Why I Don’t Speak My Mother Tongue Fluently

Not all of us can speak our mother tongue. Just because we look a certain way doesn’t mean we speak or write a certain language.

The dialect Cantonese runs in my Chinese-Malaysian family. My parents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts and generations before me speak it fluently every day (and Mandarin too). While I have no trouble listening and understanding a conversation in Cantonese, the language doesn’t come easy to me when I speak it.

The languages we speak, and wish to speak, are a reflection of who we are |

The languages we speak, and wish to speak, are a reflection of who we are | Weekly Photo Challenge: Wish.

Defining mother tongue can be tricky as I’ve blogged about here. It can be what we call our native language. Or first language. It could even be our second language. For this post, let’s refer to it as the language from the motherland – the land(s) where our family are from, the language(s) our ancestors spoke throughout centuries.

When we were never formally taught our mother tongue while growing up or in our lives really, chances are we might feel alienated from the language, feel less inclined to speak it. When we’ve never (ever) been constantly exposed to a certain language, naturally it doesn’t have a part in our lives – it doesn’t matter in our lives, hardly plays part. This phenomenon touches upon individual linguistic insecurity and embarrassment; the concept entails substituting speaking another language, sometimes in order to access greater social prestige.

Growing up in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore, at no point did my parents insist I learn Cantonese or Mandarin. They speak Cantonese with each other. But whenever kid-me interrupted their conversations, they paused their rapid-sounding Canto and addressed me in English. Unlike my cousins, I never went to a Chinese school but attended private schools where English was the medium of instruction. As a kid, English was at the forefront of my mind and naturally on the tip of my tongue, and Cantonese…passed me by. Even my relatives addressed me in English, albeit in stuttering English.

Where we are at and the company we keep often determines the language we speak, the language we get used to speaking over time and are comfortable with in a moment of time. Our mother tongue may not be the language that helps us survive, assimilate and fit in; we speak what we have to speak to get along with others. In Australia, English is the dominant language spoken; learning a second (Asian) language is declining. Some students avoid second-language learning in schools as they worry it could jeopardise their chances of getting into Australian university. In other words, at times speaking our mother tongue isn’t helpful when it comes to making strides in this world.

At the private school I attended in Malaysia, half of my classmates were Westerners from the States, the UK and Australia. The other half were local Malaysians of Malay, Chinese and Indian descent. Our common language was English, so we spoke English. Today, I speak English when I’m at work because my office conducts business in English; I want to be more than good at my job so speaking English it is all day.

We're drawn to some languages, but not to others.

We’re drawn to some languages, but not to others.

Perhaps we actually formally learnt our mother tongue at some point, but it was a subject that we disliked or found it hard to follow along so we disliked it. While one can argue learning language by rote using flashcards encourages us to memorise and ignore the ‘why and how’, a study shows singing foreign language phrases makes it easier to remember a language. When we’re forced to learn a language, it can feel like a chore and we might never feel drawn to it – similar to how some of us are bad at maths but are forced to learn it. For a couple of years in primary school in Malaysia, Mandarin as a second language was a compulsory subject. Even after practising writing Chinese characters two hundred times in square-box exercise books, I’d forget how to write them the next week. And I didn’t look forward to writing them even more.

And though we may want to learn our mother tongue or any other language, we might not have time to sit down, actually commit to learning and speaking it. The older we are, the harder it is to learn a language: adults tend to be biased towards logical problem solving, tending to treat language learning as an object instead of something to do. The older we get the more difficult it is for the brain to overcome grammar rules of unfamiliar language – the tongue is wired to pronounce certain syllables. As adults, we might feel we can never catch up to speaking and writing a language fluently, always playing catch up. Then again, each of us are a work in progress and we all have different accents and levels of literacy.

Some of us may feel guilty for not speaking our mother tongue. There may be moments where we miss out on connecting with those who speak it and don’t speak another language. Speaking the same language fluently with each other, there’s common ground and an unconscious understanding between each other. As Nelson Mandela said:

‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

Don’t speak a language, we may get singled out for ‘if you don’t speak it, you lose it’. When I caught up with a friend from Singapore last year, we talked about the languages we spoke today. When I mentioned I speak mostly English these days, he mentioned I was a ‘banana’ – Asian-looking on the outside but not fitting the Asian stereotype.

