What Language Do You Speak At Home? One, Two Or More

When we are home, the language we speak may come naturally to us. Or not. Depending on who we’re talking to at home, we may switch between speaking multiple languages and that can either be easy, or a bit of an effort.

I was born in Australia, and English is the main language of instruction in this country. It is my first language and that was what I spoke to my teachers and classmates at school. But behind closed doors back then and up until today, I speak a mixture of English, broken English and broken Cantonese; Cantonese is my Chinese-Malaysian parents’ first language.

Behind each door can be one or many languages spoken.

Behind each door can be one or many languages spoken.

It can be tricky defining “first language” and “mother tongue”. In general, the terms refer to the language(s) we speak at home, and/or the languages spoken by family. As there are more diverse families around and we get opportunities to live in different places, it’s becoming more common for many of us to speak more than one language at home.

The language we speak at home might be one that we call our mother tongue, the language that has been spoken throughout generations in our family. It can be the language most of our family speaks and we try our best to go along with that whether we are fluent in it or not.

When dinner is ready at home, my mum never fails to yell out in Cantonese, “sek fan” (吃饭), meaning “let’s eat” or literally translated, “eat rice”. When relatives come around, I let them know dinner is ready by saying “eat rice” in Cantonese. They don’t really know English. For my older aunts and uncles who have seen the days of World War II, Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew are the languages they know best. Therefore, when we are home, we might speak a number of tongue-twisting dialects.

We might speak a broken or mangled language at home, either because we struggle to speak that language or it’s the kind of language others at home understand. Lani at Life, Universe and the Lani suggests we may speak broken language with an accent, either an accent not usually associated with that language or an accent that is typically associated with that language.

When we read and think, we "speak" as well, so to speak.

When we read and think, we “speak” as well, so to speak.

When I speak English with my mum, I tend not to speak grammatically correct Australian English. After all, she struggles to understand the news on Australian TV, constantly asking me what the newsreaders are saying. Malaysian English or Manglish comes more naturally to her, that is English with Malay (and Chinese and other dialects) words thrown in the mix. As such, sometimes we speak a “shared language” at home so we can all get along, which may not necessarily be anyone’s mother tongue.

To some, English is a classy language that arguably gets one ahead in this world, and hence spoken at home. When my dad overhears me speaking Manglish to my brother these days, he goes, “You’re Aussie. Speak proper English. Or else the Australians will laugh at you” (which is ironic given Manglish is what I often speak to my mum). Sometimes we are taught and spoken to in a certain language at home because our parents want us to learn a language that helps us fit in with the outside world – we speak a language at home because we have to.

At home, we might be comfortable swearing and letting our language rip. We might let curse words fly behind closed doors in the language that comes most naturally to us. As Marta Lives In China pointed out, in China euphemisms shape insults. Growing up, I heard my Chinese-Malaysian parents openly insulting family at home using the Cantonese phrase “Zam lei gor sei yan tau” (砧你個死人頭, trans. “cut off your stupid/dead head”) when the latter did something wrong.

Depending on where we are and where we’re at, we can pick up languages over time and the language(s) we speak at home can change. Based on the 2011 Census, today Australians speak over 200 languages and more than 650,000 speak Chinese languages at home. On discovering ourselves, writer Rita Mae Brown said:

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going?”

Language connects us with those around us, and connects us with our home.

Language connects us with those around us, and connects us with our home.

There is every chance the language we think in at home – and anywhere else – contrasts to the language we speak. Perhaps we silently go back and forth between languages in our heads every day at home. When my mum speaks Cantonese, in a split second my head translates what she says into English, and then I take a second to formulate it all into Cantonese before verbalising my response slowly.

Similarly, reading is akin to speaking. When we read, we essentially translate the words on text in our heads to make sense of them. We silently speak in our heads with our inner voice if we aren’t whispering the words out loud – we still unconsciously “speak” texts in accents that we are most comfortable with. When I read English texts, the words echo in my head in a Malaysian voice. Sometimes a language rubs off on us more than we think.

Unless we’re monolingual, the language we speak at home may not necessarily be a language we’re comfortable speaking outside. It could be because we stutter speaking it or no one outside our family speaks it, so it’s common sense to speak another language and get along with the world. Sharing David Bowie’s sentiments on moving around, artist Edmund de Waal said:

“With languages, you can move from one social situation to another. With languages, you are at home anywhere.”

Sometimes we go back and forth between languages at home

Sometimes we go back and forth between languages at home.

Some feelings are better expressed in certain languages, and the language we speak in a given moment says something about us. No matter how bad I am at speaking Cantonese, I don’t think twice about speaking another language to my mum. I’ve also never felt embarrassed speaking Manglish, grammatically correct English at home or in public. It’s what makes me, me.

Switching between speaking different languages at home, and outside, can be challenging. But you get used to it.

What language(s) do you speak at home?

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265 thoughts on “What Language Do You Speak At Home? One, Two Or More

  1. Mabel, I love your photos! You have several interesting articles here. A couple of times I really wanted to comment, but there was just too many things going on for me so I couldn’t. I enjoy reading every one of them.
    My husband and I speak mandarin at home most of the time. However, when we have a big argument and mad at each other (not often ;-), we speak English. You see, I was not allowed to say any bad words when I grew up, so I never feel comfortable saying them in Chinese. After coming to America, however, I’ve heard plenty of bad words in English, so I am more used to hearing them and if I really want I can say them without too much trouble 😉
    My husband, actually, prefer to speak Taiwanese. My mom spoke Cantonese. Once in a while, just for fun, I would utter a couple of words (not bad ones) in those two languages. I am terrible in those.
    Thanks for another wonderful article. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So interesting to hear that when you and your husband have a tiff, you speak English. I’m picturing in my head you and your husband talking in Mandarin, and then someone says something (or do something) to displease the other and all of a sudden the conversation turns seamlessly into English. You two must be used to it by now 😀

      I think you and I speak Cantonese very much alike – not speaking it unless we absolutely have to or when we want to show off a bit! However, these days I do try to speak Cantonese to those whom I do hear speaking it…always fun immersing oneself in another world.

      Thank you so much for reading my posts. I am very humbled and really appreciate it, Helen.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Like you Mabel I am Australian born. My first words though were Cantonese. I only knew Cantonese until I was about 4 years old and then I moved suburbs and none of the kids in the street knew what I was saying. I quickly learnt Australian. In primary school I abandoned Cantonese forever, refusing to speak it. I now have no idea. When I travel through South East Asian countries, people come up and start to speak Cantonese to me and I have no idea.
    This is what the trauma of racism did to me. I hope in Australia in 2016, children aren’t taunted by a level of racism that would result in them abandoning a language altogether.

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    • Yes, Gary, we are both Australian born. And Chinese. And share the same birthday. Lots of similarities there. Cantonese is not an easy language to learn and understand, and I heard somewhere it is one of the hardest languages to learn. I also heard that if you are Chinese and do not know Cantonese in Hong Kong, you will be outright laughed and mocked at. In reality, we are a product of the environment we grew up in and it’s no a crime to not speak a certain language.

