Posted by: sbilingual | December 26, 2012

Love Breaks Language Barriers

We went to Malaysia to celebrate Chinese New Year with my husband’s parents and relatives. It was a great bonding time for all of us. We stayed in a hotel close to the beach and we had a great time enjoying each other’s company. We got to eat the famous original Penang Char Kway Teow; we went to the malls and the beach. The kids enjoyed bonding with their father because it’s a once-a-year occasion that he gets to be with them for five straight days!

And we would have enjoyed it fully had we learned how to speak Chinese and talk fluently with my husband’s relatives. They speak English but, of course, among themselves they will speak their native tongue and that’s when the kids (and I) feel out of place. But, of course, when it’s my husband who will go to the Philippines, he will feel the same when we speak our native dialect.

The Chinese have their own set of characters to begin with. And a characteristic feature of the Chinese language is the four intonations of words. This means that the meaning of a word does not only depend on how it is pronounced, but also the intonation in which it is pronounced. These intonations are usually represented by accents placed on top of the vowels. Wrong intonation will have a different meaning already. It is very confusing, at least for me and my teenage daughter, because we are already too old to study—it’s either that or we are really not that interested.

My husband taught me a few common words but I cannot complete a sentence. Then I took a crash course and when I tried to talk to my husband in Chinese, it took him a long time to process what my sentence meant because of my wrong intonation. There goes my crash course.

Being in a foreign country is difficult because of the language barrier. It is difficult for us to communicate to the people effectively and even some people do not want to go out of the country because of this.

The kids had a hard time communicating with their grandparents. When it was time for us to go back to Singapore, we visited the old folks again and said goodbye to them, and my son gave his grandparents big hugs and kisses. Though they do not understand each other, actions speak louder than words. The exchange of hugs and kisses says it all: love breaks language barriers.


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