How Being a Globe Trotter Affected my Ability to Become Fluent in Foreign Languages – OurWarwick
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How Being a Globe Trotter Affected my Ability to Become Fluent in Foreign Languages

Isabel Quah
Isabel Quah | Language, Culture and Communication Contact Isabel

The term third culture kid is applicable to a great number of today’s youth and it has developed into quite an abstract term. I personally do consider myself as a third culture kid, in which I come from two asian backgrounds (dual citizenship: Malaysian and Filipino), I have lived in six different countries up to date, both in Asia and in Europe, and to tie it all together, I have an American accent despite having never lived in the US. Quite a complex mix I must admit and it is always quite amusing to see people’s reactions when I try to explain this all to them. I feel that this is a large factor which drove me towards selecting my current course- Language, Culture and Communication which really aims to enlighten students of the importance of being intercultural competent, especially if an international driven career is what the end goal is. Whenever people ask me what my course entails the first presumption is that it involves taking up multiple foreign languages, which is not entirely false, however there is a deeper cultural competence and elements of global communicative understanding that this course aims to deliver to students.

Growing up, I spent the first few years of my infancy in Nepal where my father was based during that time period. Before my kindergarten days began, our family moved to Switzerland in which I was enrolled in a French International school. Surprising enough, I along with another Japanese boy, were the only two asian kids attending the school at that time. French was a required subject taught as a part of the curriculum and I ended up becoming a fluent speaker in both French and English, which I consider as my main language due to the fact that it was the dominant language spoken in the household. I was fluent enough in French, that I was actually translating for my mother whenever we went out grocery shopping and she was having difficulties conversing in French. By the time I reached the age of 5, we moved to Thailand where I was then enrolled in an American international school. Sadly, because I stopped speaking in French, I gradually lost my ability to speak it fluently and Thai lessons were then integrated in the curriculum. I never became fluent in Thai, though I knew enough of the basics to get around the city and speak with locals. Majority of my middle school and high school years were spent back in the Philippines and I continued being educated under the American system. I studied Spanish during this duration but I still stumbled over a lot of the grammatical nuances and conjugations, hence I could speak Spanish but not with the fluency of a native speaker.

Based on all my experiences throughout my language learning journey, I do feel language immersion plays a huge role in the ability for one to be able to attain a certain level of language fluency and this is something I feel is what has been my road block in terms of being able to retain languages and speak them fluently. As ashamed as I am to admit, I also never learned how to speak tagalog, or cantonese which are the first languages of my parents. Due to this frustration and realisation, I have slowly began trying to assimilate as much of the languages whenever I am back home in either the Philippines or Malaysia.

Currently as a part of my course, I have continued taking up Mandarin lessons as I do feel knowing multiple languages gives you an upper hand when handing your CV to employers, especially now since the world has become so globalised. If there is one thing I could do given the opportunity to change something in my past, would be making sure that I did not lose my ability to speak the languages I was exposed to as I do feel it is such an important skill especially in this day and age.

Isabel Quah
Isabel Quah | Language, Culture and Communication Contact Isabel

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