Thursday, September 28, 2006

Can you be fluent in several languages?

WASHINGTON -- George L. Campbell, a linguist who could converse with cabbies and shopkeepers, write scholarly tomes, and conduct learned discourse in more than 40 languages, died of pneumonia Dec. 15 in Brighton, England. He was 92. (

I don't know how fluent this guy is in speaking all the 40 something languages.

For me, it was never a choice to speak more than one language, but growing up in Malaysia, you just need to speak at least 3 languages to survive. At home, we speak our family dialect, Hokkien. In school, we speak mandarin to keep our identity as the offspring of the immigrants from China. Since we are living in Malaysia, of course we learn Malay in school and use it to communicate with the government agencies and the other races (mainly Malay and Indian). And then, English is the business language in private sector, so we need to master it in order to climb the ladder in the corporate world.

Among the 4 languages, I think I master mandarin more than others before I left Malaysia. English was always my weak subject in school. That's why I chosed to go to USA for an internship, so that I can improve my English. Right now, I'm more comfortable writing and speaking in English because typing in English is always faster than typing in Chinese.

Anyway, I can't say that I speak all these languages perfectly. I mixed between Chinese and English from time to time because basically some of the expression just couldn't be translated in other language. Also, imagine that for a single word like "table", you need to remember how to speak it in 4-5 different languages. Tiresome.

So now, I'm stucked with French and I really hate it. I hate the fact that I need to take on one more language, which will be the main communication language, despite the fact that I speak other languages. Worst, these languages that I speak are useless in this country.

These days when I make progress in French, I lose my English and Mandarin. If I was speaking French in the school, come home, I forgot some English words when talking to my boyfriend, and instead have to say it in Fernch. The worst is my Malay, I can't even remember how to speak simply words like "decide", reference, enjoy...all my hard work towards this subject is draining into the river.

When some people just need to master in one language, I need to keep 4 or 5 now, won't my brain explode running out of space in storing all these? I probably need to upgrade the brain space! Or, I should just simply give up on maintaining one or two languages.


  1. Man, I can't even manage three languages!! I spoke fluent Finnish before moving here and now I can barely make a sentence - I've been studying French so intensely these past few years that everything else (English included!) has been kind of pushed aside.

  2. I don't know how people can speak and write more than 3 languages! Three is about the most, that most of us can handle. But I have met some professors in Vietnam who could speak about 3 foreign languages .. Russian, Mandarin, French, and English are the main foreign languages they speak.

    I have a cousin living in France, and now when she speaks with me, she uses French when she intended to use English words! Heheh.

  3. I have mixed feeling now. In one hand I want to improve my French in order to find a job in France, but on the other hand I don't want to lose my English (in case I need to get out of this country I need English to survive). Worst is my boyfriend refused to switch to communicate in French. He said he wants to keep his English? bah.