What Is The Difference Between “Mother Tongue” And “First Language”?

Talking about language is confusing. Mother tongue, first language, native language and so on, we all define these phrases differently. And each of these definitions aren’t wrong at all since each phrase holds different meanings for each of us.

The other weekend I thought about this as I walked through the shopping centre near my place. Walking briskly, I passed by the stall selling organic beauty products, passed right in front of a middle-aged-looking Caucasian female stall attendant.

Languages help us get along with one another. Including body language | Weekly Photo Challenge: Afloat.

Languages help us get along with one another. Including body language | Weekly Photo Challenge: Afloat.

Ni hao!” she exclaimed. I slowed my walking speed. What? She’s assuming I understand Chinese. Assuming that Mandarin is my mother tongue, which isn’t. It’s Cantonese. No, wait. My family speak Chinese too…so it’s also my mother tongue…

When we speak about mother tongue, we tend to think of a common language spoken by a cultural group or our ancestors. “Mother” in this phrase generally pays homage to “motherland”, the place(s) where our descendents lived and originated. My Chinese-Malaysian parents speak Cantonese to each other and my relatives Mandarin, Hakka and other dialects which I’m honestly not sure of. So my mother tongue is Cantonese. And Mandarin. And more. Sometimes we have multiple mother tongues.

Sometimes we think of our mother tongue as the language “spoken at home to our parents” or or the language “our parents taught us”. For some of us this is true, others not so. As author Rita Rosenback says, in this diverse world we can be “mother-tongue-less” and don’t speak our mother tongue. Growing up, my parents addressed me in English and never Cantonese. Listening to dad and mum chatting with each other and Canto serials blaring from the TV, somehow I picked up enough Canto to order Chinese food in Malaysia and follow Canto newsreaders. But that’s about it.

We usually think of first language and dominant language as the language(s) we’re fluent in, the language we speak every day and don’t hesitate speaking. For me, it’s English – the language I speak at everywhere and think in. But it wasn’t always that way.

While living in Malaysia, I studied Bahasa Melayu in school because it was a compulsory subject and spoke it outside the classroom all the time. Literally everyone in this country does business in Malay so it’s hard to get by if you don’t know the basics. Countless times in Malaysia I went to up to road side Malay food stalls, pointed to a piece of fried chicken and said, “One piece”, and the response from the chef was, “Satu?” – Malay for “one”. Different languages are spoken in different situations; sometimes we have no choice but to speak the language someone addresses us in.

On the subject of native language: it’s similar to mother tongue, a language we’re fluent in speaking and/or writing. Often this phrase is associated with countries too; we’re usually considered a native speaker of a language if we know its grammar conventions down pat and probably have spoken it most of our lives, and maybe lived in a country where the language is primarily spoken.

Interestingly enough, we generally don’t associate the English language with the phrase “mother tongue”. At least that was what I thought growing up. My earliest memory of realising that multiple languages are spoken in this world was when I was about six, sitting on the carpet at home watching my parents having a heated talk in Cantonese. I must have asked for something because my mum suddenly turned to me and sternly said, “Not now”.

I wondered then, “Why not Cantonese? Why is English so important?”. According to the 2011 Census, more than 50% of migrants in Australia speak English well and only 11% of this demographic don’t speak it well.

English is taken for granted as a universal language, an “affluent language”. It’s spoken all over the world, if not as a first language then usually a second language. In the many of the most livable cities, English is the primary language of instruction – English is the language used to conduct business, English is the language used to give directions to taxi drivers, English is the language used to order food in fancy air-conditioned restaurants. Being on this side of the status quo matters to some of us and in a sense, other languages in less developed nations come across as “second-classed”, often spoken amidst and associated with less cushy settings. Maybe some of us from non-Western background speak English to distinguish ourselves from our culture. Time and time again, my dad tells me, “You are Aussie. Australia is home. You must speak like an Aussie.”

Elephants talking in the same language.

Elephants talking in the same language.

Then again, the world is incredibly multicultural today and bilingualism is an asset. Countless language resources are available online these days and anyone can pick up a foreign language. The more languages we know, the more we’re able to understand people of different races. Also, Chinese is the most spoken language in the world with over one billion people speaking it. English comes in second.

Language is always changing, and sometimes our speech and mother tongue is changing faster than we know it. New slang, accents and pop-culture speak pop up in waves now and again. Last year, the Australian National Dictionary Centre named “man bun” as one of the new phrases many Australians have warmed to using. As author Cesar Chavez said, “our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers”. After many years away from Malaysia, my lah’s and leh’s of Malaysian-speak have drifted away…but I’ve not picked up typical Aussie-speak.

That afternoon at the shopping centre, I ignored the woman and kept walking. She persisted. “Ni. Hao.” This time she sounded condescending. I glanced back at her, but still kept walking. She was looking at me straight in the face. Ironically we always assume each of us speak English…if not a certain language. I may be Chinese, an Australian-born Chinese, but I don’t speak Mandarin. My loss. You’re not Chinese, but you speak at least two words of the language.

Good on you.

What’s your first language? What languages do you speak?

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175 thoughts on “What Is The Difference Between “Mother Tongue” And “First Language”?

  1. Interesting article. I thought you might have approached that lady and gave her a lecture about making assumptions about your “mother tongue” and ethnicity based on your appearance. When my (Japanese) wife and I were in Vietnam recently a couple of people thought she was Vietnames! I suppose people could think I was French or Swiss based on my appearance.

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    • I actually did think about stopping to tell the lady and saying I don’t speak Chinese. The irony is that so many of us assume others speak English…then again, the English is the language of Australia so it makes sense to assume all of us in this country have some command of the language.

      That must have been a peculiar situation for your wife. The locals in Vietnam there must think she speaks their language! Hope you had a great trip.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always wished I was fluent in more than one language. I struggled with French in school and while I can still read enough to understand basics my pronunciation is terrible. I did have fun in Paris after college though and was able to travel through the city so at least I learned enough for a good trip. 🙂

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  3. That’s pretty weird to have random people yell “nihao” to you. Hope that doesn’t happen often.

    I always thought mother tongue at least requires you to know the language. If it goes back several generations and you don’t know, isn’t it not your mother tongue anymore? Maybe mother implies more ethnic background than ‘first language’ or ‘native speaker’ but you still have to be fluent in it.

    My mom speaks Russian, but I don’t. I wouldn’t consider it my mother tongue. I’m not culturally into that side of my immigration family tree, but it is 50% of me.

