A few months ago, the team from Philip Capital Singapore visited me in Taipei. It was a memorable encounter, not just because of the productive discussions we had, but also due to a fascinating observation by one of their members, George. As we conversed in a blend of Mandarin and English, George remarked, “Taiwanese like how we can speak a sentence with mixed language.

This comment struck a chord with me, highlighting a cultural phenomenon even more apparent in Malaysia. In Malaysia, it’s quite common to mix languages within a single sentence, seamlessly integrating Hokkien, English, and Malay. For instance, we might say, “Today makan apa? ” (What are we eating today?) or “That shop very cheap lah, you should go.” (That shop is very cheap, you should go.) This unique linguistic blend is a testament to our diverse environment that naturally fosters multilingualism.

In Taiwan, while many people learn English, fluency is less widespread due to fewer opportunities to practice in everyday life. This difference in language environment sparked a reflection on my own linguistic journey.

Growing up in Malaysia, I became a generalist in languages. I knew many—Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, English—but mastering them to the point of professional proficiency was another story. I studied Chinese in school, excelled in Malay during secondary school and university, and only realized the need to improve my English when I entered the workforce. My English skills truly sharpened after years of conducting business primarily in English.

The Malaysian market’s diversity can be both an opportunity and a challenge. I initially thought that by covering broader markets in English, I could reach educated Malays, Indians, Chinese, and other races. However, I soon found myself competing with native English speakers, which was no easy feat.

It never crossed my mind that the Chinese-speaking market extended beyond Malaysia to include Taiwan and the vast overseas Chinese community. This realization opened my eyes to the potential of tapping into these markets, leveraging my proficiency in Mandarin and understanding of cultural nuances.

Achieving financial freedom, saving more, increasing income, and investing wisely are goals that resonate across languages and cultures. But our unique Malaysian experience of mixing languages offers a distinctive advantage. It allows us to connect with a diverse audience, adapting our communication style to suit different linguistic backgrounds.

For instance, our Malaysian slang can be quite colorful and illustrative. Words like “kiasu” (fear of missing out), “tapau” (takeaway food), and “gostan” (reverse, especially when driving) pepper our daily conversations, making them lively and relatable.

The Advantages of Being Multilingual

Being multilingual offers numerous advantages, both personally and professionally:

  1. Enhanced Communication Skills: Being able to speak multiple languages allows you to communicate with a broader audience. This is especially beneficial in a diverse market like Malaysia, where you can reach people from different linguistic backgrounds.
  2. Cultural Understanding: Multilingual individuals often have a better understanding of different cultures. This cultural sensitivity can improve personal relationships and business interactions, making it easier to connect with others on a deeper level.
  3. Cognitive Benefits: Studies have shown that multilingualism can enhance cognitive abilities, such as problem-solving, multitasking, and creativity. It keeps the brain active and engaged, which can be a significant advantage in both personal and professional settings.
  4. Competitive Edge in the Job Market: In a globalized world, being multilingual can give you a competitive edge in the job market. Employers value employees who can communicate with international clients and partners, making multilingual individuals more attractive candidates.
  5. Expanded Network: Speaking multiple languages allows you to build a more extensive network. You can connect with people from various linguistic backgrounds, opening up new opportunities for collaboration, learning, and growth.
  6. Adaptability: Multilingual individuals tend to be more adaptable and open-minded. They can navigate different cultural contexts with ease, making them more versatile in their personal and professional lives.

Exploring New Languages: Korean and Spanish

Since 2020, I’ve been learning Korean. While I’m not yet very proficient, I can order food, have simple conversations while traveling in Korea, sing Korean songs with correct pronunciation, read Hangul writing, and enjoy some Netflix shows in Korean. This new language has opened up a whole new world of cultural experiences and connections.

Recently, I also started to learn Spanish. For Malaysians, picking up Spanish is another exciting possibility. The pronunciation is quite similar to Malay, and we have no trouble rolling the tongue for the “RRR” sound. Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, making it extremely useful for travel to Spain, South America, and even in the US where many Spanish speakers reside. Learning Spanish can expand our horizons and connect us to even more people globally.

Embracing the Polyglot Lifestyle

Being a polyglot, or someone who knows multiple languages, allows us to enjoy a myriad of advantages. It enriches our lives by providing access to diverse cultures, enhancing our cognitive skills, and giving us a competitive edge in the global market. As we strive for financial success, let’s embrace our multilingual heritage. Whether you’re saving more, seeking to increase your income, or investing in stocks and properties, our ability to navigate multiple languages and cultures can be a powerful asset.

Share Your Multilingual Journey

Our multilingual abilities are more than just a means of communication—they are a bridge to new opportunities, cultures, and financial success. Now, I’d love to hear from you!

How many languages do you speak? Have you had any memorable experiences or stories where your language skills have made a difference in your life, whether personally or professionally? Perhaps a time when knowing an extra language helped you close a business deal, navigate a new country, or connect with someone in a meaningful way?

Please share your stories in the comments below. Your experiences could inspire others and show just how powerful and transformative multilingualism can be. Let’s celebrate our linguistic diversity and the unique advantages it brings to our lives and careers.


Personal finance author and trainer

    2 replies to "How Speaking Multiple Languages Can Boost Your Financial Success"

    • Betty Voon

      Talking about multi lingual, I never really studied any particular language per se. I had taken classes of Japanese and Chinese (since I went to a government school and the only Chinese lessons were like 3 years of extra classes as and when there was a teacher available to teach)
      I grew speaking mainly Cantonese and English at home, I picked up some bits of Hakka and Hokkien from my aunts, cousins and nieces
      Malay was only used in school lessons so my Malay isn’t that strong
      Over the years, my language skills improved mainly I feel is how I was exposed to different language elements example meeting with an international group in my early 20’s consisting of Italians, Spanish, Brazilians, Dutch, German etc having to travel with them was extremely intriguing- they were people from various backgrounds, culture, thinking pattern etc
      I learnt Chinese while I was in China for some years, I think the quickest way to learn a language is to be a translator/interpreter. I was that group’s designated Chinese translator when they came to China and Tibet for tourism/pilgrimage. It was challenging and fun at the same time
      All this I would attribute to my being Malaysian and growing up in this particular multi- cultural background we have in Malaysia.

      • KCLau

        Hi Betty,

        Thank you for sharing your fascinating journey with languages. That’s quite inspiring.

        I can relate to your story. During my travels in Taiwan many years back, I found myself in a similar situation where I had to act as an interpreter. A Hong Kong girl, who didn’t speak Mandarin, needed help communicating with a Taiwanese Airbnb host who wasn’t well-versed in English. I ended up translating from Cantonese (which the Hong Kong girl spoke to me) into Mandarin for the host. It was an interesting experience that highlighted the unique “superpower” we have as multilingual individuals.

        Growing up in Malaysia’s multicultural environment certainly provides a rich tapestry of linguistic and cultural exposure that shapes our abilities and perspectives. It’s incredible how these experiences not only broaden our communication skills but also deepen our understanding of different cultures.

        Thank you again for sharing your story, Betty.

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