You don’t necessarily have to speak two languages fluently to think like a bilingual person. Unless you have been living ‘seperti katak di bawah tempurong‘ or ‘like frogs in a well’ or 坐井观天，you would probably not have taken any notice of the foreign word you can already find in your environment.
The labels on your food packaging, the names of the ingredients, and the subtitles of DVD movies you recently bought from the store last week, all give you clues on where to find a foreign language in your environment. It is the way you use the information that will transform you to become bilingual. Notice that I have just used 3 different languages for the same term “katak di bawah tempurong”. The trick to becoming a bilingual person is to seize the moment when it comes.
Example: A politician goes out to meet people in a community, majority of whom can only speak Mandarin. After his short speech in English, he steps out to shake hands with a few folks. His handshake was responded with a simple smile and “Xie Xie”. What do you think this politician will do? If he wants to continue getting support, he must at least respond in the same language right? He needs to switch to the native language. He has learnt a few words in Mandarin including how to respond with a simple “You’re welcome.”. So he says, ‘不客气！
Tip: A bilingual person starts his journey from learning to respond to need for communication in a language other than his native tongue.
What is native tongue? A native language is characterised by its layman, rough, raw and impromptu speech. You can create different sounds for the same word in your native tongue and it always seems to sound right and correct. You make no effort to correct your accent because everyone else in your circle especially those at home knows exactly what you say even though it is a simple, ‘Good’ that sounds more like ‘gud’ with an ‘uh’ sound. Your intonation is wrong? So what! You are still Chinese. You can’t roll your tongue to say the word, “Mari” or “Come” in Malay? Who gives any notice? You still eat chillies and will always be Malay. Being native is your prerogative to make mistakes and still get away with it. It is not a question of performance.
Who is considered bilingual? Being bilingual is a gift but like any gift it has to be developed and nurtured. That is because a gift of speech uses the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain used for processing information for long term memory such as languages. Like kids, we use fewer words than what we really know or have heard. Sometimes, it takes only a word like ‘roti’ to trigger our memory of our experience eating bread in India or the day when mum took you along to one of dinner parties at an Indian restaurant. Unless captured on video or camera, we only depend on our memory to capture images of our experiences.
To me, if you can mix a few foreign words here and there in a native sentence, making enough sense to create communication, you are well being on your way to becoming a bilingual person. The rest of your journey is really up to you. You can either choose to improve on those broken sentences to make well your language skill or continue to keep mixing languages together until you’ve learnt how to stop doing it through self-awareness. You may first say, “Want tea?” Next you may say. “You want tea?” Eventually, you will say, “Would you like tea?” You don’t necessarily have to speak two languages fluently to think like a bilingual person. You just need to try.
Go ahead and sign in for your tips on learning English and Mandarin.