    Anyway, language is more complicated than the Anglosphere understands. Australians and Americans take for granted that they just happen to know the world’s main language and so must everyone else. (Yet it is true in sheer numbers more people speak Mandarin)

    “Lei hou!”

    Haha what does man bun mean? 🙂

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    • “If it goes back several generations and you don’t know, isn’t it not your mother tongue anymore?” That is an excellent point, and the one about being fluent in it. I’ve asked myself while writing this post: Is English really my mother tongue? And I couldn’t answer yes to that question…don’t know. Suppose for some of us, our mother tongue has to be tied down to roots and cultural practices.

      If it’s the only language someone and their family speaks, I suppose that’s their mother tongue.

      A man bun: man tying their hair in a bun. It’s in fashion, I think. Google it 🙂

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  4. Hey Miss Mabel, happy Thursday, hope you are having a swell week lovely one. 🙂
    I find that really strange the shop assistance greeted you in a language other than English, perhaps that is a strange thing for me to think, but REALLY… you could have been French or Swedish or from anywhere. Gah… people and their behavior really do fascinate me.

    English is my first and only language, I know a few words in a number of languages, but they wouldnt do me any good if I was in the country. I have always wanted to learn Spanish or Italian, both languages are on the bucket list to learn.

    Wishing you a super weekend sweets. xo

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    • Maybe the shop assistance thought I was an international student and preferred speaking a language other than English. Maybe she was targeting that clientele. Still, that was judgemental.

      You must be the Queen of English then, Miss Anna! If I’m at a lost for an English word, I’ll come looking for you 😛 Never too late to learn another language!

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  5. A very interesting post! I admire people who can speak several languages – they have so many more opportunities to connect with people. My husband speaks three languages and even though he is fluent in all three, Taiwanese is the language that he considers his ‘mother-tongue.’

    I have the opposite problem in Taiwan as you did at the shopping center. I remember taking the subway several times in Taipei and people had a conversation about me, assuming that I didn’t understand. For example, one time two females in their twenties had a conversation about the skirt that ‘American’ was wearing. I love the skirt and I can understand why they loved it as well. Before I exited the MRT, I politely told them with a smile ‘I am Canadian, not American and I bought the skirt in Canada.’ Their jaws dropped when they realized I had understood everything they had said and the expression on their face was priceless. 🙂

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  6. Oh my goodness, Mabel — I was so surprised (and happy) to see your post because I am working on a series about a similar topic, — on why most 2nd Generation Filipinos that live in the U.S. DO NOT speak Tagalog.

    But first I had to define the 1st generation / 2nd generation label only to find that there is actually a different label for my sister and I (we are called the “1.5 generation” because we immigrated to the U.S. when we were teens). I posted that yesterday.

    I’ll link to this excellent article of yours once I finish.

    As for me, I speak 2 Filipino dialects — Tagalog, which we in the Philippines have to all learn (compulsory in school) and Cebuano (my mother’s family are from the Visayas Central Philippines region that speak mostly Cebuano). It turns out that more Filipinos speak Cebuano than Tagalog, so that is helpful. Of course English is also an official language in the Philippines, and we leaned that right alongside Tagalog. My younger sister speaks fluent Spanish as well because she lived in Central America — I wish I did as that would be helpful living in California 🙂 . There are supposed to be around 500 dialects spoken in the Philippines, but many will probably die out over time.

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    • Thank you so much for bringing up generations. That word completely eclipsed my mind when I was writing this post and it’s very important part of the topic of language. But that’s where you come in to continue the conversation…and I will check out your posts very, very soon!

      Agreed. Migration tends to impact on the languages that we speak. Sometimes we pick up the language of our new home to blend in.

      It is interesting to hear English is also the official language of the Philippines. No wonder many Filipinos I’ve met are fluent in English. Funny how some of us in Asia still like to speak non-English languages all the time or at times when we’ve moved away from the motherland 🙂

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      • When I was a kid, I learned my English “ABC’s” right along with the Tagalog A, BA, KA, DA E GA, HA….etc. I think nowadays the direction is to continue to learn in the local dialect, and THEN teach Tagalog (which was then officially called “Pilipino” by the government) starting in Grade 2. The other dialect I know — Cebuano — is a subset of the language “Bisaya”. With over 350 years of Spanish rule in the Philippines, it is actually surprising that we ended up keeping our “Native” tongue, compared to most of Central America, etc. Perhaps the geography — all those islands — kept many of the languages from disappearing. Our region of the Philippines do have a lot of Spanish words, and don’t even get me started on “Tagalish”. I started a different section on my blog to collect “Tagalish” ads I see here in the U.S.

        My post about the first-generation / second-generation label is at http://lolako.com/immigrant-terms-are-you-first-second-or-1-5-generation/ when you are ready.

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        • That is a very unique way of learning a language back in your day. In a way, you are learning two languages in school (compulsory) and being bilingual is a good trait to have. It’s also the case in Malaysia and Singapore – students here usually toggle between speaking at least two languages in the classroom.

          What a history the Philippines has and so many dialects still exist there today. There have been a few Filipino comments here, which is very heartening. In Australia, we are struggling to keep Aboriginal languages alive since very few people speak it fluently today.

          Tagalish 😀

          Looking forward to your next language post.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice camera work Mabel!

    I love the elephants and your clever use of captions.

    English is my first language, but I grew up speaking it in the American South, with a heavy dialect. After leaving home and going to college, I now speak English with a neutral American accent.

    There is a sterotype in the U.S. about southern accents indicating a lack of education. Right or wrong, speaking with a heavy regional dialect puts you at a disadvantage in many situations. I worked hard to eliminate it, and I think it was the right thing to do.

    I have studied Korean and Japanese, but only managed to sound like a precocious four-year-old in Japanese, and a caveman in Korean.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sad to hear that the southern accent is discriminated in some situations in the States. I’ve heard that this accent tends to be associated with and stereotyped as “red necks”, or Americans who like to work on farms. It really can’t be true all the time. Accent is certainly a big part of language.

      I’m sure you’re miles ahead in speaking Korean and Japanese…I only know a few words in two of those languages!

      Thanks for the nice words. Slowly working on photography, bit by bit.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Language is a difficult subject especially when it comes to the mother tongue. I should actually have two mother tongues german and finnish however I am not fluent like a native in any of them so in the end they are more like my first and second language…or perhaps not either. By now I speak English more fluent than german or finnish with a mixed accent in english of both other language.
    Furthermore I should speak Russian as well, it is part of my family history of my mothers side. She had the Russian passport until she was nine years old but that is another story entirely but I do have tons of relatives still living in Estonia and Russia.