Language is a reflection of culture, and culture a reflection of language.

Language is a reflection of culture, and culture a reflection of language.

Part of me didn’t mind because this concept is a reflection of me as an Asian Australian. But the other part of me minded because as an Asian Australian, I also fit the Asian stereotype, in other ways. Just because we don’t speak a language doesn’t mean we don’t associate with the culture behind the language. We may not agree with a culture’s values but we may speak the culture’s language – like how I don’t believe in the Chinese superstition of not using scissors on the first day of Chinese New Year but still wish the folks a clunky-sounding gung hei fatt choi that day.

Consequently, some of us choose not to speak our mother tongue not out of spite but for the reason that we simply don’t have to. We are more than our labels; we are more than the languages we choose to speak, just as we are more than the way we look. We are the language of our stories that we live each and every day.

Then again, as much as culture is language, language is culture. When it comes to expressing certain emotions and certain sides of our personalities, some things are best said in a certain language. Aside from the Chinese New Year greetings, it simply feels right when I address grandma as pópó (婆婆) and grandpa as gōnggōng (公公) as a mark of respect, no matter how unnatural it feels to enunciate the words with my tongue.

In other words, I ‘feel’ my mother tongue within me, but am in a way dyslexic when it comes to speaking it out loud – and I’m much more confident spelling out the Cantonese words in pinyin or alphabet form instead.

Sometimes we don’t know what we are saying until we say it, and the past always has a habit of catching up with us. MRI scans and studies show that ‘lost’ first languages can be unconsciously retained: when we listen to tones of a language ingrained within our heritage despite not speaking the language, our brain has a higher level of activity. That is, we don’t ever really lose a language that we’ve been exposed to or never been exposed to at all – or, loosely putting it, we know a language by sixth sense if it runs in the family. Moreover, languages and the way we speak a language is constantly evolving. As T.S. Eliot said:

‘For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.’

Our past will always be a part of us. Just like how some languages will always be a part of us and colour our life.

Our past will always be a part of us. Just like how some languages will always be a part of us and colour our life.

The other day I wandered around the Asian grocery store near my place. I decided I wanted a sugarcane cane drink, and took a can to the counter to pay for it. The elderly Chinese lady behind the cash register scanned it.

Yi kuài qián. Nĭ yào sù liào dà (一块钱 你要  塑料袋 / One dollar. Do you want a plastic bag)?” she asked.

Bú yào (不要 / No).” Without thinking and without missing a beat I placed a dollar coin on the counter.

I left the store. Paused. Wondered what I just said.

Sometimes we might not feel the need to speak our mother tongue in the here and the now. For we simply don’t need it. But sometimes we can’t help it and when we do, it opens up the heart – yours and mine – a bit more in the present. And opens up a bit more about ourselves.

Do you find it hard to speak your mother tongue?

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250 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Speak My Mother Tongue Fluently

  1. My father’s parents spoke German, Russian, Polish and Yiddish but never taught it to their children or grandchildren because they wanted us to be ‘American’. I am sad not to have learned their languages but I do hear you on the MRI studies that show that ‘first languages’ resonate with us somehow. Whenever I hear their languages spoken, I feel a connection to them. ✌️❤️🐵

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  2. I am a member of Toastmasters, and just 2 days back a member of our club from Chinese origin spoke about related aspects. In fact, her command over Chinese, Korean, and Japanese languages helped her get a job in a renowned firm early on in her career.

    I would think we should have an advantage if we speak multiple languages, especially the famous ones like Mandarin and French. My mother-tongue Hindi is not used outside of India, so I don’t have any benefit of it anyway.

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  3. My Spanish teacher in college said that there are four separate skills in learning a language: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. It’s not surprising that you’re better at understanding than at speaking Cantonese. They’re two separate skills.

    My husband spoke Hokkien, his childhood language well. He never lost it. But it was never the language of instruction, so I suspect his vocabulary was immature. He liked to read in English and Chinese. His written Chinese was pretty good, but after about the age of twelve, he went to an international school where the language of instruction was English.

