Episode 11 De la Malaisie à la France- INTERVIEW avec Leanne

Voici le résumé d’une interview avec Leanne.

Elle est malaisienne et est venue s’installer en France il y a presque 10 ans maintenant pour rejoindre son conjoint.

On va parler de son expérience de vivre en France, de vivre loin de son pays et d’avoir un enfant français.

Une interview très intéressante qui fera peut-être écho à votre vie.


 Retrouvez l’interview complète dans mon épisode BONUS

La transcription:

Why are you here in France ?

Tell me about Malaysia and your family

What languages do you speak?

How is Malaysian English different from other English?

Where do people think you are from when they listen to your accent?

How long have you been in France? How Malaysian/French are you today?

How does having a Franco-Malaysian son feel like?

What languages does your son speak?

How connected are you to French language?


How do you feel about remaining in France?

  • Leanne: So, my name is Leanne. I’ve been in France for eight and a half years now. Almost nine. And why I’m here. I basically have a French partner. I fell in love, so we met in New Zealand while both of us were backpacking over there. So, we met there and then we both went back to our respective countries and stayed in touch.

    Nolwenn: Okay. Yeah. So, you married a Frenchie.

    Leanne: Yes. Yes.

    Nolwenn: I really want to talk a little bit before even getting into when you move here. I want to talk about Malaysia.


    Leanne: Yeah, Malaysia is in Southeast Asia near like Thailand and Indonesia. I’m from the peninsula part. So, the part that’s attached to Thailand and there’s also another half, that’s the Borneo Island, that’s attached to Indonesia. So, I’m from the capital, Kuala Lumpur. It’s a multicultural society and multilingual and with, with a lot of different religions and a lot of different languages. Yeah, well, there are quite a lot of Malaysians who speak English. We were colonized by the English. So yeah, a lot of people just generally speak English. That might not necessarily be their mother tongue, but it is in my case because both my parents have different native languages. My mum is Chinese (Cantonese) and my dad is Indian and he speaks Tamil and both of them went to British schools and spoke English. So together their common language was English. But my parents were born in Malaysia and my grandparents as well. So, it goes further back than that. They, both my parents identify as Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indian and they’re not considered immigrants in Malaysia and they’re very much part of Malaysian society.

    Nolwenn: Did you say Malay or do you say Malaysian?

    Leanne: Malaysian, yeah. Malay is a specific ethnicity.

    Nolwenn: What languages do you speak?


    Leanne: Oh, unfortunately, I speak only English and Malay. Only English. And really the official language for Malaysia is Malay. And if you go to public school, you will definitely have to learn Malay. I’d say most people speak English, especially in urban areas and maybe less in rural areas.

    Nolwenn: And it’s something I never asked you, but I’m quite interested when you meet native English speakers coming from, let’s say, the US and they hear you speak. What do they think?


    Leanne: It’s always very confusing. And they will always ask why I don’t speak Malay or why… Well, I do speak Malay. But why? Why isn’t that my considered my mother tongue? And why I communicate to my parents in English. That’s very strange for everybody. And Malaysia has its own accent. It’s a bit different to mine, I’d say I don’t have a strong Malaysian accent anymore, but there is a very specific Malaysian accent and both my parents have that. And my dad, you can definitely hear that he’s, he’s got an Indian accent when he speaks English. I don’t think I ever had a very strong Malaysian English accent, but it was there before and over time, living in different countries, it’s sort of disappeared. Also, a big reason is probably because my husband is French. I speak to him in English. For him to understand me, it’s easier if I don’t have like if I don’t speak Malaysian English and use specific Malaysian English terms that he would not understand. We pronounce some words differently. We use certain expressions that wouldn’t be used in English. And so sometimes even I get confused as to what’s an actual expression and what is a translated Chinese expression. Sometimes I forget.


    Nolwenn: Yeah, yeah. Where do people I mean, if people don’t ask you where you’re from. No, wait a minute. Everyone always asks you where you’re from.

    Leanne: Every day, yeah.

    Nolwenn: So let me rephrase that before people ask you where are you from? And if they try to guess.

    Leanne: Oh, this is tough because everywhere really sometimes people think that I’m South American. Sometimes people think sometimes people manage to think, manage to guess that I’m Asian but can’t pin exactly where. And a lot of French people will just say that I’m from Madagascar. Yes.

    Nolwenn: Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah. Okay. So, yeah. So, you get really like a wide range.

    Leanne: Yes. And also, strangely, people from Madagascar will say like “Vous êtes Malgache?” Yeah.

    Nolwenn: Yeah, I think it makes sense because there are a lot of people who migrated over there, as well. Yeah, it’s like in Mauritius Island there is a similar mix I guess.

    Leanne: Yeah. And funny enough people, the… When you say people who migrate on Madagascar there, it does go back to Borneo Island which is, which is part of Malaysia. So it’s, it’s yeah.

    Nolwenn: It makes sense. It’s not crazy. (08:35) How long have you been in France?

    Leanne: Eight and a half years.

    Nolwenn: And how many times did you go back?

    Leanne: I want to say four. Is that right? Yeah, four. Four times.

    Nolwenn: I want to know how Malaysian you are today and how French you are today?

    Leanne: It’s I suppose I identify with both today, a little bit of both and also at the same time neither. It’s kind of a… it’s a process. It’s a journey. Yeah. And it was something that I wasn’t expecting because when I moved here, it was with the goal of being with my now husband. I didn’t expect that it would change my cultural identity. It was not something I was expecting because, yeah, it really caught me by surprise because I always identify as Malaysian. So, I’m a Malaysian living in France over the years. Every time I go back home, I feel a bit less Malaysian and then I start questioning myself like, Oh, maybe I’m more French than I thought. Yeah. And so now it’s sort of neither here nor there. So now when I go back home, I feel like people now don’t see me as very Malaysian anymore. So, you know, so yeah, I’m not at home in either place in France or in Malaysia. So, it’s a journey.

