Language “Hotpot” in Montreal


I am a Chinese student, here in Montreal. I have my stories concerning learning English and French. I bet you have your languages and stories as well. And I would like to share my interesting language stories after living in this language “hotpot” for a year. It’s “spicy” and makes me happy with tears.

As you may have known that Chinese, English and French belong to three language ancestors. They vary tremendously in terms of pronunciation, grammar and writing. Therefore, I have struggled for a long time speaking English before arriving Montreal. I learnt Chinese-English Interpreting back in China when I was in my undergraduate study. However, I was unable to speak English until I got my first part-time job: to translate English and Chinese for an ESL teacher, whose native language is English. It was in around 2011. And I was his teaching assistant. I had to speak English to him even though I was so embarrassed with my Chinese accent. In this way, my job pushed me to speak out and I was able to utter complete sentences (though with lots of grammar mistakes). After that, I kept translating Chinese and English for friends coming from Italy, the Netherlands, or other countries. It was because of my major: Chinese-English Interpreting, that I had lots of opportunities to be with English speakers. I made friends and got to know this world outside China. It was not from books, but from the people living there, with colorful and funny stories. For the first time, I felt that I was a drop in the Atlantic Ocean. I was the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees. So tiny with potential power and brightness. Then, in order to improve my language proficiency, I used recorder each time when I spoke English. My spontaneous answer was so strange when I listened to my recordings. The English “well…no…” and Chinese “嗯(well)…不(no)…”appeared frequently. However, I had to admit that I have improved a lot since I used that technology because it helped me to discover my mistakes. For one moment, I thought I was well prepared for living abroad in Canada.

However, it was French, rather than English, that said Bonjour to me when I got off my plane. All of a sudden, I fell into a French-spoken city. The feeling of being alone in the woods haunted me and it seemed to me that I lost my English as well. I heard Arabic, French, English and other languages outside school. I found that even when I said “your haircut looks not good” in Chinese to a stranger, he would still smile at me…and said “Bonjour”… but it was no good! Therefore, I began to learn French since last November. I went to a private college every weekend. No matter it was freezing cold with blizzard or “on crève de chaud” (scorching hot). I forced myself to use French in communication in bank business and restaurant even though I have to confirm the information in English later (thanks a lot for the ones who have patience to me).  My French speaking made progress when I was working at a restaurant in Eaton Center this summer vacation. It felt like the same when I got my first job back to China, but this time, I used French, English and Chinese at the same time in that there are customers from various parts of the world.

I feel that there is a language “hotpot” in my brain. It’s spicy. Helps me keep passionate with the language food. However, it’s hot, makes me tearful because sometimes I was so frustrated by my mistakes.

You see that the director of language story is the environment. The director asked me to speak English. I obeyed the order. Then, he changed his mind, asked me to speak French, I had to adapt it therefore. I was so curious to find that if the director was emotional or sensible, and if I could see the scientific relationship between language and society – Sociolinguistics (Herk, 2012).

So this is my story, what’s yours?

Van, H. G. (2012). What is sociolinguistics. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.


5 thoughts on “Language “Hotpot” in Montreal”

  1. I really like the way you tell your story! Also, I can imagine how you feel here in Montreal. It’s because sometimes I think I’m being pushed to speak another language (especially French), and it drags me out from my own comfort zone. Still, this is a very interesting and fun journey to carry on. In addition, I believe this environment in Montreal provides a great opportunity for us to improve our language skills. Thank you for sharing your story, Monica!


  2. By Jia Pu: I love your story and I’m feeling the same way as you do. Anyway, I think your experience still helps to create a motivation for you to master a language, which turns out to be beneficial although the process makes you feel “spicy”.


  3. Hi Monica,
    I really like the metaphor you made. It’s really vivid and totally makes sense that brain is like a hotpot and languages are like food to go into the pot at the disposal of the dieters (learners). It’s spicy not just because it is an arduous journey if you decide to start learning a new language, but also because it could take a very long period of time to see some progress and sometimes with frustration. However, it is still worthwhile to learning a new language because you could find more chances to know about more people or places or culture. Anyway, thank you for sharing your experience and it also motivates me to keep looking at the bright side of learning a new language.



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