My Language Journey

Give a short account of the way in which language has played an important part in your identity.

I was born into the snobbiest of languages. English is a language that beats up other languages, steals their words and pretends it never happened. It pats it‘s own back for being the mostly widely spoken language when British colonization and Hollywood are carrying it on their shoulders. It’s the only language I knew for 12 years and one I absorbed and devoured in every way I could.

In der Higschool war Fremdsprachunterricht Pflicht. Sechs Monate lang Deutschunterricht und alles was ich jetzt sagen kann ist “Das ist mein Hamburger”

High school arrived with mandated language education. 6 months of German and all I remember is “Das ist mein Hamburger”.

J’ai progressé beaucoup plus en français lequel était une langue plus élégante et romantique. J’ai appris des chansons de grammaire et j’ai saisi la différence entre les mots « cheval » et « cheveux ». J’ai passé quelques ans en apprenant cette langue et j’étais sure que je la parlerai couramment au moment où je serai diplômée. Malheureusement, on a commencé d’apprendre la conjugaison.

I took to French better. It was elegant and romantic. I learnt the grammar songs and the differences between cheval and cheveux. I studied it for a few years and was convinced I would be fluent by the time I graduated. And then the tenses arrived.

Tôi biết rằng mình sẽ chuyển đến sống ở Việt Nam và quyết định học tiếng Việt. Quá trình học kéo dài đến khi tôi đến đó. Tiếng Việt là một ngôn ngữ có sáu âm điệu. Dù tôi có nói từ “Nhà Bè” bao nhiêu lần đi chăng nữa, nó không bao giờ đúng cả.

I found out I was moving and decided to learn Vietnamese. It lasted until I actually arrived there. Its a language with six tones. It didn’t matter how many times I said “Nhà Bè”,* it was never, ever, right.


At my new school I had to learn Mandarin. The kind of education where the teacher spoke the language to you and you had to catch up. It worked. I had conversational mandarin after two years. I forgot almost all of it in about two months

친한 한국인 친구도 있었고 한국 문화에도 관심이 있었다. 그래서 이곳 저곳 가능한 곳에서 한국어를 배웠다. 졸업 앨범의 사진 밑에는 한국어로배고파라고 적혀있다.

My close friend was Korean, and I was interested in the culture. I started picking up Korean where I could. My yearbook quote was “배고파”  (I’m Hungry).

At 24, I am still monolingual. All these have been useful maybe a handful of times, but they are all linked to particular experiences in my life, and have all shaped who I am and how I understand the world. Each language has taught me about the cultures in ways that simple visits and research couldn’t.

I asked some wonderful friends for help translating these for me since I am no longer proficient enough in any of them and it is a mark of the strange kind-of multicultural upbringing I have had that I could contact people on three other continents. Language played a significant role in my friendships with all of them, whether it was learning a language together, attempts at communicating with their families or just fond memories of time spent together regardless of our native tongue. It is impossible for me to separate any of these people from their native (and learnt) languages, but it is possible to see the impact we have had on each other in our different ways.

As it turns out we have all forgotten too much mandarin (which we all learnt In high) and a friend of a friend had to translate that part.

*Nhà Bè is an area in Ho Chi Minh that was particularly difficult to pronounce for some reason

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