Jun 29, 2007 - Parenting    2 Comments

Languages, how many at a time?

In the privacy of our own home, we are really very laid back about how we communicate.
We generally speak English, with bits of Hockkien and Malay and very occasionally smaterrings of Mandarin also end up in our conversation. Thus it is hardly surprising that G takes all this in her stride, and understands  us well enough.

It does however cause me some concern in how we communicate with Georgia in front of ‘company’. Do we maintain our pot-luck of different languages and ignore the fact that absolutely no one else, (unless they are from ‘our part of the world’) would understand what we say, or do we say everything in English, although we would not normally do so?

This thought threw me off this morning as I dropped G off at nursery.

She had been going round the house holding on to her favourite blue Minnie Mouse t-shirt, trying to put in on and parading it for me every time I asked about ‘your Minnie Mouse sah’.

Lu ai cheng (hockkien: do you want to wear) your Minnie mouse sah to school? [Affirmative nod]

Hor mummy kua (hockkien: Show mummy), is it pretty-pretty?
[A little jig, and an attempt to model the t-shirt]

Ok. Afterwards you show Bethan at school OK? [Another affirmative nod]

At the door to the nursery, Bethan is waiting and I try telling Georgia,

There! Show Bethan….your Minnie mouse… (very silent) sah.

I was at a loss….’t-shirt’ would have been the appropriate word, but that didn’t come out, because I had not thought about what I would say so that someone else other than her dad would understand the conversation between us.

© 2007, Li-ling. All rights reserved.


  • Hi, I am Canadian living in Malaysia in KL. I just saw your posting and wanted to congratulate you on using all of the languages in your house. The one thing that impresses me about Malaysians is how fast they pick up language and I think that must be because they are so used to hearing so many even in the same house. It is hard to find Chinese Malaysians who don’t speak at least 3 languages. The principle of using language with company is inclusion, that is, what makes people feel the most included, but in your own house, I think the more the merrier. My son-in-law speaks only Spanish to her daughter and now at 3 she is fluent in both English and Spanish. Boleh.

  • Hi. Yes you are right. It is definitely all about inclusion, and I need to have my mind ‘tuned’ in to being around company and to use the ‘correct’ language. 🙂 Well done to your grand-daughter. I’m hoping that G will be the same, eventually although at the moment all her spoken words are in English.

Got anything to say? Go ahead and leave a comment!