With a father who’s Anglo-American and a mother who’s Korean, I grew up in a biracial household. My first word was “mummy”, making English my first-language. When we lived in Japan from when I was two to three, I also picked up on Japanese, but when we moved back to Korea, I lost it all. At the age of four, I was enrolled in an American elementary school in the pre-K programme (yes, we’re still in Korea), and that’s when English became my major language. Yet at home, when I was with my mum, she and I communicated in Korean, and I stuck with English with my dad. This was something I considered “normal”, this was something I thought many biracial children go through.
As I grew older, I met many others like me, who has an Anglo-American father and a Korean mother. I discovered that quite a few of them were not like me language-wise. I met others who spoke primarily English even with their Korean parents. Some of them understood Korean when they heard it, but they couldn’t speak any themselves. Some of them knew nothing past the few basics Korean words. This puzzled me because I’d thought Korean mothers would speak Korean to their children and vice-versa. Instead, I find out that some Korean mothers choose not to speak English to their children because of various reasons like wanting to improve their own English usage or wanting to fully integrate their child in the American society. Then they regret not speaking and teaching their children Korean when they get older, and these mothers tell my mother, “You’re so lucky your daughter speaks Korean!”
So my own experiences and observations make me wonder just how much percentage of biracial families teach their children both their primary and secondary languages. Even in my workplace, I see few of the biracial kids, and I don’t really hear them speak their second language. Perhaps they do at home, but I spoke Korean to my other Korean-American friends when we hung out, but the kids I work with don’t do that. Is it because they don’t know the language? Or they do, but they are taught to not speak a minor language amongst those who know the majority? I know a couple of children who are half-American and half-Filipino, but I never hear them speak Tagalog to each other in my workplace. But the few half-Korean or Korean-American kids we have, I speak Korean to them sometimes, and they understand me.
Another thing that comes to my mind is what some of the biracial individuals call their parents. I call my father, “Dad” or “Daddy” or other variations in between. As for my mother, unlike some of my friends who uses the Korean word for mother, my mum’s always been “Mummy” (마미 = mah-mee, more precisely XD) or “Mama”. My mum is never 엄마 (Uh-mah) or 어머니 (Uh-muh-nee). To me, she’ll always be 마미 or 마마.
If you come from a biracial family, what was it like for you language-wise? Were you taught both languages? Can you only speak your secondary language and not read or write it? I spoke Korean, but I didn’t learn how to read or write it until I was in fifth grade (around the age of 10). What was it like for you? What are some of your observations if you’re not from a biracial household, but have friends who are?