The exciting benefits of being multilingual

Rokiah Mahmud

Being able to speak multiple languages can bring a lot of advantages and benefits. In addition to enabling communication with people of different nationalities and backgrounds, it also opens doors of opportunity especially when one’s scope of work requires fluency of one’s mother tongue but also a foreign language.

At the same time, being able to speak, write and understand the culture of the language can help raise the image of a speaker and potentially open doors of conversation, be it for business or leisure activities.

Three multilingual Bruneians shared with the Bulletin their experience of learning new languages, in addition to English and Malay.

Hafiyya Basar, 23, shared with the Bulletin that her interest in learning a new language was driven by her enthusiasm for watching K-Pop singers, K-dramas and movies from Korea.

What began as a leisurely hobby grew into a strong interest, and in her rush to understand the language, aside from reading the subtitles on the television screen, she also started to take formal courses and programmes that could enable her to properly learn the Korean language.

“It was during my university year that I decided to study Korean and Japanese when I took beginner classes for both languages,” she said. “Throughout the year, apart from attending the formal course I also took online classes to understand more about the languages.”

“At first I wanted to learn Japanese and Korean languages so that I could watch the movies, dramas and television shows without the need to read the subtitles.”

“In the early stage I found it difficult to differentiate the languages, as I learnt Japanese and Korean both at the same time. Both languages can sound similar.”

“The Korean language for example is more difficult because in terms of formal and informal grammar it denotes a level of respect to the person that we speak with. This often occurred when I tried to communicate with my Korean friends. I needed to make sure that I was using the right choice of grammar so as to respect the person if they are older or younger than me.”

In terms of daily communication, for Hafiyya it is easier to understand the locals when she travels to Japan and Korea. “It enables me to communicate as we understand that not everyone can speak English especially when you try to find locations or get lost somewhere.”

“By understanding the language, at the same time, it gives us the chance to appreciate the different and unique cultures of the countries.”

She said that one will experience difficulties in learning a foreign language, especially when it comes to writing, which is harder than speaking as it requires memorising all the alphabets. However, with perseverance, one can succeed.

Another to speak with the Bulletin was a government official named Sufian bin Haji Md Yussof, who first decided to learn a new foreign language in 1995 by taking a class at the Continuing Education and Training (CET) under the Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE), which was known then as Continuous Education Unit.

He originally wanted to learn Mandarin, but as it was not yet available at the time, he opted to learn Japanese instead. “I enrolled to learn Japanese Language with the registration fee of about BND33 for a year and the class was conducted at Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien (SOAS) College in the capital.

“At that time we were taught by a Japanese male teacher and I was able to cope with Japanese writing, Hiragana, with ease,” shared Sufian. “The class was conducted twice a week and we learnt most in formal verb of Japanese Language.”

“The teacher made the class fun and he got all the steps and ways to make the language easier. There was a lot of memorisation, especially the nouns, verbs and many more.

“After I completed school, I worked at the Yaohan Department Store, where the boss was a Japanese man and from there I became interested in learning this language at another level.”

“I also loved to watch Japanese dramas aired over Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) called Ninja,” he added.

Another local who learnt to speak Japanese is Hernie Suliana binti Haji Othman, who is a former participant of the Ship for Southeast Asian and Japanese Youth Programme (SSEAYP).

She shared that her interest to learn and study a foreign language developed after having read manga (Japanese comics) in Sixth Form, and subsequently watching anime like Naruto and Hareluya II Boy as well as listening to J-Pop songs.

Hernie undertook several initiatives, including visiting several websites and using a Japanese word processor called JWP. She then focussed serious attention into the language when she studied at Continuous Education Unit (now IBTE-CET) in Gadong from 2005 – 2011, taking night classes.

“I took a Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and passed its Level N3 (middle level),” she said. “Initially it was just to better understand what was being said in anime and drama without the subtitles.”

She said that Japanese seemed like an easy language to learn when one has interest in it.

Hernie explained that because of her exposure to anime and Japanese songs, there were words and phrases that she was already familiar with, but when studying formally in class, she properly learnt about grammar, base words, the writing system (Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji).

“Higher level classes included the use of honorifics l, used when speaking with people in higher positions. The difficult part was memorising Kanji characters, and the honorifics, because of the change in sentence structure.

“When you learn about another country, you also learn about their culture and lifestyle. My trips to Japan a few times before were made easier thanks to the ability to speak, at least in basic communication like ordering food and asking for directions.

“Personally there’s not much I can do with the language right now, but I’d like to keep myself updated with phrases and conversations by still watching dramas, anime and listening to songs, just like I’ve done since the beginning.”

Starting or learning something new gets easier when you have the interest and the will. Nowadays there are lots of resources on the Internet you can choose from, so try one which suits you best. One can also make friends online and practise writing, reading and listening using the many available apps and websites as much as possible.