    I think it’s unfair and unkind for people to criticize someone for not being fluent in the language of their parents. We all have different goals in life. Although it would be nice to speak many languages fluently, our time is limited.

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    • Your Spanish teacher breaks down language learning in a very pragmatic, level-headed way. Some of us might be better at listening, some of us speaking. Some of us might be comfortable doing something over something else.

      Your husband sounds like he valued Hokkien for one reason or another, perhaps because his parents and many in his family spoke it. Maybe each time he went home, he felt like he was coming home to the language. Also, agree with you that our time is limited. All the time I spend on writing could be used to learn a language.

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  4. I’ll be back for this but I am dropping by to congratulate you on Lady by the River. I saw a picture of the book in Sherri Matthew’s page and read your name in it. Congratulations! 🙂 I am so happy for you.

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  5. Fantastic post as usual, Mabel. I have no second language. I’ve studied both French (as a child) and German as an adult but speak neither fluently. My family is English speaking so there is not a cultural or family influence that you discuss here. It is fascinating and makes total sense that it becomes ingrained and automatic when it is part of your heritage. I love the images you’ve shared here to go with your message and the quotes regarding language. Very educational!

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    • Thanks, Lisa. It is great that you know some French and German. If you visited France and Germany, you’d probably find your way around pretty easily 🙂 Glad you like the photos. It takes about a day to pick out and post-process photos for each post 😀

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  6. Here, I will speak in behalf of my children. Being an American on their father’s side, they, of course, have English as their mother tongue. But because they are also Filipino because of me, they can also claim Filipino as a mother tongue. Unfortunately, that they cannot do because I have been too lazy speaking twice (in Tagalog and in English) when I am conversing with them. At first, I did not think much about it but now, I am a bit sorry and embarrassed that I did not exert a lot more effort teaching them to learn an important part of who they are. Recently, I have been trying to speak more Tagalog at home so that my children’s minds, especially the younger ones’, will be a little more predisposed towards our language.

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    • Maybe your children will catch on to more Tagalog. I am sure they grasp it and at least understand what you are trying to say. After all, they probably are familiar with some Filo food… They can’t escape the language 😉

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  7. Great write-up Mabel! Answering your question…do I find it hard to speak my mother tongue? No. I have a fair degree of expertise in my mother tongue/s. But then, spoken sentences are often strewn with English words. There are times though when I do not get a chance to speak my mother tongue. Outside home it’s all English and at home, often my family is very busy…but then I call my mom every other day which is when it’s all about mother tongue.

    I like your idea of defining mother tongue as a language from ‘the land where our family is from’ or ‘the language(s) our ancestors spoke throughout centuries’. That because often a mother who brings us up, herself might not be speaking in her native language esp. if her ancestors left their native place many generations ago. In such instances, a woman’s children cannot always call their mother’s language as their mother tongue. Or can they?

    That said, migrant children grow up under considerable pressure to learn multiple languages, something perplexing as well as interesting and rewarding for those who can cope. My son went through exactly all that you mentioned here. If parents speak their mother tongue at home, their child develops at least some level of familiarity with the spoken part of language, but then the written part needs time and effort and as you mentioned, time is lacking. Even then one should try not to lose one’s roots altogether 🙂

    I will now read your other articles too. I was away from blogging all this time and lost track of writing/blogging

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    • “spoken sentences are often strewn with English words” That sound so me when I speak a language other than English. Sounds like you know your mother tongue very well after all these years living here. Some things just never go or fade away.

      It is an interesting thought there. Language evolves with time, and depending on where we are, the ‘mother tongue’ can revolve and change around/into different dialects.

      Time is lacking, and time is everything. Hope all is going okay at your end, and take care.Thank you for stopping by. Always appreciated, Alka 🙂

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  8. As my Chinese wife (who also speaks fluent French) and I (English and toneless Mandarin) get ready to begin our own family, the topic of language has come up a lot. It’ll be interesting how our family handles it.