      With that said, good on you on knowing what you are confident at, and do it well. Ultimately, that is what makes us succeed and more importantly, be happy in our lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful blog post! Before I moved to the US at 6 years old I used to speak Asian languages really well basically on a fluent level before English took over.
    I was exposed to Burmese, Thai, and tribal languages such as Sizang and Zo. So I would speak smattering words in different languages. So kinda like for you Manglish or Burglish in my case, but it was more of Thai-Burglish. lol.
    So when I tallk to my mom, she would say things like “gin un?” It basically translates to “eat food” or “let’s eat food.” Gin is the Thai word for eat and “un” is basically food in Sizang/Zo languages.

    So I would basically speak pidgin of words from God-knows-what! lol.

    Sadly I’m only fluent in English 😦 yet I feel more comfortable using English when I write than when I talk.

    I can’t tell if it’s because of my introverted nature or because English was not my first tongue.
    Hmmn maybe both…

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    • Thank you very much, Suaylia. Burglish! That is something I’ve never heard of and it sounds rough on the tongue 😀 The tribal languages you can sort of speak sound very interesting, and I suppose they are not commonly spoken in a lot of places where you’ve been. So interesting to hear you combine Thai and Burmese language together. In a way it must be like some sort of secret code that you speak in your family and not many others know about it.

      You are not the only one who is sad. I too am sad that I am not entirely fluent in (spoken) Cantonese. A lot of the time, I feel shy when I speak you. Like you, I am very much an introvert.

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      • It sounds so ugly! But yes Burglish for Burmese-English mix. It is indeed rough. The tribal languages are not very common at all. Think of them like Native American languages or I believe Aboriginal languages perhaps in your case.

        Yes, it is a secret code among my family. But I admit I do feel shy when people hear it lol. It is like they found a secret chest or treasure that they should have never come upon.

        I think in a way it is shyness for me when I speak English, but also insecurity. My mom speaks broken English to me and that has honestly affected the way I speak English. Sometimes my speech can be a bit grammatically incorrect or I will pronounce one syllable in a word wrong. Minor details but enough for me to be self-conscious. But I’m working on it.

        I think I feel more comfortable writing in English because it was actually the first language I was taught to write in, so that tremendously help.

        I have also learned Spanish. I notice that when it comes to Western languages or non-Asian languages I’m more comfortable with non-verbal communication. But with Asian languages, the opposite is true. Asian writing systems are really hard for me! Especially Thai more than Burmese. But speaking in them is farrr easier than writing.

        Isn’t that interesting?

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        • Hahaha! A language like a secret treasure chest! Now that is a great analogy.

          Insecurity. I never thought of that. Maybe the perfectionist in us brings out that side of us when we speak a language we are not fluent in – sometimes others will judge and laugh, and we might feel hurt. I’m sure the more you practise English, the better you will get at it 🙂

          That is interesting. I suppose if we aren’t familiar with non-alphabetical languages, then it will be harder for us to learn. Maybe it’s a matter of perspective and what we’re familiar with that determines what makes it easier or harder to learn a certain language.

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  4. Hi Mabel,

    You have put together the reality of spoken languages so convincingly that I could immediately relate to many incidents…the curse words, the comfort of speaking your mother tongue and how it comes naturally! I think it is a universal fact…we tend to speak the language that is spoken around us, mother tongue is picked up in the lap of the mother and that is what is learnt unawares, effortlessly.

    Truly, I have been speaking a mixture of mother tongue and the languages spoken around me, trying to be courteous to the person who is speaking in some other language but when I speak to my mother and siblings, the words just flow naturally in the first language we learnt.

    English is not my mother tongue but now we speak it all the time…language has a lot to do with the place you are living at and the people we interact with. Yet behind closed doors, the comfort of our home, we tend to switch on to the mother tongue. Some times my grand daughter who is just learning to speak sentences wonders and questions…what is grand dad saying!

    Thanks for an interesting take on languages. Have a wonderful week 🙂

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    • I am so glad to hear that you can relate, Balroop, and I hope this piece brought back many fond memories in your household for you. It really is very polite of you to speak to others in the language they are comfortable with, and I am sure they respect that.

      When the words flow naturally, it is then that we can focus on other things about the other person we are talking to – their attitude, their body posture, their feelings, the tone of their voice – and in turn get to know them better.

      From the way you write, I would have guessed English was your first language. Your command of it is excellent and perfect. You were taught well. And I am sure you will teach your granddaughter well in speaking 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. If I could have a super power, it would be to speak to anyone in their native tongue. How I envy you your multiple languages — mangled or not! It’s all English at my home, although I often find myself speaking broken English for days after my Cantonese-speaking in-laws visit. 😉

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  6. Loved the Bowie graffitis!

    I grew up with only one language but when I was very young my mum would talk to me in Catalan. I never tried to speak it but I can understand most of it (it’s the main language of my mum’s side of the family).

    I think it’s very important that parents pass down their languages to kids, especially when they are minority languages. But many parents feel it is more important to “blend in” and speak the most important language. I can understand their point, but it is sad that the parents culture will be lost the kid forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Unfortunately that’s what happens when sacrifice is made so that kids can blend in with the culture parents speak the “important” language to their kids.
      If the kids didn’t grow up with the parents constantly speaking in the native language chances are it won’t get passed down to the next generation.
      Plus raising a bilingual/multilingual family is hard especially in a Western or monolingual environment!

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        • That is true. :/
          I wish sometimes I could go back in time couple hundred years ago where speaking multiple languages were the norm and EXPECTED!

          Sometimes I wish I could live in Belgium or Luxembourg where true multilingualism takes place. May those countries never die having a multilingual spirit because it is lovely.

          Languages are dying more rapidly than ever due to the internet and global expansion of the English language.

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          • Our ancestors must be very smart people to speak many languages. And back in the day, there was not internet so they must have taught languages to each other face to face.

            True. We spend time entertaining ourselves with videos and photos on the Internet. But it is also a good resource if we want to learn a language 🙂

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    • It’s like me and Cantonese. If you can understand Catalan news, I think it is a pretty good command of the language. After all, listening is always a wise thing to do rather than opening our mouths for quite a few situations…

      “blend in” with language. You said it much sharper and better than me. I suppose parents want the best opportunities for their kids, and hence advocate them to speak a certain language growing up.

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  7. I’m danish born but spent a large part of my childhood in northern Germany and have as grown up lived away from Denmark many years – visiting my old parents back in Denmark I speak danish – visiting my son and swiss daughter i law I speak german – at my own home in Alsace, we speak french – my business language is mostly english – besides so I speaks and understands dutch, italian, norwegian and spanish – I prefere to write in english (or danish) where I make less linguistic writing errors… 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is certainly a lot of languages you speak there and you sound fluent in most of them, or at the very least good at speaking them. Speaking a language is one thing, and writing is another. Generally, I think learning to speak a language is easier. With writing, there’s things like grammar, punctuation, verbs and the order of words or characters that we need to be mindful about.

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  8. I grew up hearing Thai, but as you know my mom never taught us out of fear that our English would be tainted. Such a generational difference, but what’s interesting is I did inevitably pick up some Thai. The floodgates really opened though once I moved to Thailand and started learning Thai. Suddenly how my mom behaved and what she said started to make sense. Culture is truly embedded in language.

