Why I Want to Be Able to Read in Another Language ๐Ÿ—บ + What Languages I Can Speak!

Why I Want to Be Able to Read in Another Language ๐Ÿ—บ + What Languages I Can Speak!

Over the summer, my younger cousins tested me on my Cantonese to see what grade I would go into if I suddenly had to go to school in Hong Kong. They wanted to start from the very beginning, so one of my cousins took out her preschool textbooks and began to go through the vocab words with me.

Okaaay… so I didn’t recognize a few words in the book, but that wasn’t thatย bad. Learning Mandarin at school definitely payed off in my recognition of Chinese characters. I got through all the preschool textbooks, but barely made it through Grade 1. Then my cousins took out a Grade 2 textbook.

Once they opened it, I knew I couldn’t get past the first page.ย ๐Ÿ˜ถ

All the instructions were in Cantonese, and if I couldn’t understand the instructions, then I couldn’t do the exercises. Not only that, but for Cantonese, the way you pronounce characters when you’re reading it off a piece of text versus the way you talk in conversation is completely different — I knew all the colloquial way of saying things, but reading Cantonese was an entirely different realm of understanding the language for me.

Here’s an example: If you wanted to tell someone (in a conversation or through informal texting) that they forgot their book, you would say

ไฝ ๅ””่จ˜ๅพ—ๅทฆไฝ ๆœฌๆ›ธใ€‚

However, if you’re formally writing a formal piece, say, for school, and you wanted to write the exact same sentence, you would write,

ไฝ ๅฟ˜่จ˜ไบ†ไฝ ็š„ๆ›ธใ€‚

These sentences mean the exact same thing. One is written the way someone would colloquially say it, while the second sentence is how you would formally write it. The Cantonese language is so intricate and beautifully complex, and I am so grateful that Cantonese, along with English, is one of my first languages.

However, that also makes learning Cantonese really hard for me.

My cousins and I live on different sides of the world, and we speak different languages in our daily lives because of this. While I’m constantly trying to improve my Cantonese and Mandarin, they’re learning English in school — and they’re becoming pretty good at speaking it. When we meet, they teach me Cantonese and I teach them English. With their help, my speaking has been getting better and better each year, and I love learning local words and phrases that I really can only learn about if I’m totallyย immersed in the Cantonese Chinese culture.

Basically, I’ve been consistently improving in my speaking for Cantonese… but it wasn’t until this summer that I realize how behind I am in learning to read in a language other than English.

Page One used to be one of my favorite bookstores in Hong Kong because it had a huge selection of English books with UK edition covers, which I don’t really see back at home in the U.S. When I heard that it closed down, though, I realized that I didn’t want to get English books in Hong Kong anymore — I wanted Cantonese books, and most importantly, I wanted to be able toย read them. Like, actual chapter books and not kindergarten-grade books about apples and bananas and grapes and how Bobby loves to organize fruits in his kitchen. I wanted to be able to take a local newspaper, sit down at a dim sum place, and be able to read it.

I consider Hong Kong my home as much I do for California, but not being able to read Cantonese even though I can speak it has always bothered me. It creates this barrier between my grandparents and cousins when we go out. They can read the names of the shops and pick out the foods they want from the menus at the ่Œถ้คๅปณ, or local cafes, while I have to get the same few dishes every single timeย because I can’t read Cantonese fluently.ย It’s always black pepper fried rice, tomato and pork baked rice, club sandwiches, egg tarts, or stir fried soy sauce noodles for me — I’m not complainingย at all about the food because just thinking about these dishes make my mouth water, but I constantly wonder how much I miss in Hong Kong because of my inability to read Cantonese.

So that was me, in the past. I love talking to people in Cantonese, but it’s kind of embarrassing when I can’t tell that something’s on sale (the sign’sย right there, they say, but 1) idk how to read percentages in Cantonese and 2) I understand only 4 of the 10 characters on the sign!!!) or can’t operate a toy or cook a certain dish because I can’t understand the Cantonese instructions.

