Learning language doesn’t come easy to me. I am not like one of those people who can speak 10 languages, but I can brag that I know some swearing words in at least five other languages.
In Malaysia, we mainly speak in Bahasa Malaysia/Melayu, but also have many other local indigenous languages/dialects. English is the most commonly spoken foreign language, and other languages spoken include Chinese Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka and other Chinese dialects, Tamil and Hindi.
Because Malaysia was formerly colonised by the British, we learn British English at school. Well, during my time we have at least three English classes a week and the rest of the subject are taught in Malay (we can use Malay to refer as a language or the race). Back then in the 80s, we only have three television channels to choose from. Most of the English speaking tv programmes were American.
So we learn British English at school, and we watch American TV programmes. Our English becomes a little mixed and even to this day, I still pronounce the word “vitamin” like an American would, but I will write “colour” just like the British do. It annoys the hell out of my banana husband (apparently it’s what you call an Asian born in western country – you look Asian but you’re totally western in the inside).
Being able to speak English is a big thing, but people can be quite nasty about it. In my experienced, my very own people will laugh and make fun of my English and people who haven’t quite mastered the language. It used to bother me so much and even until now, I am still a little insecure about it because my kids just laugh their heads off when I say “change your bed sheet”.
It’s not just my pronunciation – when I first moved here, I was at my soon-to-be in-law’s house for Sunday roast lunch. We were sitting on a long 3 meter dining table. Jane, then my future mother in law, was sitting on the end table and I was on the opposite end and my husband and his father were sitting on each side of the table. I then saw this beautiful peacock showing off its beautiful tail. It suddenly occurs to me that no one has ever mentioned what a female peacock is called.
So I asked “Jane, what do you call a female peacock?” Now, most people may just wait for her to answer but I continue with “… is it a Peac**t?”! Everybody stopped eating, mouth half hanging but I just didn’t get it. Jane was like “pardon me?”. I thought she didn’t hear me the first time so like a true moron, I repeat the exact same question, but this time even louder!
Ok, in my defence I only hear people talking about “chickens” or “birds” the whole time, with hardly any gender ever used to describe these animals. I learnt my English the ghetto way, that Cock means something else and it usually pair up with the other “C” four letter word!
When my daughter was six years old and we were pretending to be an animal, I choose to be a “mummy dog”. She innocently asked what a female dog was called and I innocently answered her question.
The next half hour I was a B***h!