    Manglish? Hahahhaa. Hadn’t heard that one before.

    If and when you have children, do you plan on teaching them another language?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think your mum and my parents think alike. I’m not surprised if your mum openly spoke Thai around you and your brother to those around her, and perhaps you picked it up that way. And through the community where you lived and when you went back to Thailand.

      Manglish. Not many people have heard it, and I won’t be surprised if people think if that’s an abbreviation for “mangled English” 😀

      I haven’t thought that far in life at all. If I do have kids, I will be speaking to them the way I speak, and it would depend on if I can afford language classes for them, aside from school language classes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s kind of crazy when I look back at my childhood. I was surrounded in Thai culture, but just grew up in Hawaii!

        I didn’t think of “mangled English” I thought “man English”! 😀

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        • I think Thai culture, and hence the language, will always have a place in you. Like this kind of saying goes, you can take the person out of Thailand, but you can’t take the Thai out of the person…

          “Man English” Hahaha. Lol 😀

          I’m now thinking of “Manglish” as mangled English!

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Mabel, I’ve been thinking of writing a similar post for a while. Speaking many languages can get quite confusing. And I’ve realized, no matter where you go in the world, people want you to speak their tongue. 🙂

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    • So true. Wherever you go, people will warm to you when you speak their language. Maybe they see it as a sign that you are interested in their culture and getting to know them. I look forward to your post on languages when you do write it 🙂

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  10. Oh, this is a fun one. I suppose I’ve always considered my first language or ‘mother tongue’ as English but apparently, before I started going to primary school, I spoke a bit more Mauritian Creole (Morisyen, a French-based creole) at home, it being the first language of my parents. Of course, once I was in school and surrounded by English-only speakers, I dropped any memory of Creole I might have had and didn’t pick it up again until much later in life. Ironically, despite English being my native language I definitely remember being put into an English as a Second Language group together with two Indians (a weekly class for one afternoon, I think it was) in the early years of primary school, while I was still in London. I found children of non-English-speaking backgrounds was more common in school when we moved to Sydney in 1990, though I would say the opposite is true nowadays – on my last visit in 2015, I found London to be far more multi-cultural and multi-lingual than Sydney, perhaps because of the freedom of movement that the European Union mandates.

    That said, my parents also spoke a few Chinese phrases (our dialect being Hakka) and like you, I remember the ‘sek fan’ being called out before dinner time (although, having never seen it written down, I’d always heard it as ‘set fan’ in my mind – maybe I heard it incorrectly or maybe it’s a dialectic difference). I did spend (perhaps my disappointed childhood self would say ‘waste’) six years worth of Saturday school trying to learn Mandarin and while I became reasonably proficient at writing (though my teacher pointed out I had a tendency to translate literally – the inverse version of Engrish, I suppose), I was never any good at speaking (the tones and pictograms, in particular, being stumbling blocks for me – I would often rely on the pinyin romanisation instead). It didn’t help that I was surrounded by Hong Kong Chinese who spoke Cantonese among themselves and Hong Kong Chinese are stereotypically very insular and ostracising of anyone who can’t speak Cantonese (though I do have Hong Kong friends from school, uni, and work, so that’s a generalisation not a rule) so I felt very alone and miserable during my time at Chinese school.

    I don’t blame my parents for trying, though. I know how to say and write some basic things like ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I love you’, plus I know how to write my name (it means New Hope, like Star Wars!). My mother’s father wanted his grandkids to know three languages: Chinese, French and English. I will say that one out of three is not bad, and while I would love to be multi-lingual, I would say I’m better than average when it comes to English. I credit my father for this, as he would often point out to me glaring grammatical and even spelling errors in newspaper articles and such and this nit-picking of poorly-written English has rubbed off on me. I also learned from him just how influenced we are in Sydney by the United States, through cultural influences like television shows and movies as well as political and military ties as a nation. As a result of his teaching, I’ve learned to stay much closer to the British style of English than my Sydney peers with regards to pronunciation, grammar and spelling. I don’t know what it’s like for you in Melbourne, but I understand that other states aren’t so much influenced by American English as perhaps we are on the east coast. It’s also a minefield for non-English speakers trying to learn English from the Internet, with some English-speakers being so lazy or ignorant when it comes to writing their own language on-line. I also find the vast majority of English-speakers (writers?) on the ‘net are from an American background so inevitably it’s the American dialect of English that dominates among non-native speakers.

    When it comes to speaking at home, I found it hilarious that my parents would speak Mauritian Creole with sprinklings of English and Chinese words/phrases mixed in. Whatever works, as you say (love the ‘Manglish’ label). My father also picked up a little of some other European languages – Spanish and Italian and others, I think (I have a Canadian cousin who married an Italian) – but nowhere near enough to be fluent. These days, he’s really thrown himself into learning Mandarin more, to speak with the increasing number of ESL Chinese at our church, so the teaching and learning happens both ways. For myself, as I’ve grown older, I’ve tried to pick up more of the family language and try to speak it more often when I visit my parents after church on Sundays. I’m still far from fluent, but the practice allowed me to hold half a conversation in very broken French with my hotel receptionist when I visited Paris, also in 2015. Despite the Chinese lessons, I’ve perhaps picked up more Japanese due to exposure to Japanese video games, as well as tiny bits of German and Portuguese from songs. But really, in terms of non-English speaking, I’m really only limited to a small amount of French (or its bastardised Mauritian equivalent of it).

    So yeah, I’m not ashamed to speak either English or what little I know of French with my parents or in public and I find it’s a good conversation starter, when people hear an ethnic Chinese speaking a (non-English) European language. My uncommon background perhaps also explains my (I suppose) unique accent – people don’t always immediately think of it as an English accent, but neither would they consider it Australian (neither the stereotypical ocker accent nor whatever passes for the American-influenced Sydneysider). Maybe I’m somewhere in between. But when I give public readings people seem to like my elocution, so whatever the accent it must be clear enough for them to understand what I’m saying and that’s the main goal, isn’t it? (:

    (Sorry for writing another essay-length response!)

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    • Language is certainly a fun topic to talk about. You could talk all day about it. “Mauritian Creole”. That is something I’ve never heard of, and it sounds unique to the place where you grew up. Interesting to hear that you were put into and ESL class – perhaps the school did that because they stereotyped you based on where your parents came from or the way you looked. Similar to the way how my primary school in Singapore thought I should take Chinese as a second language when I could barely count one to ten in the language. I ended up doing Malay as a second language.

      Like you, I found it easier to learn Chinese and Cantonese through pin yin. Just by hearing someone speak it, I find it hard to pronounce what they say right on the spot and correctly. “Hong Kong Chinese are stereotypically very insular and ostracising of anyone who can’t speak Cantonese ” I too have heard of this, but yes, certainly not everyone from Hong Kong is like that. My dad once said that if you are in Hong Kong and if you are Chinese and can’t speak Chinese or Cantonese, you will be laughed at in the open.

      It has never occurred to me whether Melbourne’s English is more Americanised or more British. I’m guessing more of the latter given our British settlement days and history.

