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.
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.
We all speak English differently. Some of us speak “Singlish”, “Chinglish”, “Manglish”, “Konglish”, “Frenglish” or “Spanglish”, variations of the language incorporating a mish-mash of non-English words.
I am no stranger to flitting around with the overseas crowd here in Melbourne. Whenever I latch onto one of the, say, Singaporean or Malaysian cliques, I hear them spout one of these colloquial forms of English among themselves non-stop.
English is spoken differently by different people of different backgrounds. Photo: Mabel Kwong
Funnily enough, on many occasions when a Caucasian friend or acquaintance joins us, I hear them drop their usual accent and immediately put on a Westernised English one. When the white person toddles off, they revert back to their normal way of talking.