We are Asians… but we are NOT the same.

“NI HAO!” “KONICHIWA!” While it is cool that one can say hello in the language of the two most obvious Asian nations, it is not cool when you say it to someone who isn’t from either nations. I get that a lot. From cars passing by, people that walk by on the streets, even students … Read more

“NI HAO!”

“KONICHIWA!”

While it is cool that one can say hello in the language of the two most obvious Asian nations, it is not cool when you say it to someone who isn’t from either nations. I get that a lot. From cars passing by, people that walk by on the streets, even students on campus. I get it. I come from a relatively unknown country in South East Asia. But it really isn’t being smart if you just scream out one of the two greetings above to someone just because they look, how should I put this… oriental?

Bear with me here. For this is not a rant. I want to enlighten people.

Asia is the largest and most populous continent on the planet. It has a total of 48 countries and also home to about 4 billion people; 60% of the world’s population (give or take). But the most amazing part about Asia is that it has over 2,000 spoken languages. Yes, you read correctly, TWO THOUSAND.

Nearly every Asian nation has it’s own language, making it difficult to communicate among each other. That’s why we use English as the common ground. China alone has over 200 different dialects and India has over a 100. It is a crazy world over there in Asia. Even in Malaysia, being multiracial, we speak different languages. Malays, the majority race, speaks Malay. Indian-Malaysians speak Tamil, one of the Indian dialects. The tribes in Malaysia all have their own languages. Chinese-Malaysians, my people, speak at least three Chinese dialects in Malaysia. In Penang where I am from, we mostly speak Hokkien (Fujian in China) dialect. In other states, the Chinese speak Mandarin. Others speak Cantonese. I can speak in all three dialects, for the most part.

Crossing any border in Asia is like walking into an entirely different world. Asia is so diverse in culture, history and language that it makes it virtually impossible to group us under one umbrella. The fact that we are categorized as “Asians” is also not accurate. How do you group over 4 billion people into one little category? We are guilty of doing that to ourselves too.

Generally, when one mentions “Asian,” the image that will probably appear in your head is an image of a Chinese or Japanese man. Admit it, you are doing that right now.

The point I’m trying to make here is clear. Do not let ignorance make you look like someone who is insensitive. Surely it would seem ignorant if a foreigner came to America and screamed “HOWDY PARTNER” at every American? The same applies to Asians.

Fact of the matter is that we are all really different people. Asians are not all alike. And to be honest, not all Asians get along either.

So the next time you see someone who is of Asian heritage, refrain from screaming “NI HAO” or “KONICHIWA.” Instead, really get to know where they come from before trying something like that. Who knows? You might even learn a new way of saying “Hello” in a new Asian language. Now THAT would be cool.

5 Keys to Learning a Language Abroad

5 Keys to Learning a Language Abroad

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It has been two months into my study abroad program and I have a confession, I am not bilingual. One misconception about achieving this is that “you will just pick up the language right away,” or that one day a switch will turn and you will know everything Spanish. The truth is that you need to work very hard to achieve this milestone, and with time you may be able to accomplish this goal. Hopefully with two more months to go, I will be able to say that I am at least almost bilingual. Here is a basis that every study abroad student should follow, and perhaps read before they go to a new country and learn a new language.
  1. Force yourself to hangout with locals or intercambios. I came across a Robert Louis Stevenson in which he says, “there are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” The matter of fact is you would be surprised how open people are to help you. You are in the same world and on the same planet, just in a place where people prefer to speak a different language. After making some friends, maybe you could teach them a bit of English too.
  2. Make a pact to speak Spanish amongst Americans. For me, it is a challenge to speak Spanish amongst other USAC students because it is way to easy to resort back to English. This won’t work for everyone, but if you find another friend who is very dedicated to learning the language and totally emerging themselves in a new culture, never speak a lick of English to them. Make it be your own little manifesto.
  3. Although it may feel like you are on vacation, study and do your homework. It is important to remember that you are still in school. You start achieving a higher level when you practice a lot in bookwork, then apply what you learned to the outside world. You really have to want to learn, and constantly be motivated by the possibility of being bilingual. This is hard, patience is a virtue.
  4. Converse with your host family or roommates. If you live with a host family don’t sit in your room all day. Hangout with your new family and converse, the best learning is having people help correct you on the spot. If you live in an apartment, try to live with Spanish kids, or go out in the town and to the market to practice buying things, bargaining, etc.
  5. Above all, positive attitude!

I hope this helps anyone who will be studying abroad, is thinking about studying abroad, or people who need to kick it in high gear before the semester ends. I may go find a new intercambio as we speak, this kind of opened up my own eyes a bit! Be motivated by the possibility of being bilingual, patience is a virtue…