      If your elocution in English is admired, then I think you are a good speaker and hold a very good command of the language 🙂 Goes to show that people are willing to stop and listen to you – and hopefully not admire you for the way you sound but for the stories you want to impart.

      Thank you for your insightful comment. I really, really, appreciate your input and thank you so much for reading.

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      • Clearly! Thanks for taking the time to write back to just about everyone – speaks of a lot of commitment on your part.

        As with creole languages, I wouldn’t expect anyone who didn’t know anyone from Mauritius to be familiar with Mauritian Creole. I grew up in London and Sydney, but my parents were born and raised in Mauritius (Indian Ocean island).

        I think it was stereotype that put me in the ESL class – back then there was probably a lot less awareness of multiculturalism than there is now. I can only guess you might have been encouraged to take Chinese as a second language since you already have Cantonese in your family background.

        Maybe the shared English background is what makes us recognise and understand Latin characters better than Chinese pictograms. I did try to point out that I know not every Hong Kong Chinese is the same (just as with any other group of people), but sadly my experience with them in general is of feeling very much being left out. That is sad indeed if what your dad says of Hong Kong is true (I haven’t been there before) but I hope it is not, just as I found the old stereotype of Parisians disliking anyone who can’t speak French to be false.

        It’s all right, I suppose one can’t really tell if we are lean more towards British or American style without knowing both. One would think we would lean more towards the British given the heritage, but in Sydney in recent times I find this to no longer hold true (in contrast with people I’ve met from Adelaide and Hobart). In the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter and many would argue our Australian English is its own legitimate dialect.

        I think I’m not really that good at public speaking, but that’s more to do with nervousness (most I have done is act as MC for formal college dinners for 40 or so residential students). But when I’m presenting something that someone else has written – usually giving Bible readings at church or in study groups – then I think I do reasonably well. Likewise in written text. I think you write very well as befits your interest in freelance writing. (:

        Again, thanks for your willingness to engage everyone individually as well as corporately. It’s really fun and appreciated!

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        • In Singapore, if you come from a Chinese family, you are expected to know your mother tongue. I think there’s an expectation of parents to pass on Chinese to their kids…something that is ingrained in the culture there. I wouldn’t be surprised if my school in Singapore thought my parents strange for requesting me to learn Malay instead.

          Sorry to hear about your experience with people from Hong Kong. Perhaps some are really proud of a certain language and believe it is a strong marker of one’s values (which can be true). I have a friend who went to Paris a couple of years ago, and she didn’t find the people particularly friendly, and she doesn’t speak much French.

          We all have our own strengths, and good to hear you know what is yours. Public speaking, or doing readings, is a skill in itself. As for me, I like writing and I am humbled to know people stop by my blog. Thank you for your kind words and I really do enjoy the discussion here thanks to you and to the rest 🙂

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          • Keeping it short (for a change!), I’ll just say that it can be a matter of luck as to what kind of people you meet. There’s been more than a few occasions where I’ve helped tourists find their way in Sydney, regardless of whether they can speak English fluently or not. (:

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            • It is true. Who knows who you will meet and what their perceptions and backgrounds are. You are very kind for helping tourists around and I’m sure they appreciated your generous efforts.

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  11. Great post Mabel 🙂 I have grown up speaking English – I lived in Singapore for about 3 years a long time ago and picked up some Malay through socialising – to my shame i have forgotten most of what I learned. In my workplace I have Indian friends and I love to hear them speak – when they get excited (or sometimes a bit naughty I think) they slip easily into Hindi… I am very envious of their bilingual skills and am constantly thinking I should relearn Malay. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    • Thanks, Andy. If we do cross paths at some stage, we can have a bit of a Malay conversation together. The other day I picked up a Malay fiction book I had in my closet, and surprisingly I still know a lot of the language. I am sure the language will come back to you at some point.

      I heard Malay – or Bahasa Melayu – is one of the easiet languages to learn. That said, I always struggled to decipher Malay idioms in my exams 😀

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  12. Very interesting article! I grew learning Mandarin Chinese first, as that was what I spoke with my parents. From speaking it at home it became a habit to speak to my parents in their mother tongue. However, English is somehow more fluent on the tongue for me as I was born in New Zealand. Great post 🙂

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    • Habit. That is a great word you used there, and probably a lot of us speak a certain language out of habit. It’s probably something we are simply used to. Maybe you feel more fluent in English on the tongue as you speak it more often 🙂

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  13. Wow, great post, something Ill be sure to make a post about soon! I was born in the UK and spoke as a Brit until I moved to the USA. I was only ten years old at that time and I picked up the American slang and accent in no time at all just to be able to blend in 🙂 When Im with my parents I speak proper British English and when Im with my buddies its almost always the American me. Sounds super weird at first but its just what makes me comfortable. Im not trying to “put on” and accent, its all natural!
    Now I live in Korea and my wife is Korean so we end up speaking a mix of English and Korean.
    Languages do truly open the world up to us, they are merely a tool we can all utilize when needed 🙂

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    • That is fascinating to hear that you picked up American speak in no time. I guess after speaking in different languages or accents for a while, it becomes second nature to you – and when you see a person, you don’t think of how you’d speak to them 🙂

      Nice little family you have there, and sounds like you learn English and Korean from each other 🙂

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  14. I also dunno lah. I tell you ah, my home, we rojak one. Mandarin with parents, English with the sister, and Cantonese with the grandma, mix-mix one. But hor, when I’m talking to my inner head, which I also call my alter-ego, it is usually Cantonese. So I guess my first language is Cantonese. Cincai lah, everyone calls us Malaysians multilingual, language experts, good what… 😉

    I wonder if anyone other than Mabel would read this comment and understand it 100%… 🙄

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    • Why you dunno? I think you know, smart alack. Speak so many languages, don’t action-action. I would have though the English would be your first language because you write (and speak I assume) it like a pro. Sounds like in your household it is normal to have different languages spoken right at the same time, like during a family gathering.

      Your inner head, your alter-ego? I always thought that was more like ego 🙄

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  15. As a monolingual person, I’ve always been envious of those who grew up with another language. Trying to learn another language in high school never really compared.
    Mind you, my home is rapidly evolving into something of a bilingual household as the Middle Son’s passion for Japanese and his two brothers’ equally avid interest in Japanese pop culture, means that my house is often filled with Japanese pop music on the stereo and Japanese anime on the television. 😀

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    • Some say the older you get, the more your tongue gets accustomed to speaking a certain way and as such, learning a language is harder. But if you put your mind to learning another language when you’re older, no reason why not really…

      Maybe one day your son will be fluent in Japanese and even teach it. Funny how popular culture gets us into picking up a language whether we know it or not. Hope you don’t mind Japanese pop music 😀

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  16. With my father I speak always German, with my mother usually German but also some Finnish, with my wife English with some little German, Finnish and Chinese and Nathan…well something of all of those languages 🙂

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  17. Once again such an interesting and thought-provoking post Mabel. And your photos are absolutely stunning! The first one with the graffiti is gorgeous! I just love it! 😀

    I wouldn’t mind being able to speak other languages, other than Afrikaans and English and well, there’s my Viking language. Those are my swear words. LOL!

