Oi! Eu não sou bom em idiomas. E você?

The Malaysian High Commission building in London. The wind wasn’t on my side that day.

Languages – a bridge that connects people all over the world, and at the same time, a barrier that keeps us apart.

As a Chinese that is barely able to speak any Mandarin (or any other Chinese dialects), living in Malaysia where there is a significant amount of Chinese people and where it is common for a Chinese to be able to speak Mandarin, I have had some interesting moments.

I’m sure others like me would’ve had times where we were excluded from conversations, had friends & family talking about us – in front of us – in Mandarin, needing Mandarin-speaking friends to come along when eating at a Chinese restaurant and many more.

There are a few ways I (or we) would respond when someone I don’t know comes up to me speaking Mandarin:

  • Keep quiet and nod as if I understand then panic when I realise it’s a question.
  • Say “I don’t speak Mandarin” upfront.
  • Say “I don’t speak Mandarin” in Mandarin.
  • Point at that friend that speaks Mandarin.

The reason why I brought this up is because I’ve been experiencing similar things here in the UK. As the University of Southampton has many international students, there are bound to be students from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other countries that are able to speak Mandarin. You can probably guess what happens whenever I meet one.

It’s alright that they find out I can’t speak Mandarin but I feel bad when they think that it’s normal for a Malaysian Chinese to not be able to speak Mandarin. For those that do not know much about Malaysia and its culture, it feels like I’m giving the wrong image of my fellow people.

Therefore, to be less of an embarrassment to my country, I should work harder on improving my Mandarin. Add oil!

Since we’re on the topic of languages, I would also like to share something about the University of Southampton.

Here at the university, students have the chance to learn a new language for free through the Language Opportunity program. There are the normal language courses that run during term-time (2 hours per week) and the intensive ones the run during the Easter Break (20 hours in just one week). The courses are aimed at beginners so you really don’t need to know anything before signing up for one.

The language courses that were offered this year were Arabic, Dutch, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, C++, Java and HTML and you can only sign up for one. I wasn’t able to take up any languages during the start of the year as the classes were either already fully booked when I tried to register or did not fit in my schedule.

If you wondered why I was going on about not being able to speak Mandarin before this while the first sentence of this post wasn’t even in Chinese, it’s because I managed to join the Portuguese course during the first week of Easter break. So much for improving my Mandarin

I had 4 hours of classes each day with an hour break in between which I initially thought was too much (the lecture hours, not the break). However, the teacher was great and made the lessons very interactive, such that I never felt the need to look at the clock to see how much time was left.

Now, that’s a first.

I am currently no where near fluent in Portuguese but the course was definitely a great introduction to the language, the Brazilian culture itself (as my teacher is from Brazil) and I can say I’m hungry as well as what I would like to eat in Portuguese if needed it’s all that matters anyway.

So if you do come to study at the University of Southampton, do take up on this wonderful opportunity!

Agora é hora de sorvete. Até logo!

The snow decided to visit again.


Olá Mundo

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