Switching Languages Mid Sentence

I observed something really interesting involving language the other day in Shanghai. My friend was speaking with his friend in Hong Kong and he spoke sometimes in Cantonese, sometimes Mandarin, sometimes English.

“Hello” and “Goodbye” were in English.

Blah blah blah blah

“Is everything ok?”

Blah blah blah

“Ok, keep me posted”


I asked my friend why “Is everything ok?” was said in English and not Chinese. At first he said he didn’t know, he just switches based on whatever phrase comes to mind when he’s talking to a multi-lingual person. Then, after a bit of thought, he said, “We don’t have a good phrase for ‘Is everything ok?’ in Chinese. In English, you can say it casually and not offend or sound intimidating. It’s a nice phrase. So I used it.”

What a luxury! I did that with Spanish, too, when I was using it more. When taking notes in class, if there was a Spanish equivalent that was shorter I’d use it instead of English (e.g. “entre” instead of “between” or “sin” instead of “without”).

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