A Malaysian advantage | The star
“BOSS, kopi bing satu, tapau” is probably one of the most heard phrases in Malaysia.
Living in Malaysia calls for the common encounter of people “rojak-ing” different languages in one sentence.
It’s as if each word is a puzzle piece that fits perfectly into the puzzle although it belongs to different puzzle sets – that’s what I think would best describe multilingualism.
As a polyglot who speaks six languages – English, Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese, French and Korean – people often ask me if I’ve taken classes in all of those languages. The answer is no.
The only languages I learned in class are English, Malay, Mandarin and French.
When it comes to Korean and Cantonese, my “lessons” are none other than the TV shows I’ve loved to watch since I was a kid.
By watching these shows, I finally acquired some basics and a variety of vocabulary, now allowing me to easily understand and converse in these languages.
In my experience, watching dramas, reality TV and variety shows is an engaging and effective way to learn foreign languages.
Amidst all the joy of being multilingual, there is always the question that many people ask themselves: “Is a multilingual a master of all trades or just a jack-of-all-trades, master of nothing ?”
Indeed, getting confused with several languages is a common phenomenon because we tend to think in a language different from the one spoken. Confusion usually arises when switching languages within the same conversation.
This is usually done unconsciously by many multilingual people as it is more of an instinct than a planned action.
Maybe that’s the norm for some, like the way Malaysians “rojak” their words. For others, these changes are accompanied by a change of subject or context.
For example, since my first language is English and I studied in a public school where Malay was widely spoken on a daily basis, I usually made mental lists and thought about important questions in English and instinctively spoke in Malay while working on assignments with other people. It’s also common for us to dance between personalities when we switch languages. This is perhaps influenced by the learning environment and experiences which vary for each language spoken by a particular multilingual person.
For example, I speak louder in any language other than English, creating a bubbly and outgoing personality.
English, on the other hand, being my first language and the one I am most comfortable with, allows me to be more confident when speaking, which generally gives off a calmer and more mature aura.
There is no end to learning a language. In fact, there is no finish line in learning as we live. Every day is a new opportunity for everyone to learn and create something new.
The Romance languages we know today, such as French and Italian, were once known as Vulgar Latin or Broken Latin.
Today, however, these languages are spoken around the world and are among the most in-demand languages in the world. It’s a clear precedent for how every language continually develops over time and is an endless journey of discovery every day.
Learning a new language is like embarking on a new adventure, and it’s an experience that should be satisfying for anyone who wants to be able to communicate effectively in a language.
Hoi Kei, 20, a student in Kuala Lumpur, participates in the BRATs Young Journalist Program run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team.
1. Look for a photograph in today’s issue of the Sunday Star newspaper. Cut it out and paste it into your Star-NiE album. Then name all the elements you see in the photo. How many items did you manage to name? Could you name them all in English? During this activity, did some words first come to you in another language?
2. Now look for another photo in the newspaper. It must show at least one person in a Malaysian setting. If you were to ask this person for directions, what language do you think they would be able to use most comfortably and effectively with you? With an activity partner, role-play using language that you and that person in the photo might use with each other.
Since 1997, The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) program has supported the teaching and learning of English in primary and secondary schools nationwide. Through Star-NiE’s teacher and student workshops, annual competitions, and monthly English resources for use in the classroom, program participants reportedly showed strong interest in the language and progress in their fluency. Now in its 25th year, Star-NiE continues its role of promoting the use of the English language through a weekly activity page in StarEdu. These activities can be used individually and in groups, at home and in the classroom, at different skill levels. Parents and teachers are encouraged to work on the activities with their children and students. Additionally, Star-NiE’s BRATs Young Journalist program will continue to be a platform for participants to hone and showcase their English language skills, as well as develop their journalistic interests and instincts. Follow our updates on facebook.com/niebrats. For Star-NiE inquiries, email [email protected].