to the standard variety at morphological and syntactic levels. This is due to the fact that other non-linguisitic indexes are required to complete communication tasks (Sew, 2009, Clark, 1996).
One may want to ponder further if dropping out of the primary school has anything to do with the code of metacommunication. The code of instruction that is very different from the code of interaction at home might pose a learning hurdle to a child in acquiring academic knowledge in monolingual and multilingual societies. The notions of elaborated and restricted codes are relevant to understanding the matter (Bernstein, 1964) although this article does not correlate social class with the codes.
Many a times at secondary school level, educators are reminded to speak the language of teenagers in order to connect with the youngsters and secure their attention. Symbolic as it may seem, language as social capital is another factor underpinning language learning (Sew, 2012). The use of slang, for example, is a case in point. Slang is something frowned upon as a bad linguistic behavior despite its familiarity in the spoken and digital discourse of youngsters (see Sew, 2014b for a natural occurence of slang in a language learning situation).
Clark, H. H. (1996). Using language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
MacCorquodale, K. (1970). On Chomsky's review of Skinner's 'Verbal Behavior'. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 13(1), 83–99.
____________. (2012). Malay and global literacy. Akademika 82(2), 25-35. http://journalarticle.ukm.my/6118/1/Akademika_82(2)Chap_3-locked.pdf
____________. (2014a). Spring in other dialect. Grammar Gang (January issue).
____________. (2014b). Slang: Beyond a knee-jerk reaction. Grammar Gang (April Issue).http://thegrammargang.blogspot.sg/2014/04/slang-beyond-knee-jerk-reaction.html
Centre for Language Studies, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, National University of Singapore