Monday, January 07, 2008


In the United States, the largest number of immigrants – legal or illegal – comes from Latin America. Known collectively as Hispanics, they surpassed African Americans to become the second largest ethnic groups in the country.

Hispanics typically speak Spanish. There is a growing concern that their refusal to abandon Spanish for English would divide Americans along language lines. Others point out that Hispanics may be more likely to work in the least desirable sectors, given their proficiency of English, or lack of it. I personally observed that majority of the workers in Southern California’s fast food outlets were Mexicans.

But Malaysians and Singaporeans probably would find these worries unwarranted. After all, most of us speak two or three languages. In Malaysia, Malay is the official language but English is the business language. Most minorities speak their mother tongues, e.g. Chinese and Tamil. English is the most widely used language in Singapore but the government encourages its people to study their mother tongues.

I recently spent the New Year’s Eve with my sister and parents in Singapore. My (younger) nephew – at the age of two and a half years – was already bilingual. He spoke Chinese (Mandarin) to my parents but spoke English to me, and he made the switch effortlessly. In addition to these, he could count from 1 to 10 in Malay and Tamil!

There is nothing wrong to be bilingual or trilingual. Just make sure that we start at young age, since our ability to learn another language goes south as we get older.


  1. I agree that kids learn languages fast. They know what language to use with which member of the family. This is a great way to introduce bi-or tri-lingualism, e.g. Mandarin with mom, English with dad and Malay with maid.

    The environment one is in also plays a big part. People in smaller towns are more exposed to dialects different from one's own having more freedom of mixing with the neighbourhood children.

  2. Being multilingual is good, actually. :)

  3. I can speak but cannot master.. BUT learning multi language is good..

  4. happysurfer/day-dreamer/keeyit,
    Thanks for your comments. I am in Bangkok now...