If you speak more than one language, how do you feel when you speak the languages that are not your primary one?
I’ve always been a proud Mandarin and English speaker, with native proficiency in both. I started off speaking Chinese as a child, then learned English when I immigrated before I turned 4. Around the age of 5, my grandmother came to visit and taught a Chinese class in our living room. When I was 8, my parents sent me to China for a year, where I attended school and was immersed in the culture and language. That helped my Mandarin a lot! I came back with stronger language skills and would return to China during summer breaks up until middle school. Meanwhile, I had been attending Chinese school since 4th grade or so.
In high school, all that dwindled as I focused on my classes, extracurriculars, and preparing for college. My junior year, I had moved from New York to California and could not find a suitable Chinese school in the area. My education in Mandarin was paused until I took a class in college. Since then, it’s been 10 years! Unbelievable. I only speak Chinese for a few hours a year now and I find myself more and more shy about it.
One of the things I was proudest of as a child was my near flawless accent. I sounded basically like a native Chinese person and did not have the accent that many of my peers had. But after years of dormancy, my language skills have been slipping. I’m perfectly fine to use Chinese when I’m in China, but in the states I often use English when Mandarin would have worked. A few days ago, I suddenly realized that this was totally silly. I’ve been trying to speak to myself in my head to practice. I didn’t want those speaking to me to judge any misuse of phrases or slight pronunciation variations I might have.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter. They don’t care if I’m fresh from China or born here. In fact, I’ve always found that Chinese people get really excited when they see that I can converse with them in the language they are more comfortable with. It doesn’t matter if I stumble over reading Chinese or if I use slang that give away some of my background. I hear plenty of people speaking English with poor grammar and strong accents, but the only way to get better is to keep going. I’m going to take the same eagerness to practice Chinese that I have when speaking to my mom and extend that to any others who understand me. Screw speaking “perfect” Mandarin! Pretty soon, I might speak far too little if I chase too high a standard.« Prev：Crunch time Three decades：Next »