    Our mother language is Afrikaans and I grew up in a home where Afrikaans and English were spoken and of course, the Afrikaans schools here teach English as a second language.

    The Cantonese language sounds so exotic and I know what you mean with ‘tongue-twisting dialects’. haha!

    You’re so correct when you say that a language that we find hard to understand is music to another’s ears and soul. That is how I feel about the French language as well. It’s just so beautiful to listen to. 😀

    I don’t think the Australians will laugh at you for speaking Manglish. I think they will find it fascinating. I know if I heard that, I would want you to teach me as well. 😀

    I think I must learn that Cantonese phrase. Sometimes most people’s heads are not where they should be. haha!

    I do that every day. Sometimes I even find it difficult to think in my mother tongue and finding an english word is easier. It’s good to hear that I am not the only one who struggle with that sometimes.

    I do find that the english language sometimes have better words than the afrikaans ones and around here I do the same and mix the two languages to express myself better.

    Thanks for sharing these awesome graffiti images Mabel. They are so colourful and go so well with this lovely post. 😀 ♥

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    • You are probably the first person I know who speaks Viking language. If I am correct, that refers to Old Norse language… If we do get the chance to meet, in exchange for teaching you Cantonese, you will have to teach me that. I don’t mind knowing the swear words…I just won’t say them often 😀

      Agree with you French is a beautiful language to listen too. It is a bit of a tongue twisting language too, as hearing some of the words I don’t think I can pronounce them right at all. Another language that I like and which is foreign to me is Irish. I think it sounds a bit like French.

      “Sometimes most people’s heads are not where they should be” LOL! You make me see the Cantonese insult phrase in a new light now. Chop of your stupid/silly head… 😀 I’ve heard people saying this Cantonese phrase with such gusto that it comes across as scary. Cantonese is really an emotive language…at least in my family, people can get quite animated when they are speaking it, body movement, facial expressions and all. Then again, it can also depend on one’s personality.

      I’ve heard Afrikaans is a language that isn’t too hard to learn. But I haven’t met many who know the language. Not too common here where I live.

      Thank you so much for your nice words on my Bowie graffiti photos. They are works of art, and speak a language of their own ❤

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      • hahahah. No, my ‘Viking language’ is what I call my swear words. I am from Norse decent as well, and that is why when I am angry and I start swearing, I will put my ancestors to shame. 😆

        It sure is and Irish is a lot like the Scottish language. They do talk so fast as well. Love the accent too. 😀

        hahaha! Glad I could do that and yes, when someone is annoyed or angry, the body language can be quite intimidating. I do that as well and because I am tall as well, I can be very intimidating. LOL!

        I also don’t think it is and there are quite a lot of South Africans that did move to Australia, but maybe they just speak afrikaans in their homes. 😀

        You are very welcome. I just love it! They sure are and do indeed. ♥

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        • Ohhh, I see. Viking language, your swear words 😀 But I am sure those words were created for a reason and for a particular context, as with all swear words.

          Body language is a whole other language altogether. In an earlier draft of this post, I included it in a paragraph but decided the post was long enough as it already is. I am picturing you, tall and strong, saying swear words in Viking language or any other language to put others into place 😀

          I have actually yet to meet a South African here in Australia, or at least Melbourne. Maybe they tend to frequent other areas and states. But if I do meet them, I will be sure to ask if they speak Afrikaans at home like my blogger friend ❤

          By the way, Mr Wobbles speaks his own monkey language, the language your Vervets speak.

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          • Yep. LOL! So it is. When you’re angry, upset or hurt, it is difficult to really find the right words. I think that’s where the swear words come in handy. 😀

            hahaha! I don’t even want to imagine that. I might just scare myself. My oldest son is taller than I am. Even I have to look up at him, so you can imagine what it looks like when he uses his body language when he is upset. And of course the two of us when we are fighting. LOL! We both have terrible tempers.

            Maybe they do and you should. I think they will enjoy that. 😀

            I love that language as well and can speak a little bit of it, so tell Mr Wobbles when he come to visit, he can teach me some more. Also, give him lots of hugs and kisses from me please. ♥

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            • It is amazing how swear words are often short and succinct – and we can direct all our energy on not finding the right word to say but putting all of that into expressing the word.

              I’m guessing sometimes you win and other times your son wins at these arguments. So in the end, it really is all fair and square.

              Mr Wobbles will be happy to teach you the languages he speaks. Being the cheeky thing that he is, he will put the swear words first up. He gives you a wave back ❤

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              • Totally amazing. I think it’s because all the anger, hurt or even surprise is best express that way. 😀

                Noooo, I always win. No doubt about that. hahahahah! He knows better than to start an argument with me. 😆

                I am very glad to hear that. Then I can talk better with the Vervets. Tell him that is fine as well. If the Vervets don’t know any of those swear words, I can teach them as well then. hahahah!

                Waves a kiss at Mr Wobbles. ♥

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                • That is great. Mr Wobbles loves it that you pass his messages on to the Vervets in the language they speak. Hopefully they learn to listen to Wobbles and become less aggressive towards him 😀

                  Mr Wobbles offers you some of his leftover Easter chocolate bunny ❤

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                  • I am glad that he does. The Vervets can’t wait for him to teach me some more monkey language. Maybe I can teach them to listen to me more, and that way they will behave towards Mr Wobbles. 😀

                    Awww, that is so sweet of him. Tell him I say thanks. 😀 ♥

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  18. This is another brilliant post Mabel and thank you for teaching me a Cantonese phrase ‘sek fan.’
    I have heard its quite difficult to learn Cantonese especially compared to Mandarin. I used to speak only Italian at home but grew out of it as I became older. Now I speak it brokenly but can understand it fluently x

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    • Yes, Cantonese is much harder to learn than Mandarin. There are a lot more tones and vowels, and they can be more tongue-twisting. Good on you for still knowing Italian. Hope you are doing well my friend. Lots of love x

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  19. What a lovely read! I have quite the amalgamation of languages myself. For the most part, I do speak English, but I tend to alternate between English, Afrikaans and Greek for the most part. More so, when I am with Derek, we tend to use a bit of Mandarin (although I’m nowhere near fluent). My dad is a true multilingual individual and therefore with him, we tend to switch between many languages such as Greek, French, Italian and even some Spanish and Arabic! LOL.

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    • The more time you spend with Derek, perhaps the more your Mandarin will improve 😉 ❤

      It sounds like your dad can switch languages in a matter of seconds – a linguistic force to be reckoned with, lol. Maybe you take after your dad and that’s why you can swtich between languages so well 😀

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  20. Amazing post Mabel! Coming from a culturally and linguistically diverse country like India and having grown up and lived in different parts of it, I can relate to what you are saying. I speak one language at home, English at work and several different languages with different friends but I’m not ashamed of knowing or speaking any of these…knowing them makes it easier for me to fit in with anyone and that adds to the charm. After all language is but a means of communication and nothing more!

