Thursday, February 17, 2005

Language Issues

The issue about Manglish - when people get sensitive about being ridiculed for their poor english, the topic sometimes gets hot. My contention is that if you’re poor in a language, it doesn’t make you any lesser as a person. It is another of those things called talent if one can speak well and pick up a language easily. Those who learn languages easily usually talk a lot and don’t mind being wrong some of the time. They laugh and get themselves corrected and they learn and improve their command of the language. To them, it is no big deal. It is the sensitive or shy individuals who find it difficult to learn when they take every criticism too seriously and personally. They should be willing to take every step possible and keep going. Kids would never walk if they are afraid to fall again after taking the first few steps.

Many of us had to fall off a bicycle countless times before we managed to stay on it. We just concentrated on mastering the balancing act and ignored the aches and scratches from the falls. Being able to ride the bicycle with ease was the ultimate goal. Of course, nowadays the kiddy bicycles come with extra wheels for learners. Similarly, language learners nowadays have lots of help from videos and audios and what-nots to help them. No excuse if you can't learn another language unless you don't like to open that gap!

I also found that no matter what language it is, there is always the local version. Which means that any spoken language has to evolve into a different version whenever it leaves it original location. Therefore, we would be only kidding ourselves to think that we can maintain and speak perfect Queen’s English on Malaysian soil with everyone we meet.

Each person has his own strengths or weaknesses and each should take learning in his own time and mark his own progress. This real-life situation is not a school where you need to pass to certain standards within a certain period. I was schooled in English but I had to speak and improve my Mandarin when my kids started school. My eldest came home from school and switched on to Mandarin and the younger girls just followed. And I had to keep up with them. No choice lah. Their mother suggested that I spoke English with them so they can be better at it. But it doesn't seem to work. Brain can't switch, tongue can't switch. Selector jam. so, we're stuck with Mandarin with the kids, Hokkien with wife, and Teochew with my side of the family, and campur with all the rest of the population.


  1. i agree i agree! +)
    that's how i brushed up my chinese la... but then.. i still got LONG way to improve... i keep saying the wrong stuff! The best way is to just Say It and laugh along with ppl when they correct u.

  2. Malaysia is a unique country. Everyone has to know many kinds of language. In Taiwan, everyone know only at most two language: Mandarin and Taiwanese, that's all. English, very poor even they memorized a lot of vocabulary in high school. They were surprised with me who can speak well with 7 langauge: Malay, English, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hockien, Teochiew and Cantonese (learn from Hong Kong TV drama in Penang before). I always speak Taiwanese and Mandarin in Taiwan. There are only a slight difference between Taiwanese, Hockien and Teochiew. Whenever I return to Penang, I speak Teochiew with my parents, brother and sister, I speak Cantonese with Chee Liong and Hockien to the rest of family members. Sometimes get a little bit stuck in switching the tongue and brain, but till ok lah!
    I like rojak anyway. We should be proud for myself with multi linquistic ability.

  3. Yeah, it's funny when speaking with malay friends and some of your words come out in teochew!! I'd just go'af yah..

  4. it`s true about what you say. i know alot of friends who can`t carry a sentence in proper English and yet they have the biggest hearts. But, unfortunately, alot of people fail to see that their inability to speak well in a language do not justify their true beings.
    Favouritism is acted upon those who have better command in a certain language, especially English. It happens in school, college, everywhere! Speak fluent English (not to forget, add a little Western accent while you do that), and the waiter gives you better treatment! it`s maddening!
    i love it that i can speak Manglish. i love that i can use "lah", "meh", etc in anywhere of my sentences. i love that i have local accent when i speak. they all add to my identity as a true Malaysian.

    So what`s up with kids speaking in some weird American accent when they actually grew up in very Malaysian-style community?

  5. Gaya mah. I mean, kids like to put on a little act once in a while. Esp when the influence of the telly is always there. Even seasoned veterans like me sometimes unconsciously ape a little bit of accent (I became aware of it after I pause to listen to myself) when I'm speaking to caucasians. Must be their influence, (you know, when sitting around in a group and one guy starts to yawn, the rest eventually follow suit - kind of influence)... but with guys who totally ape western accents while speaking with their local chums, they must either have just returned from spending the last 10 years in the west. Or its fake.

    I once met a young chap who grew up in Canada but worked in Australia, son of Chinese parents from Shanghai. When he spoke you could recognise the genuine accent but if you look at him, you'd be forgiven to think that he came from Jelutong!

  6. Very true scissor.... Explains why I unconsciously "ape" that western accent when speaking to westerners. Trying to speak their style helps them listen better. Anyway, bottom line is to communicate. And thanks for your enlightening views.

  7. "Bottom line is to communicate"---
    Whenever we invite foreign speakers come to Taiwan for a lecture, especially caucasian, they managed to cut down their speed and simplified their vocabulary used; just one goal-- to let most people understand their lecuture....