Languages are a funny thing.

Most of us speak what we are used to, to others who are also used to it. And we take it for granted.

I feel like I can only have two main active languages, from which I can easily reach out for words from, at any one point. In Singapore, I switched easily and freely between English and Mandarin; In Germany, it’s between German and English – and all Chinese words are lost.

And then there are people like the lovely couple I hung out with earlier this week – a Japanese guy and his German girlfriend require some time for further clarifications while conversing with each other in German. Later I asked him if they normally speak Japanese. He quickly said no, they spoke almost always in German. How they’ve dated for a year now baffles me.

Anybody living in a country that is based on a language other than your own native language would know that it actually is exhausting going through a day completely exclusively with the local language. In Berlin, I seem to have a social circle consisting of people, who almost don’t speak English at all or refuse to since they’re terrible in it. We struggle with our German, but it connects us and we understand one another in spite of all the grammatical mistakes and false friends. It feels funny that we are struggling to put our points across, but we – singaporean, japanese, ukrainian, italian, columbian – we communicate in German because English is not an alternative.

Glad the husband speaks English comfortably, otherwise speaking to him alone would exhaust me!


Oh my gosh, I get it!

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

– Henry Ford

Today I heard this phrase in German. I attended a talk on performing with the right thoughts in German and I couldn’t believe how much I understood from it. It was amazing.

Just half a year ago, before I arrived, I would’ve perhaps understood just 15-25% of it. Before the talk started, I told S, well I’m going to try to understand everything, even though this seminar is in German. S assured me I could ask him if I didn’t understand. I thought, well sure, I’ll write down the words I don’t understand in a notebook.

S proceeded to sweetly asked me every now and then if I understood what was going on. To my own surprise, I did. I asked him a grand total of 2 or 3 times at the end of the seminar, without which I could still have understood the gist of the sentence.

It was an interesting seminar, and it was an interesting quote to start off the seminar. And boy, is it an accurate quote!

The Mother Tongue, and when it is spoken

We live in a world where most people know at least two languages. Some know five or six but they’re crazy. And we all use a language at work, or for our daily lives. But it doesn’t mean that is our mother tongue. I’ll explain how you know what your mother tongue is.

Your mother tongue is the language you speak in when you’re really mad. A particular cuss word that begins with an F doesn’t count. People say it universally. They cuss with it, but it’s just one word conjugated in many different ways. When you say more than just that word, it’s typically in your mother tongue.

S and I speak in English about 50-60% of the time, and the rest in German. Although he speaks mostly English, when something crosses him, he blurts out a series of German words that underline his dissatisfaction. He also says that when he’s being disturbed while sleepy.

Yesterday during class, we had to conduct a debate in class. I got crazy into it. Midway through, I felt a surge of English words flowing to my head and I had to slowly translate them one by one.

I often say that my mother tongue is English. In fact, it isn’t. It’s Singlish. While passionately discussing something with S and pushing my point across, all of a sudden, I blurted out, “Ya lah!” Mind you, I haven’t spoken to Singaporeans (the only people I speak in Singlish to) for a few days then. It just took me by surprise, and caused S to have a grin on his face as he cheekily repeated it in his best accent, “Ya lah!”

The mother tongue sticks with you, everywhere you go. Even if you’re in a different country. Even if you spend every day with a different language.


There it is – a brand new year.

I would love to say “Whoa. Where did the time go?” But I think this year didn’t exactly zoom by. It did feel like a year ago that I did the annual reflection.

That’s not to say the year wasn’t eventful. It was, and that’s also why at this very point, it feels extremely far from the events of last year.

  • Career

Can’t believe I’ve stuck with my job all this time. As a product of the new generation, it’s safe to call it an achievement to have it made it past a year of being with the same company. I think I’ve grown through it, the ability to separate emotions from business, networking internally, dealing with external vendors, being now called a “bro” by my lunch group, etc. There are greater responsibilities now, and there is a greater comfort level where I’m sitting now – and that comes with slight fear and knowing that there’s still a lot of room to grow – maybe within the role, maybe within the company, but also maybe out of this city I call home.