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  9. My mother tongue is English yet to be able to fluently speak another language or languages would in my opinion be incredible. The part where you wrote about being judged or even suffer all because a person spoke other then English, annoyed me oh so terribly. No one has the right to judge another especially when it comes to language. I mean really? How inconsiderate. We are who we are regardless if we speak our native language or not. There is in my mind no shame of speaking an older culture’s language. No way! That to me would be an asset for I would be able to communicate with more people, those whose culture is not mine. When I was in Italy I did not know the language and it was a terrible experience. In fact, I was looked down upon because I spoke English only. We all need to practice to honor and accept the other person. In my opinion. Wonderful post, Mabel. Thank you! Much Love, ❤

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    • “We are who we are regardless” Very well articulated, Amy. We are who we are no matte what language we can and cannot speak. I am sorry to hear that you were looked down upon in Italy for not speaking the language. Maybe it was just the people whom you came across. But I do hope you actually found some great moments during your trip there. You should be very proud you speak English even if it is the only language you speak. There are so many in this world who would want to learn this language – and talk to you to ❤

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  10. Knowledge of, or fluency in, another language other than the one generally spoken in one’s country of residence is such an enviable skill that should be treasured and nurtured. Being able to speak and maybe even read another language can foster increased understanding between cultures. I wish my “mother tongue” was not lost. As you suggested, many people arrived in Australia at a time when there was more a desire and political pressure to fit in, and thus, languages other than English were spoken only amongst those who could speak them fluently at ethnic clubs. I think it is great that you have retained your knowledge, be it innate or deliberate! To learn a second language as an adult, is harder, but good brain training I think.I guess your explanation of the sixth sense, explains why I feel a great desire to be fluent ( which I will most probably never achieve), in my grandmother’s tongue!
    And I find listening so much harder than writing a second language. Great post, Mabel!

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    • It is interesting that you note that within the history of Australia, people want to fit in. So true. I still think this is the case these days. Then again, English is the main language instruction here and if we want to make a living here, we may have to put English first do achieve that.

      Ethnic clubs. Very interesting phrase. That got me thinking about how sometimes, quite a few of us of the same race like hanging out with others of the same race, and do and speak what culturally feels familiar or natural to us. Some may see this as isolating. But on the other hand, it is a chance to practise one’s mother tongue and remember a bit of the past and who they are.

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      • Absolutely, Mabel. You have hit the nail on the head as far as why people are attracted to social clubs of their own nationalities – ( ethnic clubs for want of a better term ) – at least this is what ex pats tell me. I don’t see them as isolating, although some people might. Even Australians gather together with other Australians in a certain part of London, where English is also the first language, so there must be something more than only language playing a role here.

        It may also be a cultural pull. I have to say I don’t really feel that way myself although I can understand it. I admit when I was first overseas in a foreign country, we were drawn to another Australia couple so that we could compare notes on how wonderful the country was, but since then, on subsequent travels, Iprefer to make the most of my time and spend it amongst locals in that travel destination.

        To make a living here you do have to speak English, that is very true, so that would definitely be a driving factor in the desire of immigrants to fit in to mainstream Australia. We all have to live! I do hope those individuals and families found a balance between the two extremes. I hope that they were able to retain their culture and language in company of friends, and family, whilst also achieving acceptance in the Australian workforce.

        To not be able to communicate and have a voice in a place where one lives, must be very isolating, and just as sad is losing one’s native tongue and traditions. It sounds a little difficult though, having two sides to one’s life, but it is so important not to lose those cultural traditions and connections that make us all individuals. If we don’t practise language, it dies, and that is a great shame.

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        • “It may also be a cultural pull”. Again, very well said, Amanda. I think we often feel attracted to the people who speak the same language or those who are from a similar background because we feel they can sympathise with us and offer us solutions – there is no need to worry about how to communicating but we can get to the point straight away. It was probably the aces with the Australian couple you met while on holiday abroad.

          Agree with you. I’m all up for speaking a little language as to not speaking a language at all so as to keep tradition alive, having that two sides to our lives. It might be hard moving back and forth between languages, but we do get to connect with different worlds at the end of the day – and I think that puts the term ‘hard work’ into perspective.