    I lived over seventeen years in Germany, I graduated from high school here but I was never comfortable with the language. I felt so inept in german last year that even studied it again and did the c2 language test to get somehow into the language again (I nearly felt, was the borderline between failing and passing…)

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    • “Language is a difficult subject” So true, Crazy. And it can also be a sensitive subject since some of us might not have pleasant ties or memories with parts of culture.

      You certainly have a complicated situation there with your mother tongue. Maybe you probably didn’t have the chance to speak much German outside of the classroom as a kid…and your family spoke English or something else most of the time.

      Congrats on passing the German exam. Now you know you do have it in you to speak some German and may it help you in the country 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Mabel how rude of the woman to make the assumption about your language. I think you were very restrained in your response. English is really the only language I am fluent in. I know a fair amount of French and then smatterings of others.

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    • I was very confused when the woman greeted me, “Ni Hao”. Didn’t say anything to her and looking back I thought I was rude. Then again, English is the language of Australia. Also, I didn’t want to assume she spoke English…

      You sound like an expert in English, Sue. I’m not surprised since you make your blog posts so visual through your words.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. filipino is the “national language” in the philippines and i say that with quotes because while it may be considered a national language and the people in luzon (where the capital sits) expects everyone else to speak and understand it, the philippines has heaps more other dialects used in different regions throughout the country, with its 7,107 islands and all.

    coming from cebu, i speak “bisaya” which i consider to be my mother tongue. because to be honest, while i may fully understand filipino, i find it very difficult to speak the language without stammering. it’s that bad. i’m more comfortable expressing myself in english, if i have to choose between that and speaking in filipino.

    so, yeah, languages (with all its sub-languages) can be quite tricky.

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    • Sub-languages! That’s a great word in place of dialects! I’ve never heard of Bisaya before, but as you said there are so many dialects in the Philippines and I’m thinking if you went to a different town in the Philippines, you’ll feel like a tourist because of the language.

      Another blogger who used to live in the Philippines mentioned English is also one of the official languages of the country. No wonder you feel good speaking in English!

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      • yep, it surely does feel like it. hehe. traveling to different parts of the philippines can be very interesting.

        on the downside, the myriad of dialects kind of makes it hard to unite us as one country too, in a sense.

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        • I hope to visit the Philippines one day and maybe the locals there will teach me how to speak some Tagalog phrases like a local.

          Sad that the dialects divide your country. I always thought everyone there knew English and got along that way.

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  11. I think a mother tongue is a language closely tied to your ethnicity. If you are Cantonese, like me, then Cantonese it is. Mandarin is just like English and Bahasa Melayu, another language that I learn in school and try to score As on.

    I suppose as a Chinese, I feel more depressed when I discover Chinese people who cannot at the very least converse in their mother tongue. But I won’t be bitter, I can understand that if you are living in Australia or America or Europe then chances of you getting good practice in will be quite low. And anyway, I don’t agree with all those talks of “Mandarin will be the most important language in the 21st century”, these are all Chinese propaganda in my opinion. Just because China is a big and fast growing country doesn’t mean that Mandarin becomes more important. It is only important if you need to deal with them. But the same can be said for other languages. Being able to speak in French is important if you need to deal with French people. I guess what I really want to say is that, if you are an Aussie and cannot speak in Mandarin, it is perfectly fine. If you can, well, like what you want to say to that woman, good for you.

    And… whatever the hell is man bun?? 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • “a mother tongue is a language closely tied to your ethnicity” I feel strongly to this phrase. As I said to Ray, I asked myself this: “Is English my mother tongue?” since I spoke it all my life and it’s the first language I came to speak. Pairing this question up with what you said, the answer is very obvious.

      So true. We can learn a language to understand a culture and that’s instrumental when interacting with them on a professional or social basis. I believe that sometimes, some people do so – or rather learn a smattering of selective words – to show off in front of another culture, to impress them to get their attention and business.

      Man bun: Man tying their long or long-ish hair with a rubber band in the shape of a bun. It’s in fashion now 😀

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    • “Mandarin will be the most important language in the 21st century”

      I wonder about this a lot, and while I think that Mandarin courses are being offered at more universities than in the past, English still seems to be the language of international trade and commerce.

      China’s economy is not finished growing by a long shot and it is a sound move for companies to hire people that can speak some Mandarin. Plus, China’s influence on the global political stage will only increase in the coming century.

      However, tonal languages such as Mandarin are extremely difficult to master for the average person who grew up speaking English.

      This more than anything else will probably keep English as the primary language for international trade and commerce.

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      • Very interesting argument, Chris. Never thought about it but it makes a lot of sense.

        Not everyone in China speaks Mandarin the same way. Different regions speak the language differently with different accents and that can prove confusing, which might make it harder for the non-Chinese, typical person to learn the language.

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  12. Hi Mabel,

    This is a very interesting topic to discuss! Mother tongue?…I have always considered it to be the language, which one learns in mother’s lap, which comes naturally to the child and so it was in the primitive societies. It is only with the modernisation and globalisation that we have felt the need to communicate with our children in other than our mother tongue, keeping in view the long term effects of learning any language.

    As students we had to learn three languages…vernacular, national and global and more emphasis was laid on English as you have righty pointed out the reasons. No one took pride in speaking their mother tongue as English was considered to be the language of the elite and fluency in this language could raise many eyebrows!

    Another major factor that contributes to the choice of language is the country and the school. One has to give prominence to the major language, which is spoken around them to make their children comfortable with the peer group and therefore one’s own mother tongue gets a back seat.

    It is indeed interesting how mother tongue changes with the generations!

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    • Hello Balroop 🙂

      Such interesting thoughts, so valuable to the discussion here. I do think the idea of mother tongue being the language one learns from their parents at home and feels like a natural extension of them is very much valid today.I suppose this is the case for many of us who feel strongly about our culture’s values – we will at least try to learn our parent’s language because they embody our culture to the ‘T’ and some words are best expressed in this language.

      Speaking of schools and language: while I was living in Singapore, I was always fascinated with International Schools in Asia, schools where everything is taught in English and the curriculum is less academic than your typical Asian public school. Most students are Westerners. (Asian) Parents who want their kids to ace at English and have a more global perspective tend to enrol them here.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Very interesting topic. I’ve never really thought about the difference between mother tongue and first language. But it makes a lot of sense !

    I could say that both my mother tongue and first language is French. I was raised speaking French and that’s the only language my family can speak, which is a bit sad I think (but that’s another topic). I would have loved to be raised in different languages 🙂 Today, I still speak French most of the time (with family and friends), but I also communicate a lot in English for my work and also with my boyfriend who is British-Chinese and doesn’t speak French.

