Staff Post: Being Multilingual

Today’s staff post comes from Melissa Gilbert, our Projects Director. It’s also her birthday today – Happy Birthday! What a treat to be writing our staff blog post today 😉 Enjoy!

Languages have always fascinated me, as I have been lucky enough to be brought up in a multilingual country as a polyglot. My interest in languages began as a child, as I was brought up in a one-parent, one-language household. Having a nanny who only spoke Malay, gave me the opportunity to learn another language very early on in my life.

The national language in Malaysia is Malay, but most of us speak at least another 2 or 3 languages.


Often, we end up with an amalgamation of words from various local languages that new words are created that are unique only to Malaysians. Malay also has a lot of adopted words from other languages, like the Portuguese, who conquered Malaysia back in 1511. Examples of Portuguese words have been adopted into Malay, like ‘almari’ (‘armário’ in Portuguese, which means cupboard) and ‘mentega’ (‘manteiga’ in Portugese, which means butter). Sometimes, people also speak a mix of languages, for example, mixing Malay with English and you end up with something called Manglish! There’s even an adaptation of a nautical term (‘go astern’), which is used locally as ‘gostan’, meaning to reverse.

In Malaysia, parents have an option to send their children to Malay, Mandarin, Tamil or even an international school where everything is based in English. In the town that I grew up in, my options were simply either enrolling for a Malay or a Mandarin school. I begged my parents not to send me to a Mandarin school because I heard that we would be given 1000 maths questions every day as homework – in hindsight, I wished I wasn’t so lazy then maybe my Mandarin skills would have been much better!

Living in a multilingual country has its own quirkiness – from having gazillion subtitles in every movie in the cinema that takes up half the screen, to having massive signboards with all the languages on it. It has become so engrained in our daily lives that you only notice it if you’ve lived away from home for as long as I have!

In some cases though, ‘lost in translation’ is a bit of an understatement.

This was posted on the motorway during a recent visit from Barack Obama, highlighting the importance of punctuation.


This was taken at a recent parliamentary dinner party.


Mmmmm yummy scissors salad – I bet it tasted a bit sharp!

Working at Pexel has further fuelled my interest in languages – it’s hard not to, being surrounded by so many polyglots that it’s very inspiring. Sometimes I’d wish I spoke more useful languages. It’s always very interesting when we have multilingual projects, because not only do we get to meet people from all over the world, but also you do end up learning quite a lot of interesting things about different cultures and colloquialisms, all from one hub in Govan. It would be interesting to see who speaks the most languages at Pexel!




4 thoughts on “Staff Post: Being Multilingual

  1. Malay seems to be one of the most multilingual countries! I’m guessing the taker of the #1 prize would be India, with its plethora of national languages running down one side of a rupee note.


      1. I’m a fluent English speaker, semi-fluent in Chinese, basic fluent in Russian, and there are scraps of ASL, Portuguese and German floating around in my brain. I can write in all these scripts, and if I had a few refreshers I could read and write Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, and Greek. However I’m guessing that in the end, you’re more of a polyglot than I am, since most of these skills are merely academic and couldn’t hold up in the universe at large. 🙂


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