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  11. I came later in my life back to the languages of my roots and surroundings. Today I speak 5 languages and can recommend learning them to anyone. Great post, thanks!

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  12. same goes with me, my mother tongue is Punjabi, i can speak it but not fluently, both my parents speak it with each other and its spoken all around the state i live in, its mainly because Urdu which is our national language was spoken by my parents with their children and almost all my friends spoke Urdu (even though thy know Punjabi but same parents situation at home). But i understand Punjabi perfectly even the most difficult words.

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    • Sounds like you have a good grasp of Punjabi there, Akhiz. If you can listen to the language, you can probably say it in your head silently. So, you are pretty good at it. Interesting to hear Urdu is the national language in your state. I’ve met quite a few people who speak Punjabi, but haven’t met anyone yet who speaks Urdu. Except for you 🙂

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      • Urdu is the national and official language of Pakistan, it has four provences (states) and each state has its one dominent regional language along with its many dilects area wise and many other regional languages…. its a vast and intresting mix.

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  13. The problems about speaking two languages, or more, are always particular to the conditions we are set, I learned English as a second language, because my father possessed many books in English, and wanted to read them, father handled me a wonderful old book, in which he learned it, that unfortunately was stolen from me, many years ago,
    I was fourteen, or so when I started to read English, but of course not able to practice it speaking it, until I got a job at a hotel where it was necessary for me to speak it when I was twenty three, and never was able to get rid of my accent.
    The third phase of my learning experience with English, come quite recently, not until writing my blog in English.
    To sum up my experience, all I can say is, whatever you do not practice often, and the later in life you do it, the harder, and worst it will be.
    Now, another problem living in the USA for thirty years, and practicing my mother language very little, and often thinking in English, it’s hard to revert to my mother tongue and speak it fluently, without forgetting a word, that doesn’t come easy to my memory, despite that it’s easy for me to read it even now day..
    Frequently joke my English it’s bad, and my Spanish is getting bad too! 🙂

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    • It is lovely to hear of your journey speaking English. Sorry to hear that wonderful book was stolen from you, but hope that whoever took it got something out of it.

      It sounds like you have a very good grasp of English. With your mother tongue, maybe you can practise it little by little and over time, you will be able to speak it well 🙂 Sometimes all it takes is a try, and making something into a habit can turn into a skill in the long run. Good luck with Spanish if you do go down the journey of getting better at it 🙂

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      • Well, I left my mother country when I was an adult, so I got no problem speaking it fluently at all, the problem is age, memory, and poor neuron connections, for lack of use, sort like a path in the forest with little traffic, the weeds of the forest creep in, and suddenly a word you know, you can’t remember, until later may come to your mind, that may even happen with the language you use more, as you age, imagine the one you do not. use!
        I read Spanish with no problem, but the skill to recognize the word in print it’s easier when you read it, than to articulate it vocally through speech cold turkey, out of your memory, specially when you are using words from our passive storage (words you know, but rarely use) as you will do on a learned, intellectual conversation ,and you want to use your wit, and knowledge brilliantly, you may find yourself struggling to find the right words! 🙂

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        • ‘suddenly a word you know, you can’t remember, until later may come to your mind’ This is so true with me too. It is by magic you know those words and you know another language. Some things will always stick with you because memory and the brain is a very strong muscle – and so is the heart.

          Interesting to hear speaking Spanish helps you recognise the words in print – formal and informal words can be so different, sounding and coming across different 🙂

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  14. Being Welsh, I should really be able to speak Welsh. However, when I was at school it was never taught to us, Mabel. Instead, I was offered French, German and Latin, all of which I found very difficult. My brain seemed to be one that could not pick up a second language very well and I ended up dropping languages apart, that is, from English which we all had to study.

    I do wish that I could speak another language, especially when I have been in another country such as France, Germany, Greece and Spain. However, even there, most people seem to speak and understand English as their second language. I think that has made some of us English speakers very lazy.

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    • I am sorry to hear that you found language learning in school quite the challenge, Hugh. Maybe you had good skills for other subjects, and sometimes it is wise to do what we are good at rather than going in circles doing something we find a struggle.

