Language Autobiography 2013: Language Is Like A Net

In English class, we had a unit on language and the role it plays in our everyday life. Also we explored the topic of language as the part it plays in our identities. We read many stories about language in other people's life such as Jame Baldwin and Bell Hooks, so we were assigned a project. This project is an autobiographical paper that explore themes in language that connects to our personal life. The theme that I chose to explore was whether language is an advantage or a disadvantage. My language autobiography shows that language can be both of those but it if we learn more about language than we could use it as an advantage. Since language is an important part of everyone's life, we should find ways to use it that would have a bad effect on ourselves.

I had just found out that my grandmother had cancer on Christmas Eve, so my family and I went to visit her. She was so frail and weak. It was like she was a completely different person than what I had remembered. Even though she was sick, she still greeted us with a warm smile and hug. I stayed in her living room watching my cousin play games on the Wii. My uncle walked into the living room and told us to eat pizza. After eating the pizza, we were getting ready to leave.

My grandmother was sitting on the sofa with my mom right beside her. Her face was full of exhaustion and her head was laying back on the sofa. She grabbed my hand and started speaking to me in Chinese. I was shocked because I have forgotten all of it. I was not answering her because I just could not.

“Ahh. Yang nea yay jomoi ma yan mek. (Like this, how is she going to speak with me.)” My grandmother was speaking to my mother.

“She’s just being shy.”

“Ma asked you if you were doing good in school.”


I couldn’t do anything but stare at my grandmother. I felt like there was an inner battle with myself. I wanted to speak to her so bad but I could not speak. In this moment, I felt like if I was to speak Cambodian, which she could also understand, I would just sound weird and she would not be able to understand me anyway. In my mind, there were things that I wanted to say to her but my mouth stayed shut. I wasn’t comfortable speaking Cambodian nor did I understand what she was saying to me in Chinese. My grandmother continued to ask me questions in Chinese and all I could do is nod my head without knowing what was happening.

At a time like this, I felt like knowing more than one language would be a huge advantage because it will allow me to communicate with other people, especially with people I love. Not being able to communicate with someone that you may not see again because of language is very upsetting but there is no point of knowing more than one language if we are not able express yourself completely. Knowing many languages could also be a disadvantage because of the restrictions it gives us. Sometimes I feel like I have blocked from saying what I want. I’m never fully able to express myself especially in different languages because I often feel like I want to say a lot more but I cannot because saying words in a language besides English feels so uncomfortable.

It is just another school morning for my family and I. It is about 7 o'clock in the morning and I am sitting quietly on the black couch with a red blanket wrapped around me in the living room. The room is dark and the only light it gets is from the bright light in the kitchen.  

Since it was a Wednesday and I normally go to Fleisher’s Art Memorial on Wednesdays, my mom asked, “Lisa, tov art de (Are you going to art today)?”

“No. Not today.”

“Haet ey(Why)?”

“Because I have a break until January 8th. It’s like winter break.”

“Lisa, mommy paep ta i yay khmer. (I told you to speak Cambodian.)”

She always bring this up and I never win when we argue so I just sighed and replied, “Yes.”

“What time are you going to be home?”

“At 3.”

“Again. I said speak Cambodian.”

I wanted to argue with my mom but I could not. She was already complaining about me not speaking Cambodian and I could only argue in English. At this time, I felt like my life would be much better if I only spoke one language because using one more than the other one, I begin to forget words, then phrases and so on and this makes it harder for me to say what I want.

Language is something that plays a big part in everyone lives and can often be an advantage or disadvantage to people. Some people thinks that knowing more than one language helps us express ourselves more but others may disagree and say that it does not help but actually puts a restriction on us. People should used language as an advantage because if we are able to know a language clearly, it would not come as a disadvantage.

Coming from a family that speaks two different language and living in an environment that speaks another language, I had a hard time communicating with different people. Since I was not able to keep up with three languages, I began to forget the ones from my family and only using English because it was the one that I used the most. When I was not able to talk to my grandmother, I realized that if you are bilingual, then you should use it to your advantage by not forgetting it. There are people that pay to learn what you can get from your family, unlike me, I forgot Chinese completely and this caused me to not be able to speak to half of my family.

In the story, “Tongue-Tied” by Maxine Hong Kingston, the main character got her tongue cut off so that she would not be tied to just one language and so that it could be free. Her mother stated, “I cut it so that you would not be tongue tied....”(pg. 164). Her mother felt like cutting off her daughter’s tongue would be the best choice for the daughter because then she would be able to speak multiple languages and not tied all around one. Also the girl stated, “I enjoyed the silence...”(pg. 164). She enjoyed staying silent and I think this is because she does not know how to control language and turn it into an advantage. She speaks two different languages but she prefers not to speak often rather than me because I rather just speak one.

People should know that language is a privilege and if they do not want it to be a disadvantage in their life, then they should embrace it so that it becomes an advantage instead. Language gives us the power to communicate with other people and that is an important aspect in life but it also creates a net, allowing only the little things we want to say through but not the bigger things. In order for us to break this net, we have to be willing to learn more about language. It is like trying to find a solution to a problem, we cannot find the solution until we learn about the problem.

Works Cited:

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. New York: Vintage International, 1976. Print.