Quadrilingual

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I am quadrilingual. Sure, it sounds fancy, but as a biracial child of two immigrants, being quadrilingual feels natural to me. English. My mother tongue. No explanation required. As an infant my mom would teach me words by holding up a ball and saying, “Ball, qui, bala.” I’d learn Chinese and Greek for the next seventeen years. The fourth language came in seventh grade, when I started learning French.

Languages are fascinating to me because there are so many little intricacies within a language that just aren’t so easily translated into another. You’d think to “poser un lapin” in French would mean to ask a rabbit a question. But no. It means to stand someone up. Or how about the fact that when Greeks say the English expression “it’s all Greek to me,” they say, “Eisai san na you miles Kinezika,” which translates to “it’s like you’re talking to me in Chinese.” And then in Chinese, there’s actually no real word for “yes.” There’s she de, which translates more to “it is so,” and there’s dui which translates more to “that’s correct.” But there’s no word that actually means yes. And the closest translation I’ve found to a more colloquial “yeah” is a grunt of affirmation, similar to cutting the American “uhuh” in two and using the...

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