      It sounds like people speak English well in the countries you mentioned. Maybe that helps them keep up with the other parts of the world…but you raise a great point in saying this can make first language English speakers lazy.

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  15. Just discovered your blog, thanks for writing about it. I’m fascinated by this topic.

    I’m Taiwanese-Australian and was raised in Oz. Growing up I always spoke Mandarin/Taiwanese at home – ALWAYS, even with my older sister, which is unusual because siblings often convert to English over time. I never remembered my parents forcing us to speak in mandarin because it just seemed natural, given their limited English abilities.

    We all went through those dreaded Saturday morning Chinese classes, and even though I studied Chinese in high school, the level of proficiency required was so low that it didn’t really improve. Combined with a total lack of Asian role models and media representation, it just wasn’t cool to learn Chinese or take any interest in Asian culture. It was only after finishing uni and starting work that I became interested in reconnecting with my roots; I started going to evening Chinese classes, and ended up in taking a year off to study Chinese in Taiwan. For me, the journey was cathartic not only through ostensibly improving my Chinese language skills, but also connecting with the land of my birth, my relatives and what it meant to be Taiwanese.

    Today, though I can passably read and write Chinese, but for me there’s still a mountain to climb in terms of gaining real fluency: I try to immerse myself in Chinese language media online, whether it’s through music, tv shows and film, and make sure I stay connected with Chinese speaking friends so I have the opportunity to converse and learn from them culturally. I still speak to my parents only in Mandarin (I don’t chop and change words into English, if I can’t explain something I look it up) and it has become a source of pride for me, as I know that, for many Asian-Australian families, the lack of communication inter-generationally has in large to do with the loss of heritage language abilities. Surprisingly, English has started to creep into conversations between my sister and me, but I always consciously veer it back to Mandarin.

    For me, English is my first language, but Chinese will always be my mother tongue.

    I find the case of ethnic Chinese in Malaysia/Singapore quite interesting. Having lived in Singapore for 2 years, I got the impression that the ethnic Chinese there could either speak English really well or Chinese really well – there was never any true bilingualism, and it was almost as if they had to choose between the languages. Given your situation in Malaysia, have you ever wondered or asked your parents why they never gave you any formal instruction in Chinese/Cantonese, or chose English only? Was it because of perceived better career/educational prospects? It seems very familiar to many Asian-Australian family experiences where the parents migrate here and want their kids to integrate wholly.

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    • ‘it just wasn’t cool to learn Chinese or take any interest in Asian culture.’ I think that is still the mentality among many today, and in Australia there is the mentality that learning Chinese is associated with being ‘backwards’ in that English generally is the language to get you forwards work-and-survival-wise in Australia. Interesting to hear that learning the language has been a cathartic experience for you – sounds like you connected with others and also connected with a part of yourself within you. When you connect with others through language, you connect with another moment of time and bring that forwards into the present.

      You do have a lot of patience with the language, what with looking it up when you don’t know something. Very proactive of you 🙂 I guess that is where a lot of us stall – when we get stuck doing something, we may be too embarrassed to ask or simply feel too demoralised to continue. English will always be the language of Australian life and culture, and no surprise it will come naturally to many of us Australians – you don’t need to think to speak the language but sometimes with our mother tongue that is the case.

      In Singapore and Malaysia, English is spoken very well. Stop anyone in the street and they will be able to carry a conversation in English – albeit in Singlish or Manglish. A lot of my Singaporean friends have excellent command of the English language, though, and prefer to speak English over their mother tongue. My parents always preferred me to pay more attention to English because of career and educational opportunities, yes. My dad always stressed lifestyle in Australia was much more relaxed than in Asia, and what you earn in Australia is pretty good compared to other places. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading, Peter. I really appreciate it.

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  16. It’s a shame to answer yes to your question, Mabel. Well, to a degree. I’m aware that my English is not perfect, and will never be. It’s now the language that I use more often because of work.

    I speak my first language but I know longer know the correct grammar of it. I was hesitating to disclose this but, yeah, I just realized I lost most of the knowledge when it comes to my first language’s grammar. They technically go together so I won’t say I’m fluent at this point.