    When we are abroad, all the “Asian looking” people who seek help (e.g. for direction) always come towards my boyfriend and start speaking to him in Mandarin. I think a lot of people make assumption about your language, but I never found that rude 🙂

    Have a lovely day !

    Gin

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    • Mother tongue, first language…it really is all very confusing depending on what generation you’re from and which culture you come from.

      To be honest you write in English so well and if you didn’t say so, I would have thought it was your first language! French is one of the harder languages to learn and English one of the more easier ones, so don’t be sad it’s the only one you spoke growing up 😀

      Your poor boyfriend, being approached by Asian-looking people. I am sure they approach with a friendly face and are polite when they’re asking questions. Millions of Chinese speak Mandarin, so if you wanted to talk to someone in that language, why not approach someone who looks Asian – higher chances of hitting the nail on the head!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Chronologically, my first language was Cantonese. It’s the language spoken by everyone in my family and many of our family friends, and was my predominant language for close to 10 years. Having grown up in Australia, English is now my primary language. I can also speak Mandarin, and there was a time when my attempts to converse in Mandarin would require first a translation from English to Cantonese, then a further translation from Cantonese to Mandarin.

    But Cantonese to me is a purely spoken language. When I read in Chinese, I read in Mandarin because those are the dictionaries I am accustomed to using. Living in a society where it is little used and with little ability to broaden my vocabulary, what was once my mother tongue is now only my third when it comes to proficiency.

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    • It must have been taxing for your brain to translate English to Cantonese and then to Mandarin, but after a while I’m sure you got used to it. Sometimes when I see a Mandarin character or its pin yin, I’d try to think of the Cantonese equivalent and then translate that into English. It doesn’t always work as many Cantonese and Mandarin characters have different tones and inflections that are dependent on context.

      Some say that going back to re-learn a language you were once fluent in but now not so isn’t that hard. I have to agree to some extent: last year I picked up a Malay book for the first time in years. I read the first couple of chapters very slowly, and then was able to pick up speed as the grammar came gushing back to me.

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  15. Believe it or not, my mother language is English. My mother’s family originates from Great Britain. Somewhere way far back there’s to Scotish language too. Also, my father’s heritage is German. Does that mean I have 2 mother languages? I don’t speak much German but can usually get the gist of what someone is saying in German.

    English is the dominate language now. It may stay that way because there’s so many words used in the language that come from other languages. I don’t know what Asian language uses “aso” (spelling is probably off), but it’s commonly used in the US to say that the person understands.

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    • Very interesting background you have there, Glynis. Mother tongue really is up to each individual’s interpretation…just as how certain words in a language have their own meaning to each person. I heard German is one of the harder languages to learn, especially to pronounce.

      I have to agree English will stay the dominant language for now. So many of us regard it with so much esteem and have gotten used to speaking it.

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  16. Nicely written Mabel. I am an Indonesian Chinesse but I can’t speak Chinese or Cantonese. I can speak Indonesian, which is usually called by Bahasa (which isn’t a correct term also but most Indonesian call it that way also). And I speak little bit of English and still learning to do it through the Blog English Club that I was one of the founder.
    Totally agree that language is changing and has many cultural effect. I am sure you are not using Lah anymore and soon enough when you are in Malaysia, you will talk in Aussie way. Hahaha.

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    • Thank you, Ryan for the nice words and for sharing your background. I’ve met a few Chinese-Indos and they don’t speak a word of Chinese and like you, their first language is Indonesian. From my experiences with them, Indonesian is a must-know for them. It’s the language that reminds them of their roots and values.

      That is amazing to hear you are the founder of the Blog English Club. Your English is great, and I enjoy your blog posts. It seems many in East Asia want to learn English these days.

      Hahaha. I don’t know if I will talk Aussie some day. We will see. For all we know, you may be right.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I have heard Ni. Hao frequently in Europe the past few years when I travel there. But, a decade or so ago, people in Europe spoke Japanese to us. 🙂

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    • I’m sure the Europeans, and like many others, are being genuinely friendly (albeit ignorant too) when they greet others Ni Hao. I’m assuming they didn’t say it to you….? Interesting they spoke Japanese to you a long time ago.

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      • I remember when we were arriving at Frankfurt, service people at the gate greeted us with Chinese “how are you”, one even had a brief Chinese conversation with us. I was surprised, then I found out from a German in Munich that they have a daily Chinese language TV program between 4 to 5 pm, and lots of people learned Chinese thr. the program. When I was at a market in Nice, people say “Thank you” “How are you” in Chinese to me. That was just three years ago. 🙂

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        • That is strange. And you don’t look like a Chinese person, right? Maybe the service people thought you just came from a holiday to China or were with a group of people who spoke Chinese. Very, very interesting 🙂

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  18. Interesting post! Languages are something that will forever fascinate me. I think living abroad in a country that does not have English as it’s first language has taught me to not place the assumption of language spoken on people (if that makes sense!).
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    • It certainly does make sense! When you’re abroad, if you try to speak the language of the locals, they tend to be very friendly to you as they see you are making the effort to understand them. If you ask them, “Do you speak English”, you might come across as a haughty tourist who demands to be spoken to in English 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Making the effort is one of the best things you can do…at least in my opinion. Assuming, one way or the other, can just rub people the wrong way! Just like the woman assuming you spoke Cantonese and coming across like a rude tourist 🙂

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        • I think the lady said Ni Hao to me because she thought I was an international student and the kind of clientele she wanted to target.

          It takes time to learn language and speak it, even a few simple words. So I guess native speakers of it will most usually appreciate our efforts if we try to speak their language 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  19. i really didn’t think about this but to your question, i had two first languages; my mom’s dialect and my dad’s as well. and basic english.

    the philippines has so many dialects unique to every region or province. although tagalog is the national language, not all speak it. i’d say majority can communicate better in english since it is the medium of instructions in the philippines.

    great post, as always 🙂

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    • Interesting to hear you say that not everyone speaks the national language, preferring English. A few comments have mentioned this in the Philippines, and I do wonder why English is used as the medium of instruction there.

      It’s a similar case with Singapore. One of the reasons why I think Singapore chooses English as its language of instruction is to stengthen bilateral ties with the Western countries.

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  20. Mabel, you have such interesting posts! I think that woman at the shopping center was ignorant to assume you spoke that language simply based on your appearance. I tried to think back to when I first realized there are different languages but I don’t recall a specific point in time. I do remember attending a Linguistics course in university and being fascinated by how language changes within regions of a country and the origins of language.