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    • “knowing them makes it easier for me to fit in with anyone and that adds to the charm” You said it so elegantly, Aishwarya. Yes, be proud of all the languages you speak. Some might argue that you might be a know-it-all or show off, but as you said, it adds to communication.

      Sounds like there are many languages and dialects spoken in India among you and your friends and workmates. Hope to visit some day 🙂

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  21. Mabel. this is an extremely interesting post on the reality of languages – I found it interesting to know that Malaysian English is called Manglish. This is exactly similar to how English interspersed with Hindi words, and spoken in Hindi tone is called Hinglish. Btw can you tell figure out which language do you think in – is it one particular language or a mixture of English, Manglish and Cantonese? For myself, I find it difficult to pinpoint any one language.

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    • Thank you very much, Somali. It just occurred to me that Manglish can also be short for “mangled English” Who would have known…

      Hinglish! I like that word, and seems like you can switch between speaking English and Hindi fluently.

      Such an interesting question you pose there. Definitely don’t think in Cantonese. I would say a mixture of English and Manglish…I’d say Manglish most of the time 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mabel it is difficult to pinpoint at times. Like you said that you probably think in Manglish most of the time, I speak Bengali (my mother tongue) at home, frequently switching between English, bengali and hindi. I might be thinking in all the three ..and it is difficult to segregate which language I am thinking in at a particular moment. 🙂

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        • You raise a very good point, Somali. We don’t really stop to think about what language we think, let alone think about thinking. We might be unconsciously thinking in more languages than we think we are 🙂

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  22. I love the thoughts your awesome posts provoke. That must feel so empowering to have fluency in a number of languages. I wonder if this also strengthens creativity, especially with fiction writing, to have access to the rhythm of a number of dialects. I grew up in Wales which has a native language that is spoken mainly in the North (although English is also used). I wish I had a greater fluency in it as it is a valuable connection to the country itself. Thank you Mabel for your insightful blog.

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    • Thanks for your kind words, Lita. I wouldn’t say I am fluent in many language, more like different degrees of fluency in different languages 😀

      Many languages, more creative. “specially with fiction writing, to have access to the rhythm of a number of dialects.” You say it so poetically. I’m not sure if I understand the connection with fiction writing, though.

      Perhaps it has something to do with the more languages we know, the more cultures we come to understand and the more stories we can tell with conviction.

      Thank you so, so much for your kind words.

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  23. the Philippines has many dialects depending on what part/region of the country you grew up. but the common denominator is English because it is our medium of instructions nationwide. I speak Tagalog, the national language but I can also speak Ilocano, a dialect of the north. now that I live in the U.S., English is mostly spoken. although sometimes at home, my husband and I speak in Tagalog and my children talk back in English and we communicate quite well. colorful images you have 🙂

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    • I have come across quite a few Filipinos in Australia and all of them speak English very good. But at the same time, they are very proud of their culture and language.

      Ilocano. First time I’ve heard that. Now I will remember that. Good to know you still remember it, and if we do cross paths, I will ask you to teach me a few words in that dialect 🙂

      Such an interesting way of communicating with your children. Very, very cool and I can relate: sometimes I speak Manglish with my mum, and she speaks Cantonese, and we go back and forth like that.

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  24. Mabel I grew up in an English only household. I took French through highshcool and with each of our trips to other countries I try to learn 100-200 basic words. Unfortunately what tends to happen is that I launch into Italian when in Mexico and and Turkish when I am in Greece. Perhaps I shall just stick with English and hello and thank you in other languages.

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  25. Unfortunately, my family is monolingual. But it’s funny because I think I spend more time speaking English than I actually do speaking my mother tongue. Sometimes I feel like I’ve even forgotten how to use it, pfft.

    As for the broken English, oh brother! People certainly judge based on that, too! I used to do that too (might still be doing it). And before I get bricked by someone else, I’ll slap myself for it.
    This judging thing surely has some white origins.

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    • “Sometimes I feel like I’ve even forgotten how to use it” This is exactly how I think about Cantonese. Though I grew up around it, my parents never sat me down to make me learn it. Maybe if I paid more attention or was more proactive about learning it, I would be more fluent in my mother tongue.

      I hope you don’t get bricked for using broken English! If you want to speak it, why not and it’s not a crime. Some people might laugh at broken English, but I think it is a fun language in its own way.

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  26. Here at home english is the primary language spoken. The second language is spanish. My parent speak it but when it come to us kids the younger ones don’t know it, were the older ones do. For me, I understand it enough just to get by and can speak it a little. It funny because I don’t speak the language when am at home, but when am working, most of the people will speak to me in spanish, so I find myself replying back in spanish and english or what people known as Tex-mex.

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    • I have always wondered what the phrase “Tex-mex” means. Now I know, thank you for sharing that. Good on you for making the effort to speak your mother tongue, Spanish. It is sad that sometimes language and culture are lost on another younger generation, but sometimes, that is beyond one’s control.

      Maybe the more you speak Spanish to your colleagues, the better you will get at it.

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  27. I grew up speaking only English (except in my Spanish class in high school.) My husband spoke Hokkien and Mandarin and another Fujian dialect until he was about thirteen years old. Then he had to quickly learn English to get into an English-speaking international school in Yokohama, Japan. By the time I met him, he had few opportunities to speak either Mandarin or Hokkien. ANd when we had kids, he was most comfortable in English. I once asked him why he didn’t speak Mandarin to the kids. He said that when he got home from work, he was tired and just wanted to speak English. So our kids had to learn other languages at school. I think there are some definite advantages to growing up bi- or tri-lingual.

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    • It is an interesting family situation you have there, Nicki. It doesn’t sound like your husband is ashamed of speaking Hokkien and Mandarin, and yet chooses to speak English with your kids when they were younger. But, as you said, he is comfortable in English.

      Learning languages at school is a good thing. You get formally taught the correct grammar conventions and proper pronunciation. Also learning a language as part of a group can be fun, and you get to have someone to practise speaking it too.

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      • I think children are more likely to speak a language other than the country’s major language if it’s spoken by the mother, who is around them for more hours. My husband was comfortable speaking Mandarin with friends from Taiwan and China and speaking Hokkien with family members. Teaching me and the kids took more effort.

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        • That is a good observation. Children are always keen to learn new things and mimic what they see and hear around them. So if they hear a language enough at home, even one that isn’t spoken much outside, it will probably rub off them.

          Learning a language can be a bit of an effort, no question about that. Speaking is one thing, and reading is another.

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  28. Miss Mabel, I grew up in outback Australian in an English only household, but my brother and I went to a Mission Preschool, which is a reserve I guess, to house, protect, and ‘Christianise’ the local Aboriginal people, so we spoke some Aboriginal language too. But nothing that stuck, especially when we moved to the city where noone spoke the language.

    I took French and Japanese through school, but again, nothing much stuck. I think I will stick with learning the very basics of the places I visit tho.

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend lil sis. Lots of love and hugs headed your way. xoxo

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    • Never knew you got in touch with Aboriginal language. That is great. It is sad to hear that Aboriginal languages aren’t too widely spoken in the metropolitan areas of Australia. Hopefully that will change someday as that can go to somewhere to preserve a part of Australia’s history.