    The scary thing in the place where I’m currently at (for the last five years and counting) is the tendency to lose attention to grammar. The trend here is as long as you can deliver the message across, that’s perfection. This goes for both oral and written communication. This is the reason whey I unconsciously fall into the pit from time to time no matter how careful I am. Nevertheless, I still do my best to stick to English and its grammar especially when I’m in a rush, sending emails and the like, and speaking to the locals who understand me better when I completely disregard syntax.

    Happy that there are plenty of Filipinos at the workplace so we still get to talk in Filipino as often as we talk in English.

    Anyway, I felt a little bit pressured (to learn Arabic) when I read this: ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

    Anyway, thank you very much for reminding me to put this subject to heart. Will make it a point to do something about this, I may say, issue.

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    • Your English is really very good, Sony. From reading your blog posts a few years ago and reading them now, I would have always pegged you as a native speaker of English. And you write it very well too.

      Interesting to hear you are not hat confident in the grammar of your first language. You know what, me too… English is my first language. But if you ask me to explain grammar conventions and why this word goes here and there, I will not be able to tell you why. Speaking English, it just comes naturally to me and in my mind and heart I know where to place certain words and phrases, albeit sometimes faster and slower for certain (hard) words and phrases.

      I’ve always liked your grammar blog posts and reckon you can give me a great grammar lesson any day. I think I need it, haha. Working and doing what you do as an expat, pretty sure you are very good at conversing in English 🙂 Good to hear you get to speak Filipino with your colleagues, and it must also serve as a reminder of your hometown and what you stand for in terms of culture and beliefs.

      We can’t learn every language in the world. But we can always make an attempt to do so, even knowing a few words which sometimes go a long way.

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  17. Hi Mabel, it such a profound post on the very idea of how we communicate with each other and how language is the essence of our existence and relationship. How else we as human being would have evolved and mingled with each other without the connect of the power of language and indeed English has become the most powerful global language and there are so many factors that contribute to the success of English as a globally accepted language. Rightly so, while we appreciate the power of a global language we cannot and should not loose sight of the power of local language and different dialects across the global primarily our mother tongue. Knowingly or unknowingly many of us think in the language we are borne and grown with in our childhood and most do so with the native language and few have the privilege to go English medium schools and learn the language in their growing days of the life. It is only when we join the higher education setup where there is this limitation of language in teaching technical and professional courses in one’s mother tongue, and it is here where the language of English takes precedence.

    There is an economic angle to it and that is the language provides the opportunity for many of us to get a job, and most business run and the running is in the language of English, unless we are well conversed with the language we don’t stand a chance. The domain knowledge and functional skills comes later, it is the hold on language and the ability to communicate clearly and confidently in the English language that determines the success of higher probability in getting employed.

    At the same time we must admit, the English language has its own strength in terms of its ease and grace that makes us instantly fall in love. This has nothing to do with the intrinsic power and poise each native language has and every language has a place and has a space, it is that English as a language occupied that bigger place and keep growing it space faster than the others…Again it is the language we talk in home and the language we use to learn in school that sets the tone and tenure of what language we learn and what language we are comfortable in conversing as we grow and yes, the company and people we work sets the final agenda of our language that becomes integral part to our daily life and living…thanks once again for sharing such though provoking post on language and culture of thought when we speak and how we speak.

    Hope you are doing fine and how are things?
    😀

    Like

    • You are so right in saying that English is a powerful global language. Any language is also a powerful language and in order to communicate, we have to learn some sort of language. Even body language or sign language is important. True that there is an economical angle to it. The Western part of hte world is often regarded as the more wealthy and developed compared to many parts of Asia today – so in a sense speak English, you get a better opportunity to network and live a more comfortable lifestyle.

      It is also interesting that you point out English is still ever so popular, and it is still the case even with Mandarin becoming almost a neccesity to work in Asia these days. Work is an essential part of survival in this life, and so if it demands we speak a certain language, we have to speak it.