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  21. Mabel, what happened to you with the woman saying nihao… happens all the time in China, the other way around. Even in 2015, even in big cities like Shanghai or Suzhou or Beijing, there are still Chinese people who see a white face and yell HALLO at them. In fact many people think there are only 2 languages in the world: Chinese and Foreigner (“Foreigner” tends to be English) 😛

    I didn’t have any confusions when I was younger: my language was Spanish. Actually, my mom comes from Catalonia and she spoke Catalan to me when I was little. I can understand it but I never speak it.
    If you count native speakers, then Spanish comes second, before English 😉 At least according to wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_languages_by_number_of_native_speakers

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    • “…still Chinese people who see a white face and yell HALLO at them” I like to think that the Chinese people in China are being friendly with foreigners. Maybe they don’t see Western foreigners every day.

      Sounds like you know many languages 😉 Thanks for the link. More updated than the one I shared.

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  22. For me, mother tongue is the first language that we learn in our early life and being taught by parent, from one generation to another generation due to ethnic background so the next generation won’t forget about their “root” and it is language that mostly use at home, speaking with parent, relatives or friends who share same ethnicity or culture background.

    For me, my mother tongue is Chinese with different dialects since I don’t know which one was taught first from others XD XD XD

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    • Pretty long train of thought, but it was very clear! It’s important to know the language our parents or ancestors speak, because a lot of the time there are some words that can’t be expressed in English or another language. And sometimes the values of our culture are embedded in these words.

      Haha, sounds like you know how to speak a few dialects!

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      • I speak some dialects and all thank to my parent and environment influences. I live in place where people are able to speak more than two languages and dialects. So, being able to speak one or two are so common in here 🙂

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        • Very lucky of you to live where you live. In many East Asian cities, at least two languages are thought in the classroom so people there grow up bilingual or multilingual. It can be fun switching from one language to another, and back again especially in one or two or a few sentences 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  23. Thanks for another thought-provoking post. AND I love the elephant photos – they’re perfect. Just 2 thoughts: I wonder if, in her mind, the lady thought she was approaching you in a friendly way (but it backfired because she stereotyped you, pretty nervy)… And second, I was reminded of a book by one of my favorite writers, Bill Bryson. “The Mother Tongue – English and How it Got That Way”

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    • It did cross my mind the lady was just being friendly saying “Ni hao”, thinking that it was a more colourful greeting that just a simple “Hi” or “Excuse me”. Maybe she thought I was an international student and thought I would relate to Mandarin better.

      Comparing English with other languages. That book by Bill Bryson sounds interesting, thanks for that.

      And thank you for the compliment on the photos. Took it with my point-and-shoot with a steady hand 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  24. It does seem an odd thing for the shop assistant to do. Maybe she’s learning the language and wanted to practice.

    I’m a native English speaker and although i know words and phrases from several languages I admit that I’m a bit lazy about really learning others. I tried to speak the language when I was in Ghana, but many people spoke English so it was too easy to give up. I hope to learn french this year so i can travel to Mali next year. Will see how i go!

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    • That is a great suggestion. Maybe the shop assistant was trying to show off her Mandarin skills. Maybe she thought that “Ni hao” was a more catchy greeting than plain old “Hello”.

      Your Mali trip sounds exciting, so you really should start learning French soon 😉 I suppose if you stick to tourist areas when you’re abroad, chances are they’ll be someone speaking English to assist you around. However, knowing the local language and talking to locals is always an eye-opening experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Hi Mabel,
    I, like you am a Malaysian Chinese (or Chinese Malaysian). I speak Hokkien as my mother tongue and consider English as my first language because I never ever studied Mandarin although I picked up Mandarin and Cantonese from watching drama series. Back in the days when we lived in Malaysia, we spoke only English with my children at home when they were young (they learned our mother tongue from my parents and my aunts). When we migrated here, I began to speak a mix of Hokkien and English with my children so they would not lost their native language. I remembered when I first migrated here and setting up bank accounts, I was often asked if I wanted a Chinese Officer to attend to me even before I open my mouth. They assumed because I look Asian, Mandarin must be my first language but unfortunately not so. I wished I had taken Mandarin as a subject in school back in those days or had gone to a mandarin speaking school. I am thankful however I can still speak that universal language though I wish I can read all those mandarin writings pasted on the walls of restaurants to know what their daily specials are.
    I enjoyed reading your post. It is very realistic from a Malaysian/Singaporean point of view.
    Enjoy your weekend.
    Cheers Jess

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    • Watching TV series is a great way to learn language, I’m so glad you mentioned that. After a while of watching foreign language TV shows, some words will start sounding the same and resonate in your head.

      Many banks here in Melbourne have lots of Asian-looking staff standing around. They’ve never ever asked if I wanted a bank staff member that spoke in Chinese, though. But who knows, maybe one day they will.

      Thank you, Jess, for stopping by, reading and commenting. Always appreciate your support.

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      • Watching TV drama series back home in Malaysia not only helped me with the spoken language but improved my Malay from the subtitles. Those wanting to learn English or Korean for example can do so when watching Korean dramas for spoken words and the reading the English subtitles. 🙂

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        • Reading language and speaking language go hand-in-hand, so no surprise watching dramas with subtitles can help us learn a foreign language. I am sure your Malay is very good, Jess. I’m sure we can have a slow conversation in Malay when we meet 🙂

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  26. Really interesting article. As usual. As many definitions, probably, as there are people to make them. I realized, reading through, that I do have my own definitions.
    My native language and dominant languages are the same: English. I was born in an English-speaking country, and learned English from my beginning. Later I learned French in college and worked and worked at it, so that I’m pretty fluent. But not bi-lingual. I learned too late, and never actually lived in a French-speaking country.
    As for English as a universal language — it’s very funny, because in my lifetime English has become the lingua franca of the world. Lingua franca itself is a Latin phrase — pretty ancient, huh. And nobody speaks Latin, hasn’t for centuries. I assume it was the language of the Frankish tribes, so that ancient Romans could be understood among their various vassal states. So it’s definition became “a universal language.” When I was a girl and young woman, FRENCH was still the lingua franca of the Western world, at least. US passports all began with a paragraph in French, BEFORE the corresponding English paragraph. French was the language of diplomacy, because it was considered the universal language. When did English replace it? I suppose with television’s ascendancy, and airplane traffic (always controlled in English), etc.
    But when it comes to the mother tongue, ah, that’s another matter! That’s a very important phrase in Yiddish, mamma loshen, the mother tongue, Mamma’s language. As usual in Yiddish, there are many connotations and reverberations for the two simple words. It’s how mommy spoke to her little ones, both what she said and how she said it. Frank, simple, straightforward. Telling it like it is, in words of one syllable. Words can be used to confuse and confound as readily as to explain and clarify. Mamma loshen cuts through all that stuff. I don’t know if that’s a universal meaning for the mother tongue, but it surely is for me in that aspect of my own culture!

