70. Please & Terima kasih.


I have a problem.

I think in one language and speak in another. Recently, the connection between brain and mouth goes a bit wonky. The result? I look like a confused dork (not that there’s anything wrong with that) trying to say something which will, inevitably, come out sounding stupid.

It’s been going on for a while now ever since I’ve been here in Manchester and trust me, this has never happened this frequently before. I’m actually starting to feel quite disheartened because hey, everytime I have the most brilliant thing planned in my head, it ends up coming out like a splat of disgusting vomit. All I wish for then is the ground to open up and swallow me whole.

C’mon, some of you have experienced this before right?

As you can very well notice, this speaking problem does not translate to writing so yes, it is extremely frustrating.

To add to that, I’m quite the extrovert and love being around people; making new friends, having good long conversations and just hanging out are some of my favourite things to do. But all these can get quite difficult due to the language barrier.

I’ve given it quite a fair bit of thought and well, based on whatever I’ve learnt in psycholinguistics and bilingualism modules, I think I came up with a perfectly reasonable explanation.

a) The English I’m used to speaking is not Standard English per se, but Singlish.
Trust me, linguists around the world are terribly intrigued by Singlish: how it has its own grammatical rules and what-nots, so yes, Singlish is in a league of its own.
Technically speaking, my brain is conditioned to produce Singlish so now it has to work double-time to produce a decent level of ‘Standard’ English, which of course, results in stuttering and/or embarrassing attempts at trying to maintain a conversation. I mean, I can carry a conversation efficiently but it’s not exactly the smoothest one.

To back up this point, I assure you, I have had no problems speaking during the occassions that I mix around with Singaporeans/Malaysians here.

b) I think in Malay.
The bilingual brain is amazing but well, it has to work within the demands of the situation. I have been trained intensely in my mother tongue from a very young age and it follows that the voice inside my head is speaking in well, Malay.

Studies in psycholinguistics have shows that the bilingual brain rely on a selection-and-inhibition mechanism. Sometimes, this mechanism doesn’t work very well (as in my case now). At times, I think I’ve selected the appropriate word to say in English after I’ve translated it from Malay, but when I try to say the word, it becomes a challenge because my mouth and lips are prepped to say another word (most likely in Malay).

Oh the agony.

So anyway, now that I’ve established that these are the possible reasons behind my predicament, (ok I may have exaggerated a bit but y’know, I really do like maintaining proper smooth conversations, which has been hard!) I’ve basically narrowed down the solution to only one:

Continue speaking in English as much as I can. 

You’ve got to admit, there is no easy way out of this. It’s the same with anything you want to get better at. Connections in the brain only gets strengthened with continuous activation, so that basically means I need to keep doing it until I get it right.

Never mind that sometimes I’d feel utterly incompetent trying to communicate with someone in English.

Never mind that it’s going to be difficult.

Never mind that it’ll take time to get better.

The important thing is to keep practicing and getting the brain used to producing English and eventually, speed up the process.

And who knows, perhaps with all the talking (competent or otherwise), I’d be able to build up lasting friendships with the people here.

See, there’s always a silver lining somewhere. ❤

*Terima kasih in the title means Thank you in Malay. 🙂

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