Watching our language: How language defines TCKs

Watching our language: How language defines TCKs

Today is Hangeul Proclamation Day in Korea, which is a day to celebrate the invention of Hangeul, or the Korean alphabet. I thought today would be an appropriate day to talk about something that is very relevant to us TCKs: language!

One thing that most TCKs have in common is that they’re multilingual – and yes, we’re proud of it. Whether you’ve fully mastered the language or know just enough to get by, you’re already a step ahead of the game from many of your peers.

Language is a very significant part of any TCK’s life. We grew up in places where they didn’t speak your parents’ language but as you already know, those all happened to be blessings in disguise! Because of these opportunities, we’ve organically acquired a very important and sought-after skill-set. We’re able to communicate and express our minds very colorfully using the different languages on our palette. We like to call ourselves global citizens, worldly, wanderlusts, etc… I truly believe that there’s nothing quite like language that defines our crazy (but exhilarating, nonetheless) lifestyle. Here’s how:

We speak and think (sometimes even dream) in different languages

TCKs sometimes speak in the most ridiculous way possible. We like to throw in different languages here and there in our sentences. And trust me, we don’t do this on purpose to show off. Sometimes, we don’t even know we’re doing this. Sometimes, we just can’t think of an alternative word from the language we were using. Sometimes, it just sounds better that way…

Different languages help us organize our thoughts better. After being exposed to so many different cultures and languages for so long, there are certain things that only make sense in that language.

There’s no other way to describe something but in that particular language

Do you ever get frustrated trying to explain a word to someone, because the only way to fully appreciate the meaning is through the respective language? I have countless times.  You can come up with hundreds of synonyms, but they don’t quite match up to the nuance that can only be felt through that particular language. The struggle is too real with this one!

We understand the nuances of different cultures

TCKs are sensitive to cultural cues and nuances thanks to the different languages we know. A language can tell a lot about a country’s culture and its history. For instance, the Korean language has two types that are used on a daily basis: the so-called ‘formal’ or polite version, and the less ‘formal’ and casual version. The two versions, while making it a living nightmare for foreigners to learn, are the direct reflection of Korea’s emphasis on respect towards the elders. In China, the number 8 is considered as a very auspicious number, because the pronunciation of the number in Chinese (ba) sounds similar to fa, which means to earn money. These are just examples of how language gives TCKs a very wide spectrum of insights of different cultures. We recognize and interpret these cues from languages and are able to connect with people from different parts of the world.

We might not quite be experts of our “native” language

I have to admit. Korean is my mother tongue, however, it’s not the most fluent one out of my language arsenal. I have improved a lot since I’ve returned to Korea, however, I’m not confident enough to say that it’s as proficient as my English… Sigh… I’ve met other TCKs out there who grew up using another language(s) their whole life over their passport language. There’s nothing wrong with that. We led a different lifestyle from someone who has grown up in one place his/her whole life. We didn’t get to spend an extended period of time learning and practicing our mother tongue, because we had to squeeze in another language whenever we moved around. One reason why TCKs might not feel completely comfortable in their home country might be because of this very factor. It definitely was for me, at least. 

TCKs are so privileged in that we grew up with plenty of opportunities to learn a new language organically. It’s given us that ‘edge’ that others might envy! And we cannot doubt that it’s one of the greatest defining factors of our identity.

Do you speak multiple languages? How does language define you as a TCK?

10 thoughts on “Watching our language: How language defines TCKs

  1. Cork the Digitalk says:

    Very interesting read, especially because I have a lot of Korean friends! But what does TCK stand for? We’re writing about language and internet slang in our blog. Check it out if you have the chance 🙂


  2. whimsicalt says:

    Loved it! It is ridiculous the number of words I use to describe something and people just not getting it. Also, my vernacular consists of English as a main language with mid-speaking expressing my thoughts in any language the words come flowing to my mind. It is very hard adjusting my vernacular from 3 or 4 languages to the native words in a country where few speak any of the languages you speak. I speak my parents’ language just well enough to get me by and not be confused as a tourist…thanks for broadening my perspective – never thought of a language defining me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Somin Bach says:

      Thank you for your comment. Sometimes it doesn’t occur to you, because being multilingual is so natural, right? This idea occurred to me even more so when I came back to my home country, where the majority of people only speak one language!


  3. Monika says:

    I loved your post! My “mother” tongue is technically Chinese, however I can barely speak it. I speak my Dad’s language, German, fluently, and it’s also the language I can express my feelings the best way. Unfortunately I’ve lived in Switzerland for a very long time so now I’ve got a Swiss accent when I speak German.. the language issue makes me feel lost sometimes because I don’t speak any languages without accent. But yeah, it’s definitely cool to be able to communicate with people from everywhere 🙂

    Which languages do you speak and how well?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. sileas says:

    So sad I totally lost my ability to speak Korean and it’s kinda frustrating to study it again! I wish I had appreciated my mother language more when I was a kid, however I’m hoping to pick it up again one day!

    Liked by 1 person

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