My colleagues in the Business Chinese Language class ask me why I want to take up this course. It is valid question. They are all working adults. I am a stay-at-home and work-from-home mother of a non-native Chinese kid who is learning Chinese. What does learning business language has anything to do with parenting a multilingual kid? I have a few answers and points of view.
If you speak to people who are raised by uneducated parents who cannot read or write simple English, they will tell you just how hard life is when their parents cannot understand English. Their parents have to check with the office at school and teachers to keep in touch with what’s going on.
Sometimes it is the grandparents who are the main caregivers as the parents have to go to work. Having no knowledge of the English language means any notices can simply go unread until the teachers speak to them about it. It is frustrating at times when this becomes a regular occurrence. “Besok ada pass up homework tak?” “明天有没有听写啊？要交学费吗？” There are also parents who are native Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodians and Indians who are permanent residences and cannot speak English. For these parents and caregivers, it is just too late to learn how to communicate in English, let alone business English. So the children have to become independent very quickly.
I used to have working colleagues who needed me to translate for her students’ parents who could not speak English. And my colleagues could not speak Mandarin or Malay. If I were in those parents’ shoes, I would be in constant worry that I might be missing out on things happening at my daughter’s school.
There are a few business languages involving transactions like pay, deposit, fix payment, fees, savings, passbook, password, signature, receipt, invoice, change, monthly, statement, income, salary and a whole list of business jargons which are necessary for us to know. And in the case of the business environment in Singapore, there are still many local people who do not use English for anything apart from greetings.
When we send our kid to school, we are not only giving them an opportunity to be educated, we are also paying for our kid to be taught by qualified teachers; we ARE paying customers. This means that we do deal with the school administrators, teachers, security guards, cleaners and parking attendants from time to time. We don’t always talk about our kid’s education. We also talk about immunization, registration procedures, payment for excursions, camping trips and booking for overnight stay at overseas trips etc.
Then there is payment for special training sessions for school national championships. Schools don’t always use their teaching staff to train their students for national competitions. They hire professionals or 3rd parties for specialized training.
Children depend on us for finance and administration matters. We act as their managers, just like the managers of professional footballers, golfers or actors. We also keep track of their finances by way of letters from the government education board about their subsidies and Edusave (this is education savings). In the case of Singapore, the Edusave funds are used to provide for all transactions pertaining to payment and deposits throughout the child’s education programme.
Am I being too bothersome? Maybe. Have any friends of yours ever share information about how they managed to get the best education loan or investment for their kids? No. These things are considered personal to many people because the choice of whether to send your child to college or university lies upon on the ability of the child to study as well as the funds that are available to pay for their education. But people talk around it all the time! Edcuation is so expensive. School fees are going up and up. I don’t know if my child will ever make it to college, I can’t afford it. etc etc.
When we talk about parenting, we always zoom in on our relationship with children from communication to provision of food, lodging and clothing. The provision of the basic needs is what obligates us to be ready to undertake the tasks of raising a kid. As we go about our daily chores to manage and organize our child’s finances, we usually regard these as tasks to be completed. When a task is completed, it is a tick in the box. Tick – school fees paid, tick – forms signed, pending – need to check about school uniforms and choir practise, important – schedule family holidays during summer breaks. Education is a serious business as it involves spending money and providing for our children. It is therefore advantageous for parents to understand business language, be it English, Malay, Chinese, Tamil, Indonesian, Vietnamese or Russian.