The biggest struggles with being multilingual

Here I am in Wichita, Kan. The statute behind me is called Keeper of the Plains.

My name is Naw Assumpta, and I am the work study for Marketing and Communications. My major is General Studies, and when I graduate from Ivy Tech, I plan to transfer to Ball State University to major in Architecture. I am originally from Burma, and I’ve been in the United States for almost five years.

I speak four different languages: English, Malay, Burmese, and another ethic language from Burma called Karen (which is pronounced ka-YIN). It would be easy to assume that a person who speaks multiple languages fluently is smart or has higher intelligence, but it doesn’t always feel that way. Although I am able to speak, read, and write fluently in English and Burmese, I struggle to do the same in Malay and Karen, though I can speak them.

Being able to speak different languages is incredibly rewarding, but it is tricky and complicated sometimes. These are some of the things I struggle with most often:

  1. Words are on tip of my tongue. Sometimes, words won’t come out of my mouth, and it is frustrating because they are just on the tip of my tongue. I also tend to forgot my vocabularies. One time, I was at the Burmese restaurant. I was trying to order fried noodle with shrimp, but I completely forgot how to say “shrimp” in Burmese. So I stared at the waitress and described what shrimp looks like. It took about 10 minutes for her to figure out what I was trying to order. Once, I forgot how to spell the easiest word, “one,” while I was writing a paper for my English class. It is funny how the easiest word can seem too complicated to spell.
  2. I confuse grammar rules. Grammar rules are different in each language. Sentences in Burmese are mostly translatedbackward in English, and the same as Malay and Karen. For example, the phrase “I love you” would translate backward in Burmese as “You love I,” (). In some cases, words or vocabularies can’t be translated because they do not exist in certain language. The word “chewing gum” does not exist in Burmese. Instead, we call it “PK” or “PeKay,” which is the brand name of the gum. Another example would be “car.” The word does not exist in Burmese language, so we use the English “car” with the Burmese accent to say “ka.”

    Here I am at 7, at Kandawgyi Lake in Burma.

  3. What language do I use when I am thinking? A lot of people are curious about what language I use when I’m thinking. The answers is, all of them. Depending on the situation, I might use Burmese, English, or both. Since I use more English most in my daily life, however, I do my thinking more in English than Burmese.
  4. You start losing the other language. I don’t use Malay and Karen as much as I use English and Burmese in my daily conversation; therefore, my ability to talk in Malay and Karen are fading away. I primarily use Karen to speak with my grandma and relatives back in Burma. I don’t use Malay as often because I don’t have anyone that speaks the language around me.

Despite of all the struggles, I enjoy speaking multiple languages. Languages are beautiful and unique in their own way. Being able to speaks multiple languages opens up new social opportunities and can be very beneficial when you travel. Studies show that being bilingual has many cognitive benefits and it can also reduce the risk of having stroke. Other research points out that speaking multiple languages . I encourage you to learn another language. I can guarantee that it will be rewarding and beneficial.

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