Switching languages

Who here is a polyglot? If you live in an area with lots of immigrants, you might eventually pick up more than a few words. If you are an immigrant in the US or child of an immigrant, you might speak English and your parents’ language and some regional dialects.

This morning my family went to eat dim sum (Cantonese style morning tea and snacks). Our initial server was clearly Hispanic but must have been working there for years. He clearly understood the type of tea we wanted, especially when we used the Cantonese pronunciation for Chrysanthemum tea. 

Tonight, there are four languages being spoken at the dinner table: Mandarin, Cantonese, English, and Amoy (Min Nam hua) from southern Fujian province. Usually, I speak English but occasionally have to switch to Cantonese or Mandarin in an emergency. I am way more comfortable speaking English and dream in English except twice. Both times I dreamed in French.

It can be easy switching languages but it can be very hard. I can read French fluently but can’t speak naturally. The opposite is true for me in Chinese. It can be very distracting whenever I go to a Chinese restaurant where I can hear and understand 12 different conversations. At the same time, reading Chinese is difficult.

It can be such a challenge going to family reunions and vacations because I constantly have to switch languages; when talking to the older generation, use their language. When talking to my generation or uncles and aunts, use English. It sucks at times.

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