Coco’s language biography

Cocoa Puffs

I was born in Beijing, China. My mother tongue is Mandarin. My parents speak Mandarin to me, and I speak Mandarin to my parents and my Chinese friends. I do not speak any dialect. However, since my great grandmother and my grandmother were originally from Hunan, a province in the southern part of China, they spoke one of the numerous dialects in Hunan. As I spent every holiday with my great grandmother and my grandmother when I was a little kid, I could understand the dialect in Hunan. Interestingly, my grandfather was not from Hunan. He came from Shandong, the northern part of China. When he spoke to my grandmother, he would use Mandarin, the language that I understood well. Unfortunately, I failed to speak any dialect. Nevertheless, when I met people from Hunan or Shandong provinces, I would proudly connect myself with them, and I was keen to learn more about the dialects because the dialects represent my heritage.

English entered my life as I went to elementary school. It broadened my social network. Sometimes, I spoke English to my American and Canadian friends. Other times I used English as a lingua franca to communicate with people from non-English countries. When I taught Chinese, when my students failed to understand what the word or scenario was, I would use English to explain. Therefore, English made me a better teacher to facilitate students’ Chinese study.

When I was nine years old, my family moved to Brazil. That was when I started to pick up Portuguese. At that time, I was able to speak as fluently as a native. Since then, I linked myself with Brazil. However, after going back to China, it was very hard for me to maintain my Portuguese. I was sad and struggled, because the last thing I wanted to do was to lose my Portuguese. Luckily, three years ago, in China, I had two Portuguese speaking students. I taught them Chinese and they taught me Portuguese. I was content because it was never too late to make an effort to learn this language.

I had not thought about learning French until I came to Montreal (life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you are going to get). This vibrant bilingual city has provided me with a rich language environment for learning French. As such, I took French classes and spoke French in class. I am still a little bit afraid of speaking French on the streets. As a language learner, I am worried about making mistakes. However, being a teacher myself, I knew that I would not laugh at my students if they made mistakes. Similarly, I kept telling myself that people would not judge me because it was normal to make mistakes. Thus, I “pushed” myself to speak French as much as possible and to make the best use of the language environment.

My language journey is incessant. Through my language learning experience, I figure that language and culture goes hand in hand. Languages offer me an opportunity to explore the culture attached to the language. As such, as a language learner, I am proudly to say that I am multilingual. I am grateful to the journey because it opens my eye and allows me to embrace a beautiful world with diversified culture and languages. As a language teacher, the more languages I touched on, the more I knew in terms of why my students made the mistake, which made language teaching much easier.

In summary, even though I do not know what these four languages would bring to me, I know that in the future, plenty of wonderful things are in store for me.

2 thoughts on “Coco’s language biography”

  1. Hi Coco,

    Thanks a lot for your post! It’s very interesting to read about your language biography, since we have some similar experience yet some different. As Chinese, I guess most of us share the same age to get to know English, for it’s compulsory in schools. But it’s amazing that you have exposure to Portuguese overseas at an early age, which adds to your language diversity, and of course, culture diversity. This deepens my understanding to how languages are linked to cultures, and how much knowing about a new language brings one to a new culture. Thank you!



  2. Hi Coco!
    Thanks so much for your post!
    I loved reading about your upbringing and language biography… Chinese, English, Portuguese AND French?! That’s so amazing!

    When I learned Hungarian for a year, I struggled to maintain my proficiency too… Luckily, the internet’s amazing – I can listen to the Hungarian radio on iTunes and watch Hungarian Disney Channel on YouTube. And yeah, I can totally understand what you mean when you say you don’t know how those languages will come in handy, but I’m sure it will!

    – hina


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