As each language is unique, every interpreter behind that language, equally, has a unique story to share. Welcome to The Many Faces of Languages - a forum of thoughtful sharing and discovery.

We are pleased to offer this story selected for May 2022.

Catherine B.

Story Introduction

One could say that Catherine is captivated by the beauty and enthralled by the challenges of learning different languages.

She shows no signs of slowing down as she broadens and extends her personal repertoire of language talents.

Catherine's Story

When people used to ask me what my first language is, I always had to stop and think about it.  It’s not that I don’t have one.  It’s just that I learned my first three languages at such an early age that I really don’t remember learning the languages.  My mother’s native language was Mandarin even though she was perfectly fluent in English too.  My dad’s native language is English although he had spent many years in Taiwan and is perfectly fluent in Mandarin.  Thus, as you can imagine, I grew up listening to Mandarin and English.  In fact, I grew up speaking a mix of English and Chinese.  By the time I was able to enter pre-school, I was speaking and understanding Chinese and English, so my parents decided it was time to learn a new language – French.  We lived in Ottawa, so the natural thing to do was to put me in a French immersion program.  I only remember the first day of school since I cried because I was so frustrated that I didn’t understand a single word that the teacher said.  Over the next 8 years, I become completely fluent in French and that was when my parents decided that I need a new language challenge – Japanese!  Due to my dad’s work, we moved to Tokyo, Japan.  I recall my mother asking me if I want to attend an international school or a Japanese and I chose the latter   I remember the learning process more vividly because I was older and language acquisition needed more concentration, repetition and hard work.  However, after studying in Japan, I was able to take a role in a school play and I even got 100% in some class quizzes.  It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I took on my final language challenge – to learn Spanish.  This time, it was my own decision and even though I initially tried taking classes at a local university, I ultimately enrolled in a Spanish for foreigners class in Colombia where I eventually began to return every year in order to immerse myself in the language.  In 2017 and 2018, I became a state certified interpreter in both French and Spanish.  And after having gone through a language learning process five times, I realized that our native language is not necessarily our first language (although it certainly could be), but the language which we feel most comfortable in and the language we use the most.  So, whenever someone asks me now what my native language is, I usually smile and tell them that I speak English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese.

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