Tham Sit Yee
Tham Sit Yee was born in China in 1964 and came to London in 2000. She talks about the language gap between herself and her sons.
Listen to Tham Sit Yee (in Mandarin, mp3, 679kb)
Read transcript in Mandarin (pdf, 48kb)
'My boys have been living in the UK for five years… They really like living in the UK. They know English and they can communicate with their classmates very well. They speak English when they go out, but I can’t and neither can my husband. We can’t speak English, but my boys can.
'They speak Cantonese with me at home, but they speak to each other in English. Therefore I don’t understand everything they say if it is in English. My husband doesn’t speak English either. Sometimes my boys talk to him in English, ask him to buy stuff for them, but he doesn’t understand a word of what they are saying.
'My second boy doesn’t learn Cantonese, he can guess what I am saying, but he cannot express himself in Cantonese… He understands some Chinese, but there are some words in Chinese he finds difficult to express.
'Sometimes he tries to tell me something in English, or asks me to get something for him, but I can’t understand what he is saying, and I will say to him, "I don’t know what you are talking about, I can’t understand it when you speak English". He then tries to look for an object in the house, an object which can explain what he is to saying to me. He looks around but cannot find it. Then he will show his frustration with the words "I-ya!"
'Sometimes my eldest son will translate it for me, from English into Chinese, and enable me to understand what he wants to say or what he needs. I can communicate better with my eldest son, not as bad. My second son, he comes across a bit like an English person, English personality [laughs].'
Copyright Evelyn Oldfield Unit