Also, there are so many brilliant Cantonese/Chinese authors with books that I want to be able to read in the language they originally wrote it in. Yes, thank you for the English translation, but there are so many words in Cantonese that don’t have a perfect English equivalent. Some words encapsulate a feeling in its entirety in such a specific situation or moment that when you translate it to another language, the impact and meaning and relatability is justย lost. It’s inevitable that reading a translated piece of work creates a barrier, no matter how minuscule it might be, between you and the author.

Soooo yes, I want to be able to read in another language. I think that be able to do so will broaden my understanding of the world, and also make me much more open-minded. I want to be able to put myself in the perspective of someone who speaks a different native language and lives in a different culture than me.

All of these wants mean nothing, though, if I don’t actually work towards them. Thus, here comes the fun part of this post:


๐Ÿ—บย What Languages Can I Speak?ย ๐Ÿ—บ


How Am I Learning To Read/Write New Languages?

(feat. very beautifully arranged rocks and souvenirs around language-related books๐Ÿ˜)


First of all, I can speak Cantonese fluently!ย ๐Ÿ˜Šย I will be forever grateful for my mom’s determination in speaking to me in Cantonese throughout my childhood, and even now I speak Cantonese with my mom. Being able to speak Cantonese has allowed me to communicate with my relatives in Hong Kong. I’ve learned so much about the Cantonese culture by being able to talk with people I meet in Hong Kong in their native language. It’s also wonderful when people start a conversation with me asking about how I know Cantonese — it’s amazing how much I learn about the way people talk and what certain local phrases mean by conversing with people.



It’s because I know Cantonese that I have such a fascination with the Chinese culture. I’m currently learning Mandarin in school, and I realize how lucky I am that I already know Cantonese because Mandarin and Cantonese are so similar. In addition, learning Mandarin actually helps me with my Cantonese, and vice versa — how amazing is that?ย ๐Ÿ˜†



In Hong Kong I bought a few Chinese-English books to study from, one of which is shown above. Each chapter within the textbooks contain a piece of text in Mandarin and the English translation of it right after. Currently I’m studying from one aboutย Food in Chinese Culture. I love these books because not only do I learn tons of new vocabulary from each piece of text, but the book also describes a lot of details about Chinese culture. Some of the aspects of the Chinese culture that the book talks about are things that even I don’t know about, so I’m very impressed with the book so far.



I take notes in a simple notebook, and the way I help my Cantonese through learning Mandarin is by first writing down the vocabulary words with the pin yin and English translation, studying it, then later adding another layer by figuring out how to say the words in Cantonese. I also make sure that I learn both the traditional and simplified characters so I can understand the writing in parts of China that uses traditional characters (like Hong Kong and Taiwan) and in parts that use simplified characters (mainland China).



I’ve also collected a few Chinese-only books throughout my travels that I’m hoping to be able to read in its entirety when my language skills get better. The book above is actually an art book that I got in Hong Kong, but my mom says the text is probably Taiwanese and not Cantonese. Either way, studying the vocab from this book will help me with understanding the Chinese language. Another bonus to this book is that I feel so inspired to draw every time I open this book up because the illustrations of sea animals are just so adorable.



I find that mixing learning languages with another hobby of mine, like drawing, makes me feel even more motivated to learn the language. In the art book above, not only do I learn more colored-pencil drawing techniques, but I also learn about vocabulary related to sea animalsย and drawing techniques.

And, of course, I have a Mandarin phrasebook in my collection of Chinese-related books.ย ๐Ÿ˜Š



Currently, I would say that my Mandarin is at an intermediate level. I’m definitely not a beginner any more, but I feel like I have some ways to go before I can comfortably and fluently talk to a native Mandarin speak without stumbling through the conversation. In contrast to my Cantonese, I’m much stronger at writing and reading Mandarin than I am at speaking and listening, but that’s because I don’t have anyone to talk to in Mandarin in my daily life while I have my mom for Cantonese.

Okay, so we have Cantonese and Mandarin covered — but there’s also one more languages that I’m learning, but I’m nowhere near as advanced in it as I am for Cantonese and Mandarin.

