“Apa khabar Athena? Buat apa kat sekolah hari ini?” I would ask.
“Pops!!” she would scream.
“Kenapa Athena? Apa yang Athena buat kat sekolah? Ceritalah kat pops.”
And she would immediately run away from me while laughing hysterically.
I find her reaction very amusing whenever I try to speak to her in any other language besides English, like Bahasa Malaysia or Cantonese for example.
It’s amusing to me because that is exactly how I reacted when I was a kid to my parents who would suddenly speak to me in Bahasa Malaysia just to fool around with me.
I speak English at home with my daughter and wife. The reason is because that is the language of communication in my family when I was growing up.
In fact, I consider that my mother tongue since I actually learned to speak English way before I could speak Bahasa Malaysia.
Another language that I can speak is Cantonese because I come from a mixed family. But my pronunciation isn’t really that impressive. More comedic, I think!
So it’s only natural that I also want little Athena to be able to speak all of these languages. And she’s doing quite well (except for the Cantonese… my mother needs to speak more to her).
Jokes aside, she seems to be picking up Bahasa Malaysia quite fast considering that she only speaks Malay when she meets some of her Malay relatives (oh… and the maid at home!).
As we all know, being multilingual has a lot of benefits to an individual. The obvious is the ability to communicate well with more people from different cultures.
But not so obvious is the fact that when a child is multilingual, his or her cognitive skills also improves and analytical thinking comes more naturally.
The child will also better understand that there is a world that exist around him or her and this will lead to a personality that is more open, understanding and accepting of differences.
Living in Malaysia, we are lucky because almost everyone can speak at least two languages. We live in a society that is multiracial and with many different languages spoken.
We need to embrace this and see it as a strength. By learning different languages, it does not mean that we forget our origins or roots. In fact, we come together as a society better.
Take me for example. I literally have friends from all the main races that make up Malaysia’s diverse population. Real friends who I confide in and not just associates.
In fact, I have family members that consists of almost all the main races that make up Malaysia’s diverse population. And we communicate in all these languages as well.
It would be a shame if Athena didn’t grab this advantage. Hopefully, she will learn that by doing so, she can really call herself a true blue Malaysian.
Zan Azlee is a multimedia journalist, writer and filmmaker. He specialises in solo-journalism and often reports from conflict zones around the world. He usually succeeds in staying safe and coming home unharmed to his daughter, Athena Azlee, and wife, Jasmine Abu Bakar, by screaming like a little girl whenever he is faced with danger. Follow his exploits at FatBidin.com.