Hokkien for Beginners


“How do you communicate with your loved ones despite language barriers? How do you show your love for them?”

Nicolette Lee

Don’t know Hokkien and can’t understand what your relatives are talking about? You’re not alone.

Enter this slice of life comic. Monolingual Kara has always struggled to understand her Hokkien-speaking grandmother. The need to overcome this language barrier grows as Grandma’s health worsens – and Kara may not have long to learn how.

Join Kara as she navigates these questions, while deepening her own appreciation for her family.

This story is an exercise in portraying that frustration and self-doubt that comes with being monolingual. [But] being monolingual doesn’t kill your ability to understand or your capacity for love.

Nicolette explains that while not uncommon to be monolingual, it brings a new set of problems in multicultural Singapore, especially as a nation that lost much of its ability to speak dialect.

“Hokkien for Beginners” represents sound in a visual medium, where the language its protagonist struggles with are depicted as images in speech bubbles instead of words.

DID YOU KNOW? Singapore’s “Speak Mandarin Campaign” of the seventies pushed the use of Mandarin instead of dialects such as Hokkien nationwide. Shortly after, in the eighties, Chinese-medium education was replaced by English and its emergence – coupled with the heavy promotion of Mandarin – generally led Hokkien to decline in Singapore after 1979.

Nicolette Lee is a Singaporean comic book artist. Her work focuses on urban fantasy, fairytale adaptations, and social commentary. Her comics have been published in indie books since 2017, including the Moonlight Anthology by Bones McKay, and the upcoming Girls Who Love Monsters Anthology by Rainleaf Studio. Having graduated from the Law University of Bristol in 2016, her mind and characters are prone to wandering back there.