  • Family

I lost a loved one at the start of the year. Sometimes I worry that I’ve forgotten how things were with her around but sometimes I dream of her and her indirect ways of showing approval for the things I do. Sometimes I feel so sorry for her, for leaving behind a broken extended family that only held up with her presence. The extended family is definitely screwed up, but I’m keeping my nuclear family close, and I think we had a pretty good year.

  • Friends

I don’t think I’ve realised the fragility of friendships until this year. The ability to drift apart through space and time, and the ability to think – ah heck it, it’s too much trouble, and if you don’t care, I don’t care. With the evolution of technology, somehow keeping in touch becomes a greater pain in the butt – how was that possible? I decided to lay off social media like Instagram and Twitter, partly because I didn’t want to know everything about a person before meeting them, and partly because I would like to know what friends would like to tell me in person, i.e. not through the broadcast of social media. This year definitely saw me through the making of several new good friends, the ups and downs of sustaining some old ones, and how the ones with the best fit are gonna stick around through it all, without much effort at all. I’m truly blessed in that area.

  • Love

I remember someone telling me not to give in to the stereotype of long distance relationship being difficult. It’s true that for most of the time, it is easy peasy. I love him, he loves me, one of us is in the wrong city. When we meet, it’s heaven on earth; when we part, it’s hell. There are so many ups and downs in a long distance relationship, god knows my poor cousin had to hear me out so many times. If it isn’t a cyclical moodiness of realizing how far apart we are, it is just insecurity. It’s tough to get a healthy balance of dependence and independence necessary. But at the end of the day, it’s about what works with us, and I think we did a pretty amazing job keeping it going, reigniting the spark every so often, despite – till date – having no expiry of the long distance in sight. But it’s clear we have a similar goal and I’m blessed to have someone love me from 10,000km away.

  • Personal development

Participate in two more 10km run, check. Picking up a new language, check. Picking up a new sport, check. Let my hands go crazy with art and craft, check. Read more books, check. Read the news more, check. Spend less time worrying about what others think of me, check. Travel to new destinations, learn to pack really light, travel alone, check check check.

And for the new year? Apart from the usual blessed and healthy family and friends, I sincerely hope for career enlightenment, at least for the time being. Remaining active physically. Exploring the kitchen more. And cohabiting with the boy.

I’m ready, 2013. Take on me.

Deutsch lernen (learning German)

I started my first formal class on 30th May 2012, and in under 5 months, I’ve made it to Goethe-Institut‘s A2.1 class (it progresses from A1.1, A1.2, A1.3, A2.1 in Goethe). I’m extremely proud and it makes me extremely happy to finally have a teacher whose teaching style I adore!!!

I never thought this would happen two years ago, but I actually have great appreciation for the language now. In the afternoons, I’ve always got a Berliner radio station tuned in. On my flights, I’ve watched 3 German films on my last flight to Germany. And S doesn’t even speak to me in German that much, except when I talk about classes and he’d try to teach me some. And let’s face it, German sentence structures are quite out of the ordinary. More on that later.

In my last trip I spent about 20 minutes chatting with a lady who couldn’t speak much English, and I couldn’t speak much German but we managed to carry full conversations (in broken language) and understood each other. I was so damn proud.

And now, I’m so damn proud of coming this far. I should’ve taken 2 more months to reach this far if I enrolled for consecutive classes. I didn’t even have consecutive classes, I took a break in between to switch schools!

The disadvantage, however, is that it’s messing with my French. I had to think extra hard to recall French words. And while S has no issues switching from German to French to English, it’s gonna take a long while before I can do the same. When he spoke to me in French, I responded with ‘ja’ (yes) instead of ‘oui’, and ‘aber’ (but) instead of ‘mais’. Oops. These days I’m confused about whether some nouns should begin with a capital letter, because that’s how it’s done in German. (It would then be: These Days i’m confused about whether some Nouns should begin with a Capital Letter.)

But gosh, learning languages are so much fun. Everybody should learn a new language. It really activates a side of my brain that tickles my fancy. 3 years ago I was thoroughly amused with reading the alphabet with the whole class in French, today I absolutely strongly recommend learning a new language. It makes you look at language in a slightly different light…

Ich kann jetzt ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen! (Literally translated as: I can now a little German speak.) 🙂