The Many Faces of Bilingual, part 5

bilingualism bilingual multilingualism espanolita

Happy Monday, amig@s!

I’m kicking off the first Monday of the new year with another installment of “The Many Faces of Bilingual,” a series that I started a few months ago. If this is your first time reading this series, be sure to check out parts one, two, three, and four.

With each new post I continue to marvel at the diversity that exists among bilinguals, and I become more and more eager to watch my own daughter’s language emerge and develop over the coming months and years.

If you find yourself wondering what it means to be bilingual, I encourage you to check out this post on the various definitions.

And, if you yourself are bilingual and would like to share your story here on the blog, please contact me. I’d love to add your voice to the conversation.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to David from Madrid, Spain, now living on the beautiful island of Mallorca; Jungrok, a native Korean by way of Hong Kong; and, Irina, a Russian expat living in England.


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How often do you use each language and in which areas of your life?

Español: en todas las áreas de mi vida (menos con las niñas). Inglés: con mis hijas y por trabajo.

(My translation: Spanish in all areas of my life (except with my girls). English with my daughters and for work.)

What does being bilingual mean to you? What do you love about speaking more than one language?

Ser bilingüe (que no sé si lo soy del todo pero bueno…) es importante para mi porque es una manera de cuidar de mis raices familiares y tambien una forma de entender mejor el mundo para poder comunicarse en él. Eres más libre.

(My translation: To be bilingual (although I’m not really sure I am one completely) is important to me because it’s a way to take care of my family roots, and also it’s a way to better understand the world in order to communicate in it. You are freer.)

{Photo via} 

bilingual bilingualism espanolita chinese english multiculturalism

When did you start learning each language?

I attempt to speak English, Korean and Chinese (Putonghua). There are many days when I feel like I can’t speak in any one very accurately! Korean is my mother tongue, however, it is definitely weaker than my English, which I began to learn at around 3. I only started to learn Chinese when I left Hong Kong and attended university in the U.S., go figure!

How often do you use each one, and in which areas of your life?

I speak all three languages every day in various capacities. My work and intellectual language is English, my emotive language is a mixture of English and Korean and my functional (get-things-done) language is in Chinese.

Honestly, growing up, the balancing act of speaking/learning Korean at home, English at school, street-Cantonese, plus 5 years of mandatory French and 2 years of Spanish at school was more of a burden than anything else. As a teen, I did not appreciate staying at home on Friday nights to work on Korean literature and history homework and attending Saturday Korean school for 11 years of my life. I was quick to blame my lack of English-at-home for always botching up English idioms. I was just plain embarrassed to have lived in Hong Kong for 17 years of my life yet not be able to string a proper Cantonese word together. In fact, in my late teen years, there would be days when I would not want to speak or think because that would require me to use a specific language. I was frustrated that an improvement in one language often meant that it was at the expense of the other language (or so it seemed at the time. I would probably beg to differ now). I remember adults would admire how wonderful it was that I was growing up in such a language-rich environment, however, to me, I was frustrated that I could never claim any language as my own or be as fluent in any one language as I had wanted to be.

What does being bilingual mean to you? What do you love about speaking more than one language?

Now that I’m a little older (and wiser?), I’m extremely thankful for that language-rich environment I was able to grow up in and even more thankful my parents helped me persevere through those days of attending Saturday school. All in all, being able to speak several languages (in variance proficiency!), means being able to ‘enter’ into that particular culture and really live and breathe it. More importantly, it has meant making friendships with dear people I would not have otherwise had I not spoken these three languages.


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When did you start learning each language?

I started studying English at school when I was 12 years old.

How often do you use each one, and in which areas of your life?
I live in the UK, but I use Russian (either written or spoken) a few times a week. I use English for day-to-day life; I use Russian to communicate with my family back home, with a few Russian friends and acquaintances in the UK, and to read Russian news on the Internet.
What does being bilingual mean to you? What do you love about speaking more than one language?
Being bilingual always meant freedom to me. Freedom to make more choices, freedom to move, freedom to get on with my life in a new place. What I love about speaking more than one language is that it gives me a wider perspective. For example, being able to read news in more than one language is invaluable: I don’t have to accept a Western interpretation of events in Russia or vice versa – I can read news and opinion on both sides first hand and make up my own mind about what I think is going on. In other words I feel that I understand a bit more of the world because I am bilingual – and I love that.

2 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Bilingual, part 5

  1. We use Welsh and English with our son, so it was great to hear about how other people go about the bilingual parenting thing as we’re quite new to it all. Thanks for bringing together this great collection of different perspectives.


    • Thanks for your reply! Please check out the section on the blog called Families where you can read about others going through bilingual parenting like you. If you’d like to share your own family’s story, I’d love to have it! Best to you!


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