Ivan Yong Wei Kit
Name: Ivan Yong (Yong Wei Kit)
Nationality or Ethnicity: Malaysian Chinese
Where do you live?: Hong Kong
Languages: English, Malay (native), Chinese Mandarin, Cantonese (Fluent: Speaking & Writing), Hokkien (Fluent), Japanese, Indonesian (Intermediate), French (Beginner), Korean (learning).
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I grew up in an extended family, where we converse in different languages or dialect depending on who we are speaking or spoken to. My grandparents will speak to me in Cantonese, while my mother speaks to me in Chinese Mandarin and my siblings converse with me in English.
My parents also speak to each other in Hokkien, which I picked up in school as the town I was living in has a majority of Hokkien Chinese.
Meanwhile in school, I was taught in Malay, our national language. Malay is used in all subjects including mathematics, geography and sciences; so it is imperative for me to master that language. Malay is a native language to the ethnic Malays but not to the other races such as Chinese, so I worked quite hard on it. I am proud of our national language which bind more than 50 races together in unity.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
French and Korean. French because I am a big fan of Napoleon Bonaparte, whereby I hope to be able to read his writings in French one day and to understand him better.
I am also enamoured by the French culture especially the concept of savoir-faire. Not to mention the food, the wine and even the bakery. Korean, because I am big fan of Korean dramas and I really would like to watch them without the subtitles. I am also drawn towards the Korean culture of community and family very much.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Russian. The Russian culture and history fascinate me to no end. I would also like to read some of the famous Russian authors’ work such as Tolstoy and Chekhov in the target language.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
French definitely. The sound of the language is music to anyone’s ear. Every word is a careful coordination of sound, rhythm and cadence.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
My greatest pleasure from learning all these languages is that I am able to now read books and blogs written by the native themselves. It opens a window to the culture of that group of people. Much of these are lost in translated books.
6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
I don’t believe so because languages are eternally tied to the natives of that language. If the people continue to exist in a 100 years, so will the language.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Start small. Don’t be overly ambitious and to attempt too much at one go. Set small goals first and you will be motivated to continue. Also, do see learning languages as a mean to something more significant for you. In my case, I find learning languages rather destressing. Subconsciously, I have allowed myself a safe space to make mistakes over and over again.