Penang has four unofficial languages: Bahasa Malaysia (national language), Hokkien (Fujian dialect of Chinese), Tamil (for Indians) and English (for everyone).  Within the expat community, I also regularly hear Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, German and Turkish.  And then there’s Miles babblings which are starting to make more sense.  No wonder my English is deteriorating.  I won’t be the only one with less than fluent skills.  I’ve had it explained to me that for Malaysians, language is strictly for getting the point across, not necessarily making it pretty.  Most Penangites speak at least 3, and up to 5 or 6 languages.  The result is a proficiency in many, but master of no language.  Tim brings up the instance of a resume which listed five languages with 1-10 ratings.  Nothing topped out at 10, even the candidate’s mother tongue.

Almost without a choice in the matter, we are all working on our foreign language skills.
Tim is looking to take up Mandarin study again, and go for the HSK certification.
I recently completed an introduction course for Malay, or Bahasa Malaysia as it is technically called (Bahasa means language in BM).  I haven’t been too open with trying it out, but I did complete a negotiation for a bottle of honey earlier today (How much? 30. 20? 25. 20, OK-la? OK-la.)  I still need lots of practice.  I also look for old Chinese to practice my Mandarin with, and soon the young ones can join in.  After years of English being the desired second (or 3rd, or 4th) language to learn, Mandarin Chinese has surpassed it in popularity for parents sending kids off to private school.  If that’s not an indication for where the modern world is going, I don’t know what is.  Strangely, I am also picking up a bit of Turkish, as our neighbor and constant playdate is originally from Turkey and speaks it to her daughter exclusively while dad (a Malay) teaches her English (its assumed she will learn BM in school).  I’ll call my level of Turkish “baby Turkish” – no, come here, gentle, flower, good bye.
That leaves Miles, who is bombarded from all angles with more new words than he can point a finger at.  While his spoken vocabulary is still limited to “dada”, the occasional “mama” (only in deep desperation), and recently a breathy “yeah”, in the past week his signing vocab has taken off!  Six months of signing to him consistently and it finally clicked: bye-bye, ceiling fan, more, hungry, water, milk, along with the persistent point and he can pretty much get his point across.  Our signing “conversation” when I got Miles from the crib this morning: *hungry. chair (points). milk. you, momma (points).*  Well, that got the point across.  It’s pretty cool to know what’s on his mind, specifically what all the crying is about.
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