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    • Very nice to hear that you are proud that your native and dominant language is English. You are right, not many people speak Latin these days. None of my friends in Australia do, and none of my friends from other countries do either. However, once I had an Australian classmate say to me he speaks “pig Latin”…which is an interesting kind of language since it really has nothing to do with Latin but topsy-turvy words based off the English language.

      Interesting to hear that way back, way before I was born that French was the universal language in the States. Someday I would love to read about how English took to dominating the world, and those examples you gave are certainly food for thought. I loved how you explained mother tongue through the phrase mamma loshen. It can certainly mean different things…then again, there are always different connotations behind each word.

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      • I was confusing, I’m afraid. French was the universal language in the world, in the Western world, at least. The language of diplomacy. Then it got overtaken by English, as is apparent all over the Western and the Eastern world too, at least for aviation and technical skills.
        What came somewhat close to being the official language of the United States was — German. There was a very large population of German settlers in the Middle West, and a movement for making German the official language.

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        • “French was the universal language in the world, in the Western world” That is so true, and something quite a number of us forget or don’t realise.

          Never knew German almost became the official language of the States. That would have been very interesting indeed.

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  27. When I speak spanish to a person who “looks Spanish/mexican” which is 50% of our population, I do it to honor them not to insult them. I think she saw a connection (to home) and greeted you as someone from home.
    Yes we can occasionally misfire (in our attempt to communicate) I spoke to someone who didn’t speak a word and the person just laughed.
    Thanks for your visits they are always appreciated

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    • You may be right that the woman who said “Ni hao” to me was just being friendly and trying a less routine greeting than “Hello” or “Excuse me”. Some people who speak Chinese are proud of it, and I think that’s the case too with the Spanish/Mexican population in your area. So hearing their language is something they warm too.

      Always love your poetry, Leslie. Thank you for stopping by!

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  28. Interesting conversation – what would the results be if we didn’t have any language? Spoken? Written? I’m happy to speak a “little” language like Swedish and a bigger one like English. I still understand French and understand some German (as it’s very similar to Swedeish) and also Spanish.I took some Icelandic as well at uni, but have forgotten most of it…

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  29. Mabel, you were so lucky to grown up with triple languages living environment! My first language is Indonesian, raised by Indonesian parents who did not share any other languages than Indonesian 🙂 Sometimes I wonder what happen to the children from international/transnational marriage…which exactly their first language? I remember my former colleague who was a Peruvian and married to a Dutch, spoke to her children in Spanish, while her husband spoke to their children in Dutch. The children spoke both languages perfectly. Judging by their circumstances, I guess they can be considered to have two languages as mother languages..and I guess nowadays, when international marriages are almost everywhere, there will be more children are having two languages as their “first” language…

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    • I have always admired people who could speak Indonesian. To me, that languages sounds like it’s spoken fast. People who are of mixed heritage did cross my mind as I was writing this post, and your Peruvian-Dutch friends and their kids are a great example. Those kids sound very smart knowing two languages fluently. Learning languages uses lots of memory muscle, going towards a better memory as I’ve read somewhere 🙂

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  30. Pingback: Ed Paschke | litadoolan

  31. It’s quite weird because my parents always insist that my mother tongue is Indonesian, because I was born there. In fact I only lived there till I was 2, then we lived in Singapore, then in Australia, and then…. bla bla you know it all. But in fact the language I best speak and I think in is English, or Australian lol. And Spanish. The Indonesian, because I never went to school in Indonesian, never had to read and write it, comes last. Funny considering it’s supposed to be what I first spoke.

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    • I think there are a lot of us who can’t speak our mother tongue (depending on how we define it…). I suppose when we’re 2 years old and up that’s the time we start to formulate words in our mouth and head, and so maybe that’s why you speak English and then Spanish best 😉 The older we get, usually the harder it is to learn our mother tongue or any other language as time is scarce.

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  32. Since I blogged last time about language…mother tongue is Chinese (Toishanese), but my first language/dominant language is English.

    So how much Malay do you still know? Would it be like my French…a few ordinary nouns and phrases for survival?

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    • My Malay is still pretty good. I can read a whole Malay book back to front at the speed of reading a book written in English, and understand most of the phrases. As for speaking Malay, sometimes I need to pause to think of the correct phrase to say.

      Sounds like you know some French, and know the basics quite well.

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  33. Well Chinese maybe the 2nd most spoken language in the world, but unfortunately English is the de facto global language of “status”.

    As you know in the academic world, particularily in applied and social sciences, It improves one’s notoriety in one’s discipline worldwide, to also have English underneath your belt. Academic papers and journals that are heavily known and read, are those in English.

    Knowing English, probably suggests to locals in Asian countries, a “status” that maybe “better” because one spent time/money/serious effort to learn English and master it, if their fluency is very good. I don’t know about Aussieland, but here in Canada, especially in Vancouver BC and Toronto, there are quite a number or private English learning schools that attract a lot of foreigners from Asia but also overzealous parents who place their kids to do better.

    My partner’s daughter (who did her Master’s in English lit.) has been working for such a school for over a decade in Vancouver.

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    • “English is the de facto global language of “status” Spot on, Jean. Love how you linked it to the academic world. To gain a foot in one of the top four universities in the world, having a solid grasp of the English language is a must.

      There are quite a few private second-language English classes in Melbourne. I don’t know how popular they are as I’ve never had the need to attend them and see for myself. It would be interesting if I did, though. I often wonder if such classes do a good job of teaching English.

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      • My partner’s daughter shares stories. The private schools are very mixed quality and aren’t required to follow a set curriculum. Nothing wrong with that for adults or for supplemental learning. However if someone had real problems, I would tend to advise adult young people who want to get into Canadian accredited colleges, to sign up for ESL course through such institutions instead.

        I believe for the high school kids learning ESL, I get the powerful impression for Asian kids attending some of the schools in Vancouver, there might be overzealous parents who expect a lot of their children or they are helicopter parents. ESL courses is a safe way to occupy the kid’s time while they are absent, whether or not the child truly needs a lot of English improvement. Or course, this is probably the minority of parents.

