Thursday, July 03, 2008


Here's an interview I did with my friend Joe, who is writing a paper for his English class about bilingual people. I thought I'd share it with you guys.


When did you start learning your second language?

I grew up in the Philippines. In true over-achieving fashion, I was taught three languages simultaneously - Chinese (Fukien), English and Tagalog (Pilipino), probably because my parents thought that by learning these languages, they could have the tools to mould my character, primarily by swearing at me in different languages. This continued on in my formal education, where the three languages converged into what I call The Perfect Storm of Torment: can you imagine having to learn to read "See Dick Run. Run, Run, Run." in three languages? Boooring! Would it be more interesting if it was "See Dick Slurp. Slurp, Slurp, Slurp." I don't know.

I learned to speak a variant of Chinese called Mandarin when I went to grade school at 7. I was taught some Spanish in high school and college. When I moved to America, I learned the mother of all languages, Pig Latin.

At what point could you say that you were truly bilingual?

I don't know. It's a hard question to answer. It's like trying to answer the question, "when did you realize you were in love with your boyfriend?" The answer that keeps coming to mind is "when he paid for dinner" even though I know it must've been earlier than that, when I first followed him home without his knowledge.

However, I think I understand this question to be the moment when I knew that I had mastered a language. For me, that was when I was having dinner somewhere in Chicago and I overheard someone in the next table say to the waiter, "Ixnay the epperpay" and I understood. It was a great moment.

Did your parents encourage your bilingualism?

Bilingualism sounds like something nasty, like something somebody might have to douche. I don't think they would like that word, I have trouble enough with the word "inheritance". They totally flipped out when I asked them about mine.

My parents encouraged anything that they think would help me get ahead in life. However, they did not encourage my homosexuality, even though it helped me get head in my life.

Is everyone in your family bilingual?

Bilingual, yes. Do they douche? No.

Was there any sort of stigma involved surrounding your second language? first language? Especially from those friends or family who may not have understood the importance?

The only stigma I experienced was that I learned that in whatever language you speak, affecting a lisp was not something you want to do in gym class unless you wanted a wedgie. But it was de rigeur in Drama Club.

Interestingly, since only people of Chinese decent in the Philippines learned to speak Chinese, it was sort of off-putting for non-speakers when Chinese people spoke it among themselves. But I am sure it's not as annoying as when Americans go to Mexico and ask "Where-o is the bathroom-o?"

Growing up, was your classroom or any part of your education Bilingual? Explain to what extent.

Everybody was at least bilingual. My community was multilingual. I went to a private school run by Southern Baptist missionaries, which was where I learned my formal English. People always look at me funny when I say that I am a Southern Baptist, but it's true, I am a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool, South-of-the-equator Baptist.

Is your comfort level the same for both languages? For reading? writing? speaking?

I feel comfortable reading English the most, Tagalog to a lesser extent and Chinese only when I am taking a shit in the bathroom. Paradoxically, it doesn't matter what language something is written in as long as there is a picture of a penis accompanying it, I totally get the message.

I am most comfortable in English because I think, that just like transgendered people who feel that they are trapped in the opposite sex's body, I was like a rude, loudmouth American trapped in a Chinese delivery guy's body.

Any hesitation in doing any of the above in front of others?

I don't have any hesitation at all, unless I have to do it naked. I am currently fifteen pounds overweight and would have to request, at the very least, a thong to do to it in front of others.

What was the most difficult part for you about learning your second language? Grammar? Nervousness? Intimidation?

Probably the desire to go out and cut class. I figured after I learned the word "shit," all the other words are just stand-ins for this very powerful word.

Do you feel like reading in your first language helped you at all when learning your second?

There are concepts that once you learn it, it crystallizes in your head: the concept of nouns and verbs, the parts of speech, being careful of your teeth when you give head; it helps in the next language.

Briefly tell me your parents and grandparents education level.

My parents were college drop-outs. They learned from the school of hard knocked-up. My grandparents were peasants, salt-of-the-earth kind of people, the kind that could stick their finger in a soup for that added flava. My grandmother invented the salt lick when she went down on my grandfather.



Check out my other interviews

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