That language is…ย Japanese!



I’ve been to Japan a few times, and every time I go, I end up falling so inย love with the place, language, and culture. I feel like Japan is similar to Hong Kong in the way that many people think of the crazy and fast-paced life of Tokyo when they first think of Japan. It’s only when you delve a little bit deeper into the culture that you’ll find how serene and peaceful Japan can be, especially in the more rural parts.

Hong Kong is known classically as one of the cities that never sleep in the world, and it’s sort of true, especially in the more touristy areas. I’m so grateful that I have family in Hong Kong because they’ve shown me the more hidden and sweet aspects of the Hong Kong culture that doesn’t involve bright neon lights on streets and taxis zipping past people waiting in line for buses despite it being midnight. Theses hidden parts of Hong Kong consists of the entire family sitting around a circular table for a family dinner; going out to “wet markets” every day to get fresh produce for the day’s meals; and being scared to walk barefoot at night because of the abundance of cockroaches the end up roaming the floor no matter how clean the house is.

As a result, Japan is really similar to Hong Kong in the sense of having peaceful and lovely aspects of the culture that are often overshadowed by the hectic image both places bring to mind when you first think of them. I would love to talk more about how beautiful Japan is, but for now — the language. Let’s get back to discussing how I’m learning Japanese.ย ๐Ÿ˜Š

So, as you saw in the picture above, I have a Japanese phrasebook! I also have another Japanese phrasebook that is more targeted for learning simple vocab that would be helpful to know if you’re in Japan, which I’m finding to be very helpful to learn from:



As for more serious textbooks on Japanese, I bought one textbook here that is workingย okay for someone going into this with a minimal background in learning the Japanese language. I got this textbook at Barnes & Nobles, and it came with a CD and printable sheets online for learning hiragana and katakana.



I will say, though, that I think I am so lucky to have learned Cantonese and Mandarin before learning Japanese. Knowing Chinese characters already makes learning Japanese so much easier. Theย kanji characters introduced to me in the textbook above so far are characters I’ve already learned in the past, so all I need to do is learn how to pronounce them in Japanese and I’m good!ย ๐Ÿ‘ย I’ve heard thatย kanji is often the most difficult part of learning Japanese, so for me to already have an advantage in this regards makes me so grateful and appreciate all the hard work before in learning Chinese.

Over the summer, my aunt, who is also learning Japanese, gave me one of her old Japanese textbooks to study from. The interesting thing about this textbook, though, is that it teaches Japanese in Cantonese — and I can actually understand a lot of the Cantonese in the textbook! Crazy, right? I’ve improved so much since summer when I was stumbling through understanding Cantonese menus.ย ๐Ÿ˜…




As you can see in the picture above, the textbook has no printed English translated. To the left are vocabulary words in Japanese, and to the right, the Cantonese translation. I feel like this textbook is going to be really vital for me in improving my Cantonese, because honestly, what is a better test to see if I understand Cantonese by learning a foreign language through Cantonese?ย ๐Ÿ˜†

I know I mentioned before that my motivation to learn Japanese came from traveling to Japan, but before I even went to Japan, I had already wanted to learn Japanese because of a toy I adored as a kid. Guess — it involves a digital screen, a creature you raise until adulthood, and an egg-shaped device.

Do you know what it is?

It’s starts with a “t”…

Okay, drum roll please!


It’s the Tamagotchi!



As a kid, I was obsessed with Tamagotchi. I had all these different plugs that would add different features to my Tamagotchi device, but the thing that always made me so mad was how I couldn’t read anything in the instructions, the guidebooks, or on the device’s settingsย because they were all in Japanese. (This is starting to sound similar to the reason why I was so motivated to learn more Cantonese, right?) One of my childhood goals was to eventually be able to read all the Tamagotchi guidebooks I have and navigate the Tamagotchi device without having to guess what everything means. Even though I haven’t picked up my Tamagotchi in a long time, I still want to achieve that childhood goal of mind — one day.ย ๐Ÿ˜‹

Another introduction I had to the Japanese language as a kid was through origami packages. Japanese origami packages are the most adorable and creative things. I made so many food products with these special origami packages and played kitchen/grocery store/bakery with my origami pieces instead of using plastic pieces of food, and just thinking about how much fun I had with origami makes me smile. ๐Ÿ˜Šย I used to have a lot of these packages, but the only ones I have now are ones for sweets, fruits, fast food, and sushi.