    Nolwenn: It’s really interesting. It reminds me, I knew I had met this man who was… His mother was Argentinian and his father was Greek. So, he had like both cultures, but within his Greek group of friends, They’d always call him the Argentinean. It was like his nickname. And then he went to live in Argentina for many years. And he was always being called the Greek one. Like, it’s funny how your identity changes and maybe your French self is even stronger in your home country than it is here.


    Leanne: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. That was definitely something just very surprising. I knew I would have to learn French to live in France, but I didn’t think that that would change who I am. And then, now that I have a child, it’s something that I think about a lot. Like how? How is he Malaysian? Or how do I. How do I give him my cultural identity now that we don’t live in Malaysia and likely never will? So how do I make him feel Malaysian?

    Nolwenn: Is it a fear that he will not identify as Malaysian?

    Leanne: Maybe not so much a fear. I feel like when I gave birth to him, there was a sadness. Like I had to mourn the fact that, in fact, he’s French. He will never be Malaysian. I can show him Malaysia and I can teach him little bits and pieces and I can try some food from Malaysia, but he will never be Malaysian. And that was heart-breaking. He is five. He’s five and a half. (12:00) He knows he’s half Malaysian. He knows that his grandparents live far away. But for now, it’s still, it’s still very vague. He’s aware that there’s some distance between him and his grandparents. He knows that’s why I speak English. It’s because I’m not actually French. He speaks English, but French is his stronger language. But he… I feel like he’ll catch up with English with time as he grows older. This was my biggest fear when he was born that he must speak English. He started by only speaking French initially, but he understood English. And that’s actually the moment where I was like, I was starting to be worried that he would only understand but not speak, so that he would be a passive, bilingual, basically. And I started insisting that he, like every once in a while, if I knew he was able to or he knew the vocabulary for something, I’d kind of repeat the word in English, because it’s so important for me that he he’s able to communicate with his grandparents in English.

    Leanne: And that’s really the main motivation, because I didn’t have this privilege, I couldn’t communicate with both my grandparents and for me to talk to both my maternal and paternal. No, actually, sorry for me to talk to my paternal grandmother. My father would have to be the translator. I was not capable of having a conversation with her directly and with my maternal grandmother. I was able to talk to her because people speak Malay and she speaks some Malay. So that that was a little bit easier. And also I, I understand a little bit of Cantonese. So, with my little knowledge of Cantonese and her Malay, we were able to speak. But it was, it was always a barrier. And I’ve also just, I’ve explained it to him like, you know, you should speak some English because how are you going to how are you going to talk to your grandparents? We also when we travel, we almost, well, outside of France, we speak English. And I’ve kind of said I’ve said like, oh, you know, you can you can go ask for it. You can ask in English. They’ll understand.

    Nolwenn: So, he had that experience of talking to someone else. Yeah. Not related to you and it worked. He could communicate. Yeah. I have one more question to how connected are you to French?


    Leanne: Very I well, hang on. French language or French culture?

    Nolwenn: French language,

    Leanne: French language. When you say connected, what do you mean exactly?

    Nolwenn: I mean, how much is it part of who you are? Do you see yourself as a French speaker?

    Leanne: Over time? A bit more. I find myself sometimes using a French word instead of English because it’s it makes more sense. There are a lot of things that with my son and his school, like when he tells me about his school and the words he uses. So I find myself repeating the same vocabulary. So yeah, I mean, it is a part of my life. I’ve had a lot of trouble saying like. I’m bilingual or I speak French perfectly. There’s still always room for improvement.

    Nolwenn: Actually, I’m really impressed with your accent in French. It’s surprisingly good.

    Leanne: Really?

    Nolwenn: You don’t know that.

    Leanne: No, I don’t.

    Nolwenn: But your pronunciation in French is almost flawless.

    Leanne: Okay.

    Nolwenn: But you don’t know that. I know. I know that you and I know there is a gap between your ability in French and what you think you can do.

    Leanne: For sure. Yeah. So just not. I’ve always said that, like, I’m not confident or I’m not ready to, like, boast about how good my French is.


    Nolwenn: How do you feel about remaining in France? Is it something you made peace with? Is it something you know? You do?

    Leanne: Yeah. I feel like I’ve made my peace with it. It’s it’s hard to imagine going back to Malaysia now. And I do love my life in France and I love the opportunities my son has in France. And I recognize how how good France has been to to us as a family. So, yeah, I really like it. It’s always a mixed bag. Like, you do feel sad [00:14:00] that you’re going to have to let go of what home is. Yeah. Like your childhood home and cultural identity and things like that. So.

    Nolwenn: Because an interesting fact about you is, in the past, you had never envisioned yourself not moving out.

    Leanne: Not in my wildest imagination. And I didn’t have any interest for French culture or French language. I mean, I thought it was beautiful, but it wasn’t something. It wasn’t something that I pictured for myself. And if my husband was French but we lived, I don’t know, in Germany, I would have learned to speak German and not French. So really, I started learning out of necessity.

    Nolwenn: That’s it. We’re done. Really? Yeah. Do you want to add something?

    Leanne: No, no, no. It’s good. It’s good. If not, no. It’s like, really long.

    Nolwenn: Excellent. Thank you very much for your insight.




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Nolwenn Gautier

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