“So, what language do you prefer the most?” The question that scares multilingual

The Environment I grew up

I am half Japanese half Taiwanese, and I grew up in Shanghai, China for 18 years, which is almost all of my life. I went to Chinese local Kindergarten and primary school until 3rd grade, and I have transferred to international school from 4th grade.

At home, I always spoke Japanese with my mother and Chinese with my father. With my brother, we spoke both languages depending on which one we felt more comfortable with. In school, everything was taught in English, but I was talking to my friends only in Chinese or Japanese.

Therefore, I can say I “grew up” with all of those languages.

What language do you prefer the most?

Now, let me tell you why the question “So, what language do you prefer the most” scares me so much.

The opportunity Cost

Everything has its opportunity cost, whether its having a fancy dinner, watching Netflix at home, or playing video games overnight. Learning a new language has its trade-offs too.

When I speak Japanese at home, my trade-offs are NOT speaking Chinese or English with my family members. Sounds stupid, but its very important for us to know that we are using different languages and vocabulary with different people.

There are certain vocabulary that you can only learn at home. (Or by memorizing a dictionary but I wouldn’t do that). A good example would be the name of some vegetables. I did not know how to say “green pepper” until I started cooking in university.

In Japanese, green pepper is called “ピーマン”, which is pronounced as Peeman (No, it does not sound weird).

Other words that I did not know is the name of the machines used at home. For example, laundry machine, vacuum cleaner, or dishwasher.

I probably learned all of these words when I started learning English in Primary school with cute pictures decorating the pages, but I forgot everything after taking the quiz a week later.

We learn vocabulary through using the words repeatedly. By using Japanese with my mother, I think I have lost my opportunity of learning those words in English or Chinese (but I learned Japanese, so it isn’t good or bad, just about the opportunity that I lost).

So, what language am I comfortable at?

This happens in every aspect of my life. Now I gave the examples of machines at home, but I am at a different level of every language depending on the context of the conversation.

If I talk about entertainments, like books, TV shows or movies, I am better at Japanese because I love to read and watch those things in Japanese, so I have more things to talk about.

When I give presentation, (well, this might be surprising, but) I am more comfortable at doing it in English, simply because I have done it many times in school.

When I fight with my brother, I am better when I am speaking in Chinese, because I feel like I can speak that fastest amongst the three languages especially when I am angry.

Therefore, I cannot simply tell you which language I am good at, because it really really depends on the context that we talk about. 

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