… And that is it! Cantonese, Mandarin, and Japanese — those are the languages I’m focusing on improving/learning right now. However, there are a few other languages that I know I will focus on learning in the future, two of them being Korean and Spanish. There is just no end to learning about languages, and even the language I speak and know the best — English — is something I’m still exploring. There are still so many quirks to the English language I don’t know about yet, and the expanse of vocabulary that I have yet to discover through reading is too large for me to even fathom quantifying.

Now you know why I have this desire to be able to read in different languages, and also what languages I can speak/am learning to speak!

I hope you enjoyed the lovely pictures above of books and souvenirs from around the world, and if you can read in another language, tell me in the comments!

Can you read in another language because you grew up bilingual, or because you learned the language later in life? Do you feel like being able to read in another language has expanded your perspective on the world? If you aren’t bilingual or can’t read in another language, do you want to? What languages would you like to learn?

Thanks for reading, and I will cya next time!ย ๐Ÿค—


And P.S. — I’m dedicating this lovely post to my mom, because I wouldn’t be learning so many languages right now if it weren’t for her tenacity in raising me as a bilingual person. I know it wasn’t the easiest thing having me speak one language at home and another at school, but now that I realize how much being bilingual has defined me and the way I see the world, I am so grateful and thankful to my mom. I love being able to communicate with my relatives in Hong Kong, and most importantly, I love feeling connected to another place across the world that I’ve never lived in, yet understand and love enough to call my second home.

So thank you,ย ๅชฝๅ’ช, for giving me the opportunity to learn Cantonese, speak it every day, and love the Chinese culture that I am so much a part of.ย ๆˆ‘ๆ„›ไฝ !ย ๐Ÿ˜‹โค๏ธ

10 thoughts on “Why I Want to Be Able to Read in Another Language ๐Ÿ—บ + What Languages I Can Speak!”

  • I’ve always wanted to learn Mandarin because there are so many awesome books in the language and waiting for English translation is painful. I took Chinese class in my second semester in uni and let’s say that after hearing the teacher teaching us how to pronounce the ‘ma, ma, ma, ma’ I gave up lol. It’s a bit sad because I found that the language is pretty and I have learnt kanji through the Japanese language.

    I’m not sure I fit it into the bilingual/multilingual category because I’m only confident in my mother language; Malay. I’ve learned English from school, Arabic to read our holy book (I’m a Muslim) and Japanese (now) but it’s not like I’m crazily good in all of the languages. Well, if you read my blog, you’d know that my English is ๐Ÿ˜ฉ

    • You have so many experiences learning different languages! That’s really impressive ๐Ÿ˜Š Awww I’m sorry learning Mandarin didn’t work out for you (I have to admit, though, those four “ma, ma, ma, ma” pronunciations are quite intimidating ๐Ÿ˜…), but you can always try again in the future. Either way, it seems like you already have your hands full with learning languages.

      I’m at a really beginner level in Japanese (like, I can’t hold a conversation with someone in Japanese yet — that kind of beginner level) so is there any advice you can give me for learning Japanese? I’m not taking any classes for it, though I do have a textbook that I’m studying from, as well as some phrasebooks and a CD for me to hear the pronunciation of words.