        The private ESL schools in Vancouver don’t seem to pay their instructors well with proper benefits. They end up working sometimes on statutory holidays, which I think is not right since public educational institutions are not open.

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        • “ESL courses is a safe way to occupy the kid’s time while they are absent, whether or not the child truly needs a lot of English improvement”. There’s quite a bit of truth to that for Asian families and their kids in the Western world today. On a similar note, back in school some years ago I had international classmates from Singapore and Malaysia who spoke perfect English – and they were made to take ESL when enrolled in Australia’s high school curriculum program. Don’t know if this had to do with their parents or it was a decision by the school.

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  34. Born in England, raised in Canada. English is nearly all I know. I studied German for 3 years back in high school but I never became fluent because I never found people willing to converse in it with me on a frequent basis.

    People who know of Canada’s official bilingualism expect me to be fluent in French also but I’m not, and I might actually have picked up little more Spanish now than French.

    My wife and I tried learning American sign language, and didn’t stay with it but we have been seriously considering making time to get back into studying it.

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    • Very interesting background you have there. You make a good point when you mention you aren’t fluent in German because you didn’t find people to talk in the language. Similarly, I studied Malay for ten years and can read it well, but when it come to speaking it, I’m not good at all in that.

      Sign language is certainly an important language. Like any language, you never know when you need it.

      Liked by 1 person

  35. What a great topic, Mabel. I speak Cantonese and English. Cantonese is my mother tongue, and unlike your parents my parents made a point that I speak it at home with them! Whereas with English I’d consider myself pretty “native”, but it’s not my “mother tongue”. I like your distinction of the two. In my mind the two’s meaning is exchangeable, but I agree that “native” denotes that you’re fluent in it in speech and grammar.

    It’s interesting that the stall lady spoke to you in Chinese/Mandarin in an Australian shopping mall. I would have thought the natural go-to language would be English. I actually get that a lot when I travel abroad, with vendors and passers-by greeting me with “Ni hao” much of where I go. Though Mandarin isn’t my mother tongue, I usually just politely smile and move on.

    I don’t feel overly offended, because I understand it’s very difficult for people to distinguish people coming from Hong Kong or Mainland China (now we’re treading on really touchy territory!) – appearance wise we look the same. And because there are so many more people from Mainland China than from Hong Kong (we’re a much smaller city…), I’m guessing that increasingly so, people in foreign countries receive more tourists from Mainland China (Mandarin speaking) rather than Hong Kong (Cantonese speaking). So the default language to use and perhaps learn, would be Mandarin and not Cantonese.

    In extreme cases, I’ve told people where I’m from and they told me, “Amazing! I’d love to visit Japan one day!”, hahaha … again, not offended. I’m sure at one point in life I’ve had trouble keeping New Zealand and Australia apart in my head (now that’s REALLY touchy territory!), or mixed up neighbour European countries with similar names.

    Perhaps the stall lady was very proud of having learnt the phrase and trying to practice it; she perhaps also assumed (incorrectly) that all Asian looking faces speak Chinese (how politically incorrect hahaha). The stare down at the end was a bit intense – one day – if she does that again, maybe she’ll get told off 🙂

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    • It’s great your parents insisted you knew Cantonese. I’m sure it comes in handy these days for you, especially where you live. I’ve reflected on the fact on whether or not if I could call English my mother tongue. And I’ve come to the conclusion, no. Not everyone in my family speaks it and if they do, not fluently and I guess I don’t feel a cultural affinity with the language like I do with simply hearing Cantonese (not sure if I explained this well, gah!).

      You are right. It really is hard to distinguish which person who seems to be of Chinese descent if they speak Mandarin or Cantonese (or neither) – it could go either way. In Hong Kong, I heard that if you look Chinese and if you don’t speak Cantonese or Mandarin, people will laugh at you. I find that a bit sad, but I suppose locals there are proud of their culture and language and expect others of their culture to converse in the same tongue.

      You are right. Mixing Australia and New Zealand up is touchy territory for some of us as we are two distinct nations that speak with different accents. However, it’s also very touchy if someone mentions “Where is Australia”…

      I reckon the lady was targeting international students who study in Australia, and that was a shopping centre where a lot of students hang out. Her shop sells very expensive organic beauty products, something that would appeal to the (whitening) skincare conscious female students from Asia. I felt that her stare towards me was sort of akin to a shooting gun being pointed to me as I walked away 😀

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  36. An interesting post, Mabel. I only speak English (I’m English, Irish and French descent). I would love to speak another language as words are so much more than communication. If you learn a new language you gain some understanding of a new culture as well. 😊.

    I went to China a few years back and tried to learn a few words of Mandarin. But there are so many different dialects! Pronunciation is a big factor too.

    I love your elephant photos. They are gorgeous! Have a top day Mabel.

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    • Thank you, Maria. So kind of you to stop by. So true. By learning a new language, we gain insight into another culture and perhaps new friends as well. Your trip to China sounds interesting, and sounded like you didn’t let the language barrier stop you from enjoying yourself. I’m sure the locals were very understanding and helpful 🙂

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      • I love your new look blog Mabel – it’s great! China is a fascinating country. My first post was about the city of Fenghuang which I was fortunate to visit. I enjoyed China very much – wonderful scenery, beautiful buildings and the food was great too! 😄

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  37. Another great blog Mabel! Seems like I haven’t commented in a while. Sometimes I get the ‘Ni hao’ from random people. Pretty annoying, because people think all Asians are the same. It’s all right if they are curious and want to know your ethnic background, but you can assume everyone is the same! Keep up the great work! 🙂 And I look forward to reading your next blog

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    • “…people think all Asians are the same”. You hit the nail on the head. There are people out there who think all Asians are Chinese judging by looks. On the weekend I had an elderly Chinese lady come up to me at the tram stop speaking Mandarin to me, asking for directions to Box Hill from the sounds of what she said. I told her in English that I speak Cantonese. She looked embarrassed, didn’t want to talk to the other Asian girls beside me who were clearly speaking Mandarin. Bit of a weird situation.

      Thanks, Hsin-Yi. Always appreciate it when you stop by and I”m sure you will find the next blog post interesting 🙂

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  38. I hadn’t really thought about the differences between native and mother and first languages. They all seem the same to me. And, yes, you can have more than one! I, alas, only speak English. I wish I had been exposed to a second language when I was young; by the time I did try to learn another language (I studied French), it was really too late. It is terrible when people make assumptions based on appearances. Alas, it happens all the time. :/

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    • I’m sure your French is better than others and it’s not that bad! And it’s also one of the more difficult languages to learn. Never too young or old to learn a language, maybe at some point you’ll pick it up again.

