The past week, I’ve (Amy) interviewed a few people I know who are frequent visitors of cafes and restaurants. All the interviewees’ bilingualism came from a second language, either native or learnt. All interviewees were born in Australia and had English as their first language. Whilst I had expected similar results because of this factor, I found that there were varying answers across all interviews, due to interviewees’ differing language level as well as how confident they felt speaking it in public to other people.
Between the three Chinese interviewees, there was a significant difference in language level, particularly in speaking. One interviewee was only able to speak Cantonese, very minimally. However, despite not having a large Cantonese vocabulary bank, he not only still uses Cantonese at home with parents, but also orders in Cantonese at Chinese restaurants (particularly yumcha, where many of the servers are capable of speaking Cantonese, Mandarin or both).
“I once had to call up my mum to find out the name of a dish in Cantonese because I didn’t know it in English or Cantonese.”
This was due to the fact that the only way he knew how to say the dish was in Cantonese and it would’ve been easier for the waiter to understand what he wanted as well. This may have been a result of constantly ordering in Cantonese and never using the English equivalent of the dish’s name. From this interview, it was interesting to see the types of situations one might use their second language.
The other two interviewees had an intermediate to advanced level of Chinese, where they could speak both Cantonese and Mandarin, as well as read Chinese. They were confident enough to switch between both Chinese and English when ordering at Chinese restaurants, as well as apply for a job that was completely in Chinese. However, in contrast, one would choose to visit a non-Chinese restaurant, where the other would feel more comfortable in a Chinese restaurant with majority Asian customers.
Both have also worked at The Coffee Club in Merrylands, where the demographic is majority Lebanese. They have also used Chinese with customers, where needed.
When interviewing the Vietnamese interviewee, it was interesting to compare the different situations where the interviewee would be willing to use the language.
“If the waiter’s older, I’d use Vietnamese. If they’re younger, I’d probably use English.”
The hesitation before speaking Vietnamese to younger waiters was from the assumption that they may be like herself, where Vietnamese is their second language and they feel more comfortable speaking English. This factor can also be influenced by the setting, as she found it easier to speak Vietnamese in Cabramatta, where the demographic is mostly Asian, as opposed to Bondi Junction.
With the French interviewee, it was interesting to note that French was not her native language, but rather a language she was learning. Despite this factor, she would choose to read French over English, if given a bilingual sign or menu. Where possible, she would also attempt to order in French or speak to the waiter in French. This greatly contrasted with many of the other interviewees, where their second language was their native language, yet they would still be drawn to speaking and reading English. From this interview, I could tell that the motivation and willingness to learn a language can have an impact on when they’d use it in public.
Despite many of these differences in level between all the languages, all interviewees were more than willing to order food in their second language and would do so readily, as though it were their first language. However, confidence, motivation and setting had a strong influence on the type of situation they’d do so.