Why I’ve picked up five languages and want to learn more
Studying five languages, including Japanese and Korean, has helped me to appreciate other cultures more.
Before moving to Singapore and learning Mandarin in primary school, I was already speaking two languages back home in Myanmar. I started using Mandarin as well when I picked it up in primary school.
Growing up speaking three languages is perhaps the reason why I have such a strong interest in learning languages. It’s something I enjoy doing and it helps me experience the world better, which explains why I’ve also been learning Korean and Japanese over the past few years.
Here’s why I’m so interested in languages and what I have gained from picking up new languages.
Growing up with three "mother tongue" languages
I grew up speaking two languages at home with my family; Burmese with my mother and English with my father. I also used English in my daily life because I went to an international school in Myanmar.
As I was using them so often, these languages came naturally to me. However, when I started primary school in Singapore, I became more comfortable using English and it became my first language. I also slowly started forgetting how to read and write Burmese.
I started practicing Burmese again because the language is a big part of my culture and religious customs. Recently, I was able to join my mother in her prayer sessions after I picked up the language since the prayers are in Burmese, much to her delight. This has allowed me to appreciate my culture even more, keeping me connected to my roots in Myanmar.
Meanwhile, I picked up Mandarin as a mother tongue language in primary school. While I did not know any Mandarin before starting school, it was helpful to have classmates to converse with, helping me to pick up the language in a few months.
Being able to communicate with others in one of the local mother tongues allowed me to feel more like a local, especially after I changed my nationality to Singaporean a year ago. I was able to connect more with my Singaporean identity in terms of language, as compared to my father who isn’t fluent in Mandarin.
Although these three languages are considered my “mother tongue” languages, I constantly try to use these languages in everyday conversations since it’s easy to forget a language if you don’t practise it often.
Learning two new languages
Since I was no longer taking Mandarin classes in polytechnic, I decided that it would be a good time for me to take up another language.
After finding out about the Certificate in Foreign Languages programme in my first year of school, I took up Korean classes since I had always been interested in Korean culture. It also helped that I already knew the basic alphabets.
Learning about Korean culture along with the language allowed me to appreciate certain things differently. Watching K-dramas is a lot more fun now because I can understand jokes and other details that can be lost in translation.
When my school organised a study trip to Korea in my second year, I immediately applied for it as I wanted to apply my intermediate knowledge in real life situations.
Surprisingly, I spoke the language so much during the two-week trip that my skills improved tremendously after the trip. I ended up being a translator for my friends, asking for directions and conversing with the locals.
While studying Korean under the Foreign Language programme, I had to take up an elective module for my course as well, and thus picked up Japanese – something I had wanted to do since I was a fan of anime back in primary school.
Learning these languages offered me numerous opportunities like overseas trips, improved my portfolio and helped me to stay connected to my roots. It has also given me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in different cultures that are of interest to me. These languages will also be helpful when I travel to other countries in the future.
If you have been wanting to pick up a new language, go for it! The process of learning a new language is enjoyable and knowing more languages can open up doors to more opportunities for you.