The Struggles of Being Multilingual

Everyone wants to learn a new language. Being multilingual has proven to be a valuable skill now that the world is becoming increasingly interconnected, and you also can’t help but feel like a god when you can understand and speak in different languages. When you’re a Chinoy though, being multilingual is ingrained in your identity. Most of you probably grew up speaking Hokkien at home and learning Mandarin, English, and Filipino in school. If you’re from the province, then there’s the added bonus of being able to speak in Cebuano or Bicolano. It is indeed impressive, but there are also times when your brain short circuits and mixes up different languages or forgets words altogether. These are just one of the many struggles of knowing different languages, so if you’re multilingual, then you’ve likely experienced some of these before:


You are becoming bye-lingual

The biggest challenge of being multilingual is retaining all the words that you’ve learned from different languages. It doesn’t matter if you have taken years of language classes because the moment you’re out of practice, you start to forget most of your vocabulary, therefore becoming bye-lingual. This is likely true for many of us who spent most of our high school years studying Mandarin, only to forget all the new words we learned the moment the test is over. So before you become completely bye-lingual, you should practice speaking or writing in your second language once in a while. You should also consider playing Duolingo because the constant and vaguely threatening reminders from the Duolingo Owl will surely be an effective way to get you to practice a language every day. 

Being asked and answering in different languages

When you live in a multilingual household, then there is a high chance that each family member is more comfortable speaking in a specific language, so it’s common to find yourself answering in Tagalog to a question that was asked in Hokkien. Most of the time, you wouldn’t even notice the difference, although it might be frustrating for your elders who are trying to make you brush up on your Hokkien. 

Speaking in the wrong language to your friend

While it’s not exactly common to accidentally speak full sentences in a language that your friend doesn’t speak, there are times when you unconsciously use words or phrases from a different language and would be met with blank stares. This becomes a good opportunity for you to subtly flex your language skills. After all, your friends don’t know what grades you got in that language class back in high school.


You have become ‘conyo’

People always make fun of students from certain universities for being conyo (which is simplified as someone who likes to speak in Taglish), but when you speak in two languages often, it becomes almost second nature to mix and match. There are also times when you are speaking English, but a Tagalog word would better convey the meaning of what you are trying to say. For instance, I’ve found myself saying “It would be sayang if we deleted it” while I was working on a group project. Besides, there are just some things that are so much funnier when they are spoken in Taglish.

Forgetting a word in one language and trying to explain it in other words

No matter how fluent you are in a language, there are times when a word is on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t remember exactly what it is. Instead, you would resort to using different words to describe what it is, which would often lead to hilarious results. I once forgot what a jetski was called, so I described it as a water motorcycle. There are also many posts on the internet that describe similar instances.


And lastly, your friends see you as their walking Google Translate


Even though you tell them you’re not exactly fluent in a language, they would still ask you to translate words found on menus or random packaging. They would likely also ask you how to say a particular phrase in your language. A friend once asked me how to say “give me money” in Mandarin, and now she jokingly says 给我钱 to other Chinoys she meets.


To my fellow multilinguals out there, how many of these have you experienced? And more importantly, what language do you think in?

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