      And btw, I checked out your blog and your English is amazing! ๐Ÿ˜„ I would have never guessed that English isn’t your first language — because hey, it’s a confusing language. All those grammar rules and random exceptions even make me, a native speaker, go crazy sometimes. ๐Ÿ˜‹

      Thanks so much for the comment, Rasya! ๐Ÿ˜Š

    • Thank you! ๐Ÿ˜‹ Learning new languages is really fun, and I’m so glad that Cantonese, Mandarin, and Japanese all share some similarities with each other — it makes learning all three of them at once waaaay easier ๐Ÿ˜…๐Ÿ‘

  • Nice to meet you, Zoie! I just discovered your blog and when I read the title of this post I was so excited! I’m from Hong Kong and my Mandarin sucks hahaha. I go to a school where we have to speak in Mandarin during Chinese lessons, and my teacher is so disappointed in me because my Mandarin = trash. Usually I read Taiwanese Chinese books because they have better grammar + phrasing (Mandarin’s spoken form = written form and they speak Mandarin in Taiwan so I think it really helps with their writing.)
    It’s so cool you’re learning Japanese – I’ve always loved the sound of people speaking the language and those Japanese characters (Hiragana?) is so cute! ๆˆ‘ๅพˆ้ซ˜่ˆˆๅฏไปฅ่ช่ญ˜ๅˆฐไฝ ! I’ve never met an American who is fluent in Cantonese, and I hope to get to know you better ๐Ÿ˜€
    Chloe @ Blushing Bibliophile recently posted…[Blog Tour] Review: Eight Days on Planet Earth by Cat JordanMy Profile

      • *gasp* You’re from Hong Kong (aka my favorite place in the world)?? ๐Ÿ˜ It’s so nice to meet you, Chloe! ๐Ÿ˜„ I couldn’t tell for sure from your comment, but I’m assuming that you speak Cantonese as well? I think it’s cool that you’re learning Mandarin — it’s such a beautiful language and I’m really grateful I know Cantonese because it makes learning Mandarin so much easier ๐Ÿ˜Š And I agree that Taiwanese Mandarin is easier to learn — even the accent is less heavy than Beijing Mandarin, which is what I’m learning now (all those ๅ…’ sounds!! ๐Ÿ˜ฑ) And it’s okay if your Mandarin isn’t where you want it to be yet. I’ve been learning Mandarin for seven years now and it’s only this year that I’ve felt like I can confidently have a short conversation with someone in Mandarin, so ๅŠ ๆฒน! You’ll improve no matter what if you keep immersing yourself in the language ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ‘

        I can’t wait to hear more from you! We can bond over everything that is amazing and related to Hong Kong, like egg tarts and ่Œถ้คๅปณs. Thanks for stopping by my blog! ๐Ÿ˜†๐Ÿค—โค๏ธ

        • Hahaha yes Cantonese is my mother tongue ๐Ÿ™‚ I can actually speak Mandarin quite fluently, but with a super heavy Cantonese accent! My classmates can all speak the language like native speakers though and that’s why my teacher’s so disappointed in me ๐Ÿ˜‚ And I know right, those ๅ…’ sounds make Beijing Mandarin so hard to listen to and understand! Let’s ๅŠ ๆฒน together and get better in speaking Mandarin!
          Chloe @ Blushing Bibliophile recently posted…[Blog Tour] Review: Eight Days on Planet Earth by Cat JordanMy Profile

  • What a great post – it is SO great that you can speak and are learning so many different languages, I admire you so much. Also, these Tamagochi remind me of my childhood haha, I used to play A LOT with these ahha, crazy how much we had to take care of them ๐Ÿ˜›
    I am not bilingual, but I can read and read mostly in English, I have learned thanks to school but mostly thanks to TV shows and my own readings as well. I’d say I am almost bilingual because I’m not flawless at all, even though I would love to be ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you so much! ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜„ And ikr — whenever I think back to the times I played with my Tamagotchi, I realize how much time I spent making sure it would stay alive. I got to a point where I actually had a lanyard for my Tamagotchi that I looped around my neck like a necklace so I could check on it throughout the day. ๐Ÿ˜† Ah, the abundance of free time I had back then… *wistfully stares into the distance*

      And it’s amazing that you’re bilingual!! I’m definitely not as good at Cantonese as I am with English, but languages are always a work in progress. I love how there’s always more to learn and how you can never be bored with languages because of that, even with your own native language (hence our tendencies to devour books and explode our TBRs, right? ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ“š) Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Marie! ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‹

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