      Depending on where we live, the way we speak English can change. In parts of Asia, you don’t have to speak grammatically correct English and no one will laugh if you do so…it is just a part of of the culture and they speak English that way. But in Western places like Australia, if you speak the English you speak back in Asia (like Chinglish, Manglish, Singlish or maybe Hinglish), locals probably won’t understand you all the time.

      Things have been busy over here of late. Also the weather is turning cold to winter and you know that means common cold going round. Looking forward to visiting your blog soon, Nihar. Take care my friend 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree Mabel, just like English, Mandarin…is a working language and it is the need for work that drives this language to be predominate force in the world economy, so is Spanish and Portuguese. Yes, in this part of the world where English gets used in way that is managed and accepted but it get squarely rejected in USA to Australia, where lot of emphasis is given on the correctness both grammatically and the way we pronounce.

        Though we may love our mother tongue but we limit our space in using and growing that language as it has restricted usage in the working space and it will continue to hold its space in the literature and local usage but gaining global penetration is difficult as it has no economic value.

        There is raging debate in India on the language that should drive the ethos of the country, Hindi is our predominate language with 22 state language and 720 dialects…English has its strong presence and it is working space that has set the agenda for the language to gain the momentum and large scale acceptance in our country.

        Here in India, it is close to the rainy season and few weeks, we will have wonderful weather though the summer was really bad this time and there is definite shift in the climatic condition, perhaps the affect of global warming…
        Was bit tied up so couldn’t spend time reading you wonderful post, will do so and catch up for more of our lovely interactions.
        You too take care!!!
        😀

        Like

        • ‘Hindi is our predominate language with 22 state language and 720 dialects’ This is so interesting to hear about India. I suppose Bengali and Tamil are also near the top languages/dialects spoken – a lot of Indians whom I’ve met speak either of these apart from Hindi and they are usally trilingual.

          English has brought India a long way and it is where it is today. The economy has steadily been growing over the last few decades and from what I hear from my Indian friends, they are equipped with so many skills so important for doing business and networking. As you have written before so well about entrepreneurship, India isn’t afraid to step up, speak English and communicate with the rest of the world.

          Hopefully you get the lovely weather that you want, Nihar. We are having the opposite weather here in Australia – we are still in autumn yet the weather feels like very cold winter. Global warming perhaps as well. You take care and chat soon 😀

          Liked by 1 person

          • This is such a lovely topic to talk on language that we use to have so much of joy in life, imagining life without language and communication…in digital age language has acquired a new dimension and this perhaps just the beginning of new phase in the age of communication which evolved over the years and it will continue to do so…
            Shower of joy!!!
            😀

            Liked by 1 person

  18. As always, I find myself continuously reading your work and wanting to hear more. lol. An interesting post indeed. It’s definitely relatable for many asians who live overseas, far away from their motherland. I know quite a lot of people who speak mostly English and or not know of their native language as well. As you mentioned earlier due to many factors such as them not being exposed enough to the language or their parents not speaking the language to them, etc.. This leads to many older adults from that culture, giving you a hard time or fuss about that too much. But at the end of the day, not speaking your native language doesn’t mean it’s something people have to feel shameful about or that you are any less of whatever culture you came from. As for me, growing up I had to speak my native language on a daily basis and I still do now. Only because my parents do not speak English very well even though we are constantly surrounded by English speakers day to day. So I am still their translators. It’s hard sometimes to do this especially in movie theaters…watching a movie and translating it to your parents at the same time is not an ideal thing to do. lol. But my point here is that even though many people do not speak their native language, it is okay. But realistically speaking, almost everywhere you go in the world nowadays, there is bound to be someone who can speak English so if that’s the language you speak, then you are golden!

    Like

    • Lol. There is so much one can write. Just as there is how so many photos one can take 😀 While there are many factors that affect whether or not whether or not we speak our mother tongue, I think the determined among us will make a choice to learn it – it can be all about choice whether we speak a certain language.

      That is so nice of you to translate what’s going on in the movie to your parents in the movie theatre…and I hope the other movie-goers don’t get annoyed at the chatter between you and your parents. I don’t know how you feel about speaking during movies, but I personally like to watch a movie in peace and quiet, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

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