This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Among Worlds.
In March and April, #TCKchat, the bimonthly Twitter conversations for Third Culture Kids (TCKs), covered a variety of topics, ranging from lighthearted, amusing chats about food and language to more serious conversations about race and post-university/ young adulthood years.
We learned which languages are more commonly spoken in our #TCKchat community and which ones people wish to learn. Talking about local cuisine prompted participants to share photos and recipes of favorite foods. Race proved to be such an important topic for many of our participants that it has been divided into three sessions in order to thoroughly discuss its many facets. The chat on post-university/ young adulthood allowed the older TCKs to provide guidance and encouragement to the younger TCKs as they navigate this complex transition.
All of the chats were interesting and enlightening, but for this issue I’ve chosen to focus on languages.
Languages and Identity
Juggling multiple languages has been a part of my life since birth. We spoke three languages at home, and I learned a fourth when I was still a young child and a fifth as an adult. Today I speak them in varying degrees of fluency, but each one is a different part of my identity and tells different parts of my story. I can express certain emotions better in one language, or write faster in others; some I speak comfortably without questioning myself and in others I am more hesitant. But each one holds its own special place in my heart and I can find myself longing for certain languages when I don’t speak them for a lengthy period.
We’ve always spoken French, English and Arabic in my family, but it wasn’t until adulthood that I realized my attachment to French and Arabic. My siblings and I went to school in English all over the world, but my parents made sure to keep up the French and Arabic at home. As children we weren’t always thrilled about that, but as adults we are extremely grateful that our parents pushed us to use different languages.
Recently I had my parents visiting from France and my aunt/ uncle joined us from Montreal for a few days. It had been quite a while since we had all been together, so the days were inevitably filled with much chatter and laughter. I got to hear and speak much more French and Arabic than I usually do since living in the U.S. Listening to them, I realized how much I missed hearing and speaking those languages regularly. They speak to my heart and represent my culture, my heritage and my family.
Secondary Languages and Changing Accents
Thankfully my parents also encouraged us to learn new languages, especially of our host countries, which allowed us to become fluent in Spanish while living in Mexico. Later, as an adult, I learned Italian by immersion, listening to the conversations of my husband’s family. Little by little I picked up Italian and it quickly became a language I love. Luckily, my husband and I are fluent in nearly all the same languages, which allows us to practice them at home, even when we don’t get much chance to use them elsewhere. Growing up as TCKs and attending international schools, we were used to speaking and hearing multiple languages on a daily basis.
My TCK background becomes most evident when my accents unintentionally change depending where I am and with whom I’m speaking. When we lived in Australia and I attended a local school, I started speaking English with an Australian accent. We only spent two years there, but that was more than enough time for my American accent to morph into an Australian one. My French accent is also malleable and changing, depending on whether I’m speaking with my family or with native French speakers from France, Canada, Lebanon or elsewhere.
But we pick up more than accents; we also pick up unique expressions and intonations a language may have in different locations. Learning in a classroom is not the same as learning by immersion – you only truly capture the nuances of a language when you delve deeper into the cultural aspects of it. Language is not just about words, it’s also about culture and heritage.
What Others Had to Say
What is/ are your dominant language(s)? Is it a language from your passport country?