      It can be hard for a language to stick. Some Malay idioms I learnt in school I have no clue of today! But I am sure if i saw them somewhere, I’ll remember them in some capacity.

      Hope you are well big sis. Lots of huggles and kissies headed your way xxoo

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  29. Can you write in Cantonese too Mabel? At home we speak in Indonesian, yeah Bahasa Indonesia 🙂 Or that was the language I was made to speak in at home. However English comes easier to me, I sort of struggle to read and write Indonesian. My brother and I speak in English. Actually I didn’t start speaking in Spanish till I was a teenager, because my dad had to travel a lot for work when I was small, so he wasn’t continously there to speak in Spanish. The thing is that yeah I’ve always spoken more than one language and so I think that gives us more flexibility to the brain. I can skip from one language to another, even in the same phrase, no problems. Whereas Mr H. who does speak a multiple array of languages too, but only from adulthood, can’t do that and it really gets on his nerves when I start mixing languages together, lol/

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    • No, I don’t write Cantonese at all and I wish I could. I can barely remember how to write most of the Mandarin I learnt in school 😦 So interesting to hear you speak English better than Indonesian, and you spoke the latter at home.

      Maybe the more and the longer we speak a language and speak different languages, we become more adept at switching between them. Maybe Mr H has to put up with you a little longer and then he will get the art of mixing languages 😀

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  30. Personally, my mother speaks Russian but I was not raised knowing the language. I have always resented my parents for that. Russian was just the language my mom spoke to my aunt, but not to me or my siblings. I don’t know why that is; perhaps my dad wanted to make sure we learned English. Studies show that raising kids bilingual is good and doesn’t hinder development at all. Sure, I could learn Russian as an adult, but it would be lots of hard work and never the same as having already known all my life. Well too late now.

    Very interesting blog, thanks!

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    • I have to agree with you. Part of me wishes my parents sat me down formally and thought me Cantonese properly. Growing older, our brain and tongue becomes accustomed to the languages we speak the most. Maybe your dad wanted to make sure you were proficient in English and not confuse languages with each other.

      No, thank you, Ray, as always.

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  31. Having lived in Canada from 2 until 35 years old, the only language I’m absolutely fluent in, is English, even though I only spoke Korean until I was 5 (or so I’m told). And now that I live in Korea, I speak English with my husband at home, but speak broken Korean outside the home because it’s required. The funny thing is that when I’m at a loss for vocabulary in Korean, sometimes a French word pops into my head instead. I guess 9 years of French classes in Canada imprinted in the language centre in my brain somehow.

    My hubby’s first language was Albanian, but then he subsequently became fluent in Greek, Italian and English, and can pretty much get by in Spanish. He and his family speak the weirdest mix of all these languages to each other…one that I’m sure pretty much no one else could understand! 🙂

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    • That is such an interesting mix of languages between you and your hubby. It sounds like his brain is wired to speak as many languages as possible, and that weird mix of languages sounds like a secret language or code they speak in 😀

      Good to hear that you can get by in Korea with broken Korean. it sounds like the locals over there appreciate you speaking the language. Haha, hope you haven’t blurted out French instead of Korean when you are speaking to someone in Korean!

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  32. Very cool photography, Mabel! As for language I know only one and that is English. I attempted to learned French in high school but failed miserably to understand. It seems I do not have a brain for languages. I was outstanding in math and English and today art (smile). There are some people I know who it is difficult as it is to get English clearly understood. LOL Great post, my dear friend! I so enjoyed it ! ❤

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    • Thanks, Amy. Don’t say that. I am sure that it just wasn’t the right time and place to learn French. Also, some of us learn best outside of the classroom in our own time. I think that is how you got so good at your art, writing and photography 😉

      Yes, not all of us are fluent in English and I think some of us forget that. The world is such a diverse place ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Some people are better at languages then others, Mabel. I’m not one of that I know that. I went to Italy when I was younger and was SO lost and just unable to pick up the language at all. Of course, everyone spoke so darn fast it made my head whizz. LOL YOU have a great weekend!!! ❤

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  33. Growing up, Filipino was my language. Now that I have my own family, I speak mainly English (with a trying hard American accent to boot so that I could be understood). I wish I can teach my language to my children (I try to little by little) but I find it quite tedious to verbalize the same thought twice. I promised to myself to pepper my conversation with Filipino here and there just to remind my children of half of their heritage. Maybe, one day, they will appreciate it more than they do now.

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    • “trying hard American accent” Awww. I am sure you speak English very well the way you do. After all, you write so well, especially your poetry. I see what you mean, and I think that is a valid point: thinking the same thought twice in two languages can be hard since at times, you can’t verbalise a thought in a language in another.

      I am sure your kids will appreciate Filipino culture 🙂

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      • Thank you, Mabel. 🙂
        I have a thick Filipino accent that, by necessity, I tried to temper by learning American accent. I used to say (and still do) English words in my Filipino accent and elicit laughter or raised brows because I inadvertently pronounced a word for something inappropriate.

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  34. This is so relate-able to an Indian…because most of us speak 2-3 languages fluently…and usually when we speak with friends or family, we usually make a mash of it and what comes out might seem gibberish to a lot of people! But, we wouldn’t have it any other way! 🙂

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    • It is interesting to hear quite a few Indians say they speak more than one language, you included. And so proud of it too 😀 I suppose if your family and group of friends are comfortable speaking that mash of languages why not. It can be your secret language.

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  35. Love the street art pics, so suitable for a post about communicating. Sadly, I have never become fluent in a language other than English, although I have picked up scraps of other languages. I surprised myself when I was in Germany a few years ago by suddenly remembering things a German boyfriend had taught me, and in France by recalling snippets of high school French – but in both cases never enough to do much more than pass the time of day or do basic shopping.

    The language I know the best other than English is probably Twi, my son’s dad’s language, but as the family all speak English I don’t use it much. However I can always pick when people are speaking Twi, and sometimes when listening to Ghanaian music videos, I realise I can understand fragments of the lyrics – which is cool. Learning to speak Twi more fluently is on my to-do list, but difficult when not surrounded by it all the time, as I was when I travelled to Ghana.

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    • German must have struck a chord with you, seeming that you learnt it from someone in a memorable moment in your life. I don’t think knowing only scraps of a language is something to be ashamed of. If anything, it can bring us a step closer to getting to know those who speak the language.

      Hopefully you get to pick up Twi at some point. I haven’t met anyone in Melbourne who can speak the language, and I’m guessing a small community here speak it.

      It is sad to hear some languages don’t get spoken in the family and get lost – even speaking scraps of language can assist in preserving culture. But then again, there is always a reason behind speaking a certain language.

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  36. Your confusion, Mabel, is only between Cantonese and English, and Singapore and Australian variants of English. Hence it is a manageable situation. Now just mentally reposition yourself into a multiethnic and multilingual country that is India with 22 official languages to figure out how confounding the confusion can be. Yet, over a billion Indians have grown up amidst such a variety of cultures and languages that most of the educated Indians can speak and find his way at least in two other languages than his mother tongue. My mother tongue is the southern Indian language of Malayalam, which I speak at home. Whereas, I am equally at home conversing in English or Hindi or even Tamil. There is an underlying unity in India’s diversity. The most ancient languages are Sanskrit and Tamil, predating all other world’s languages. The world’s oldest literature is Rig Veda, written in Sanskrit.