      Native tongue, mother tongue, first language, dominant language…they really do all sound confusing until you sit down and think about it!

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  39. interesting post Mabel 🙂 I havent really thought about the difference… I guess first language is applicable to counties where there are more than one official languages, hmm.. when I travel in Bulgaria, everyone (shop-assistants, vendors) address me in English lol 🙂 when I travel abroad, everyone addresses me in their local language… the assumptions we make sometimes are funny 🙂

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    • Thanks, Alexandra. I always love your thoughts 🙂 Very good point there – first language usually is more relevant when there are a few official languages in a country. Maybe you give off the impression you are fluent in English 🙂

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  40. Interesting! Since I grew up with only one language, it is very clear to me which language is my mother tongue. I have never stopped to think of other cases like yours, which you grew up speaking different languages. I think that even though it is confusing, you are lucky 😀 I wish I already spoke other languages when I was a kid, maybe German wouldn’t be so hard for me today!
    This article made me think of my kids, they will grow up listening to Portuguese and German at the same time… not to mention English 😀

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  41. My first language is Ybanag. Filipino/Tagalog (national language in the Philippines) is my second. English is my third. Trying to learn a bit of Arabic, Rinconada and Ilocano (ocal languages in the Philippines).

    I have always loved languages and given chance, I would learn more than what I have already mentioned.

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    • Interesting to hear Filipino/Tagalog is your second language, Sony. I always presumed it was many Filipino’s first. Now I know better. You are multilingual, such a great skill to have and I bet that also explains your fascination with English grammar and vocabulary conventions.

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  42. English is my first language but being Welsh I guess it should really be Welsh? Unfortunately I was never taught Welsh at school because in only started being taught just after I left school. Some people in Wales only talk Welsh and there is even a TV channel in Wales which broadcasts in Welsh.

    When I am in Wales (and I am there at the moment, Mabel), Welsh is written everywhere. Even utility bills come in Welsh as well as in English so I think it is a language trying to make a come back. As Wales is part of the United Kingdom I don’t think it will ever overtake English as the language mostly spoken but it is nice to see it making an appearance and being kept alive.

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    • Very interesting to hear, Hugh. I’ve never met anyone who can speak Welsh. Either I’ve never had the opportunity, or there aren’t too many who speak the language in this world in comparison to to theirs. Sounds like you know it quite well since it’s a language you’re constantly surrounded with.

      You’d need to point Welsh out to me, Hugh, when I do come to your part of the world to visit. It’s a language I really have no clue of to be very honest.

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  43. No, it is only spoken in Wales and then only in certain parts of Wales, mainly towards the North West of the country, but all of Wales has roadsigns, amongst other things, in both English and Welsh.

    I don’t speak Welsh at all. I consider it a very hard language to learn, but it is beautiful to hear it being spoken. I’d be delighted to introduce you to the language when you come over to the UK. You’ll see it written just about everywhere when in Wales, but probably not hear it being spoken very much.

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    • Ah, I see. So Welsh isn’t spoken everywhere in your part of the world. I would certainly love to hear about the language, how it sounds and it’s written over there. So kind of you for the offer. I find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that the language is everywhere in word form but it’s not spoken very much. A language that people see, but not hear too often.

      Liked by 1 person

  44. There is also what I call the heart language. Years ago I noticed that my best friend (Korean-American, raised in the States like me) would switch to Korean when she wanted to express her deepest feelings or memory. My husband laughs that I swear in Korean, too. LOL.

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    • “heart language” Absolutely love how you say it. So clever you are with words. There are somethings that can only be said in a certain language, and along with that, expressed in a certain feeling deep within us. Hope all is well with you, D. Miss you loads ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  45. You are an amazing young lady, and very smart. I have been stuck on one language my whole life. Here in America the best second language is Spanish yet it is something that I still have not come close to mastering. I have come to believe that there must be something in my brain that is switched off when it comes to learning a new language, this has caused me to admire greatly those who have been able to learn as you have. Congratulations to you for the person that you are.

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    • Thank you, Old Poet. You are very kind Learning a new language isn’t always easy. Not only does it involve pronouncing a set of vowels you aren’t familiar with, it also entails learning another kind of grammar. Engaging with native speakers of the language helps too. Sometimes it is a number of factors that make it hard to learn another language, and I’m sure you are not alone.

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  46. what an interesting article, because my mother language is somalian since my parents are from Somalia and I’m quite fluent in it but I can be a bit slow speaking it some times to the point where I don’t know what to say but my parents always said that I’m good bin it and that’s all that matters haha but I’m not good at both reading and writing it!

    I can understand a few words because I know the basics but my parents never taught me so yeah, but my first language is arabic which I’m super fluent in it and I don’t hesitate speaking it or anything mainly because I was born in an arabic country but in the same time I learned English by me self but I don’t really know If I can call my self fluent or not but I assure you that my English is better than my somalian “this is weird I know since I consider myself fluent in somalian #Ironic”.

    But then we moved to sweden and I learned and still learning swedish because I wanna master it and I want to be linguistic by learning mandarin too! I’m planning to study my uni in China when I graduate from school but then I don’t know because it’s really hard I tried learning it by myself and I always end up giving up but I have my other wanna Learn language which is hangul-korean I know a lot of Korean like really a lot I can start a decent conversation with the thing that I know but I don’t have the confidence to do it.

    and about the women that spoke to you in chinese I don’t know if I can consider her judgmental or not cause I did the same thing with my Vietnamese class mate by asking her are you chinese? she wasn’t surprised at all and she politely answered with no im from Vietnam but I felt a little weird afterwards and decided that I would never approach anyone without prior knowledge, the point is that people sometimes tend to judge others by their appearance though it wrong.

    and I really like your photos cause I love elephants and thanks have a great day.

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    • That is very encouraging of your parents, encouraging you to speak your mother tongue. If they are native speakers and they say you are good, then you must be good!

      I am sure your English is good. In fact, your comment is very well thought out and I really thought English is your first language. Learning a language with others can be helpful as it gives you the chance to practise the language with them out loud, and you can ease into learning how to have a conversation in that language. Good luck with learning Swedish and Chinese, and Korean too. Sounds like you have a fascination and love for languages there.

      I think the woman who spoke to me in Chinese really thought I spoke Chinese. After all, not everyone speaks English in this world, and I think your example with your Vietnamese friend illustrates this point very well. Thank you for your nice words about the elephants 🙂

      Like

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