6 Jan 2023
By Rev Dr Daniel Koh
I grew up in a Hokkien-speaking environment. No one spoke English at home until the kids started primary schools and we began to practise what we picked up in school.
Before attending school, we knew nothing much other than playfully reciting “A, B, C kiam chye char loti.” It is understandable that when we went to school, we struggled with reading English books and conversing in English. I had to think in Hokkien even when I attempted to speak in English.
During my early secondary school days, I attended an Inter-School Christian Fellowship Camp when I met and befriended Christians from other schools; the so-called neighbourhood schools and the premier schools. At the camp, during a heavy downpour, I exclaimed to a fellow camper that the rain was quite “big.” He was dumbfounded, and then burst out into an innocent laughter, telling me that “you don’t say big rain, you say heavy downpour.” I was taken aback. I have always talked about “lo tua hor,” and we Hokkien-speakers know what it means. But in English, it would appear that it is “lo tang hor!” (Tua is big. Tang is heavy, if you are wondering.)
There are people who still laugh at speakers, including preachers, who make mistakes in expressing themselves correctly and clearly in English. Now when I am tempted to laugh at the mistakes of others, I have to hold back and remind myself of the “big rain” I saw as a youth.