- @poetic_stranger Dutch and English – my mother tongue is Dutch, but learned English when we moved to Budapest, and my English is actually better! #TCKchat
- @TweetingAuthor I have one dominant language, it is my passport language, but I occasionally dream in French, which creeps me out. #TCKchat
- @amunati English and I wish it was Arabic cause not being super fluent keeps me an outsider with my culture…super hard on a TCK.#TCKchat
- @RhoKers English as well! Even though it’s not my mother tongue. It happens to a lot of TCKs I know! #TCKchat
- @Astricella French and English. Some would say mostly English now, even though I started with French for the first half of my life. #TCKchat
- @TCKmeghali English and Hindi. Both from my passport countr(ies)! Except that I use more American English than I do British English… #TCKchat
- @SarahZYaseen English is my first language but Arabic is my mother tongue. But I have an American passport and my parents are Arab. #TCKchat
- @EleonoraByron My first passport is Russian but my predominant language became French, and is now English. A bit of a mess. #TCKchat
- @juanjohn Spoke Spanish first (cuz we lived in Guatemala and Costa Rica) then switched to English when we moved to the US. #TCKchat
- @jessirue American passport, English is dominant but Russian is a close second! I’ve studied a few others but don’t speak them well. #TCKchat
- @brettparry English of course from my native Australia. Now speak mainly Polish at home with my wife and daughter. #TCKchat
- @tckwsucoug Passport country is Japan. Japanese is 3rd on my list. English is the dominant. Then Spanish, then Japanese #TCKchat
- @verilymary English is my dominant language. Efik is spoken in my home and though I know it, I always respond in English. #TCKchat
Did you learn the language of all the places you lived in as a TCK? How did you learn them?
- @loniklara If you know a kid, talking to them is the best way to learn. I learned both Finnish and Swedish that way!#TCKchat
- @TCKmeghali Spoke fluent Arabic with the local kids when I was living in Oman! #TCKchat
- @jessirue I’m one of those weird TCKs that only lived in one place overseas. Spoke Russian at school and English at home. #TCKchat
- @wearehyphenated In Hong Kong we spoke English at home, I learnt Mandarin at school as it was a compulsory subject & my mum INSISTED! #TCKchat
- @DouniaB_TCK Not all, if English was dominant language. But others, yes. Learned at school, practiced with parents & immersed in life there. #TCKchat
- @juanjohn Spanish from living in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama; English from USA and French/Arabic from Morocco & Egypt. #TCKchat
- @unsettledtck I learned from just going around with friends and with housekeepers. Sometimes with local teachers. #TCKchat
- @tckwsucoug Portuguese, Japanese/English, then Spanish. School, but Japanese – I learned at home + supplemental workbooks and comic books and Japanese dramas. #TCKchat
- @kolbegray Yes, born with American English, Irish English, Indonesian learned through osmosis #TCKchat
- @RowenaMonde I had no choice but to learn Scottish English. 🙂 I learned fairly quickly as I was a child then. #TCKchat
- @GaylynnGabbie I was so fluent in Japanese when I lived there that my thoughts and my dreams were in Japanese. Sad I lost much of that.
Benefits of Speaking the Local Language
- @LuceroViktoria Traveling in China! Such a different experience once I learned some Mandarin and was able to chat with the locals. #TCKchat.
- @jessirue Translating for visiting friends/family was always fun. Once was asked where I learned English. Made my whole year. #TCKchat
- @kolbegray In Bali I get this a lot “OH! We had no idea you spoke Indonesian. Sure you can have the local price” *price gets cut in half*. #TCKchat
- @unsettledtck Whenever I meet people from one of the places I know phrases from, it is a great ice breaker! #TCKchat
Upcoming Dates and Topics
- May 20 TCK & Race: Part 2 (Racism)
- June 3 Grab Bag
- June 17 Sports/Athletics
- July 1 TCK & Race: Part 3
- July 15 Global Career
- August 5 Gender Roles
- August 19 First Day of School
#TCKchat General Information
#TCKchat is held on the first and third Wednesday/Thursday of each month with 2 sessions: 1st session at GMT 15:00 and 2nd session at GMT +1 3:00. To figure out when #TCKchat happens in your time zone, visit www.TimeandDate.com
On the website you will find upcoming chat dates and topics, highlights from past topics, a video showing you how to get involved/participate in #TCKchat and information on all of the co-hosts.
- Amanda Bate @bateconsult
- Dounia Bertuccelli @douniab_tck
- Michael Oghia @mikeoghia
- Stephanie Taderera @tckponders
- Ellen Mahoney @seachangementor
- Danau Tanu @danautanu
- Cecilia Haynes @unsettledtck
- Mary Bassey @verilymary
- Lisa Zenno @tckwsucoug