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Chieng, Andrew

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Hi, I am Andrew Chieng from Selangor, Malaysia. I grew up here where there is diverse languages spoken. I get fascinated with multilingualism. 


I want to share my personal experience growing up multilingual. It can be quite confusing. It seems just grab as you go in terms of language usage.


Both my parents are from Malaysian Chinese background but from different dialect groups. One from Fuchow (or Ho’kchew) another Fukien (or Hok’kien). Hearing them, some may say they are separate languages. Both parents communicated with each other in English (Malaysian style) mixed with some Fuchow. Mother speaks with some relatives and people around in Fuchow, Hokkien, Cantonese mixed Manglish (“Malaysian style English”). When I was young I used to speak with one grandparents in Hok’chow and another in Hokkien, as they were Chinese descent. I had people who spoke Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay, Tamil and Hindi. I am not sure which to call native language. I guess my first languages I learned were mixture of English, Malaysian and many Chinese variations. I went to a school that used Malay. I managed to pick up English, Malay, Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, and Fuchow and bits of other Chinese variations). Whether the different dialectical variations are called languages? [As people not familiar with some Chinese had difficulty understanding]. Even if you know Mandarin, you may have difficulty with these dialects or language?. Maybe even got to pick up limited Indian words. It was tough. I was less confident speaking Chinese due to limited knowledge, literacy, and words. Or for that matter less confident in using English with a person who spoke mainly Chinese. 


Literary wise – although hard and confusing way – I can read and write in English and Malay (likely some Indonesian) and later got to pick up little bits hear and there of Chinese along the way. When reading Chinese sometimes I mentally switch pronunciation between Mandarin and other dialects like Cantonese. Anyone share similar experiences in other continents and how do you handle them? Hope to hear from you.


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Hi Andrew,

I am in the same boat! I grew up in Hong Kong in an Indian family, then moved to the states. English has become my primary language but I have a solid base in a few Indian languages, and know snippets of French and Cantonese. I now live in Singapore.

My biggest issue is my accent. It varies from Oxford British to New England American. Sometimes I hear myself saying a word and wonder which accent it is coming from or whether I made up my own accent! And I will use the British version of some words e.g. Torch not flashlight and the American version of others e.g. Stroller not pram/buggy.

Being in Singapore is quite nice because everyone’s a little mixed up!

Chieng, Andrew

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Hi Mona, 


Thank for your sharing.  


From Singapore! Lots of things in common. Wow, that’s a lot of languages there. It’s amazing how people are able to cope with them.I think growing kids are faster learners.  

I have the opinion that Indian languages are harder to learn. 


Since you’ve been to places like Hong Kong, the States, and U.K., did you felt easier to get around people generally speaking one common language, that you were less misunderstood, that you had more confident because people widely understood the colloquials, those “flowery idioms”?  


I used to have issues when people started to use cultural idioms/phrases and I stared them blank, pretended to know because I’m suppose to be ‘the people’. When you asked for explanation they would go “[in mixed languages] you know lah…get it…” and you were doubly confused.

Sometimes blundered on using words that didn’t meant to be offensive but misunderstood as such by people who are ‘more native’. Granted, we don’t speak that language at home, and only exposed occasionally to entertainment in that language. It’s weird when one speaks one language, e.g. Cantonese, Tamil, etc. and responses comes in another language, e.g. English. And you had people telling you “I can understand but I can’t speak”? Makes me wonder sometimes how this phenomenon happens.
Best greetings,


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