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    • I heard there are lots of languages and dialects in India. But never knew there were 22 official languages. Thank you for enlightening, Raj. It does sound like India is very proud of all the languages that encircle its society, and that is certainly a strong marker of a culturally diverse country.

      Judging from the languages you speak and switch between, it does sound like I have it easy 😀 Good on you for being fluent in speaking Malayalam, English, Hindi and Tamil. Not sure if you write each language fluently too, I suppose you are also good at that.

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  37. Unfortunately, I’m more or less monolingual. I know a few words in other languages but to actually speak in conversation… can’t do it. I can tell you that I don’t understand you in four languages though. My grandfather came from “the old country”, Russia. He spoke low German though because his community was longtime immigrants who moved when Katherine married the Czar. He and my grandmother were “the babysitters” for my brother and me. When it was time to go to bed, he would say, “Go slaffa.” He was saying go sleep.

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    • It can be hard to pick up a language for some of us. It could be because we don’t have the time, or we might find it challenging to adapt to new vowels and tones as our brain is so used to one language.

      Thanks for sharing about your grandfather, Glynis. It sounds like “Go slaffa” holds special meaning for you.

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  38. Aah its the same for most indians! We have at least 22 or more regional languages. Where I was born and raised..we spoke 3 languages! Hindi as its an official language. English as its the medium of education and bengali which is the regional language. So even today I use all three and understand a smattering of three other regional languages! Fairly common to use a mash up of the languages too 🙂

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    • That is exactly what Raj said earlier in the comments – that India has 22 official languages. Amazing. Indians are certainly proud of the languages and dialects that they speak!

      My hat is off to you for knowing three languages fully. It must have been a natural part of your life growing up – and that is often how we become so well-versed in mashing up languages.

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  39. Great pixs. You have an eye for composition and creativity, Mabel.

    Whilst growing up in the tropics, I was surrounded by neighbors who spoke different dialects. I got by in Sarawak Hokkian and Malay, Teochew, Hakka, I could understand Cantonese and some Hainan. At home, I spoke different dialects and or Sarawak Malay depending on the company I was with. No one had ever laughed at my accent or not being able to speak the dialects or language well.

    Since then, I have lived in different countries.

    They say the French can be rude if one does not speak French. I have a better understanding of written French than High German. I have been to Paris twice but I did not have a bad experience.

    Here in Turkey especially with young people, they laughed at my pronunciation of the Turkish words, their name or if I used the wrong Turkish word in my speaking. I had an educated young adult telling me that Indians speak funny (some may have an Asian accent but they speak very good English). Other young Turks and adults think they can speak English yet they struggle with the difference between discuss and describe, than and then, practice and practise, when to use some, any etc. Yes, I feel serenity. Quite!

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    • You certainly have come across different variants and speakers of language, Traveller. Impressive, and that is quite a few dialects you spoke in Malaysia. Interesting to hear no one laughed at you speaking any of the languages. Perhaps the company you were with appreciated your efforts to converse with them.

      Sorry to hear that you had the converse experience currently in Turkey. It sounds like you were treated as an outsider despite your attempts to get along with the locals. It could be the company you keep, or perhaps it really is something that is prevalent in wider society over there.

      Ah. Sometimes English words sound the same, but they can mean very different things 😀

      Like

  40. You’ve sparked off some interesting conversations here, Mabel. I kept stopping to read the comments all the way down. 🙂 Superb graffiti shots, by the way!
    Language is a bit of a sensitive subject for me. Dad is Polish but never spoke Polish to me when I was small, and I am having an enormous struggle learning it now. I had just started to learn Portuguese(because of our Algarve home 🙂 )when we were contacted by our Polish family. I was good at languages at school and really enjoyed French but it’s a definite challenge when you are older. (I don’t commit enough time to it is one of the problems)

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    • Sorry to hear that languages is a sensitive subject for you. Apologies for any offense. A language can be hard to learn as our brain can be so accustomed to the one we speak on a daily basis. As you mentioned, time can also be an issue. Practise is always key to learning a language, and I have faith you’ll pick up Polish at some point – even if it’s just the basics 🙂

      Thanks for your nice words, Jo. I took these photos randomly, and didn’t expect to use them in a post. But they fit this theme. Also, thank you for reading the comments. Much appreciated and best wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

  41. I’m not familiar with Hokkien and Teochew dialects at all. What do those tongues sound closest to? Rather interesting which Chinese dialect groups immigrant to various parts of the world. Toishanese is a subset of Cantonese, a peasant dialect that reflects the dominance of immigrants from mid-1800’s to 1960’s into Canada from Sze Yup area/delta just north of Guangdong/Hong Kong.

    Not surprising there would be a lot of Chinese speaking Australians now, given proximity to Asia.

    Like

    • Hi Jean,

      My understanding of Penang Hokkian is that it’s the classical form. It is very different from Hokkian spoken elsewhere. It’s widely spoken in Penang, an island off the West coast of Peninsula Malaysia. Penang is famed for its food and they have their specialities eg preserved nutmeg, chicken biscuit. I hope I have been correct with the information given.

      Teochew and Hokkian dialects are like chalk and cheese. Growing up, I also spoke two different form of Hakka (they are quite similar).

      The above dialects are in my view very different from each other apart for the Hakka.

      Liked by 2 people

    • That is an interesting question, Jean. Traveller has very kindly provided a great explanation – Hokkien and Teochew are certainly different dialects. I feel they sound closer to Cantonese than Chinese, but that’s just my opinion.

      “which Chinese dialect groups immigrant to various parts of the world” Such an interesting train of thought. Now I am wondering about that too…

      Yes, there are more Australians who speak Chinese at home. Vietnamese is also spoken quite a bit here too.

      Like

  42. The Captain speaks 4 languages, his native Italian, French, Spanish and English. I sadly only speak English. Typically we speak English on board, unless The Captain is swearing :-). When he was impacted by his recent chemo treatment, he started speaking to me a couple of times in Italian without realizing he was speaking Italian.

    In my childhood home, my father’s parents spoke Russian, German Polish, and Yiddish, but sadly, they never taught their children or grandchildren these languages as they felt full assimilation was key to their survival in their new homeland.

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    • The Captain sounds like such an able-bodied and minded guy. I’m sure that all the languages he speaks comes in handy whenever you are sailing the world and being tourists.

      Assimilation is certainly key to survival in a new country, so it is understandable why your parents taught you English. Maybe when The Captain gets well he can teach you some of the languages he knows. But I’m sure you’ve picked up some along the way 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  43. PS – Your images are AMAZING. You know how much I love street art and you have found some marvelous works here. I like the way that they are woven through your post. The language of art!

    Like

  44. I enjoyed the post, Mabel. It was very interesting to read about the different languages you use depending on the situation and the person you are speaking too. Having a range of different ways in which you can describe and consider things can only be a tremendous plus, I think. 🙂

    Like

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