I talk about my family, hereditary traits and my family history. I also explain the differences between different types of families.


Hey! How’re you going? This is Alena and welcome to the Along Came English podcast.

If you’re new here, this is an English learning podcast where I talk about a variety of different topics, share some stories from my life and explain some English stuff along the way.

You can also check out my website, alongcameenglish.com, and my YouTube channel for more English learning resources.

Transcripts for the podcast are on the website. Or you can read along if you’re watching the video on YouTube.

The video should be up within a few days.

And if you find this interesting or helpful, please like, subscribe or follow.

Nuclear, immediate or extended family?

Alright. Well, for this episode, I thought I would talk about family, and you know, my—my family. Since I’m here, I can ask my mom about some of my family history and extended family. Of course, I’m not going to share anything outrageous or any juicy gossip, as is typical of most families.

Anyway, “family” is a pretty common topic in English but usually it’s the traditional family structures and vocabulary that are taught. How we understand family has kind of evolved over the years with divorces and remarriages, blended families, adoptions, same-sex marriages, etc.

So I’ll be talking about growing up in a fairly traditional family and the less traditional types of families that are more common these days.

The term, family, is quite broad when it is used. If I ask, “How big is your family?” it could imply that I’m asking about your nuclear family or your extended family and both are fine.

Usually people will talk about the relatives that they are close to, whether they’re part of the nuclear or extended family. I think for most people they would think about their partner and children first. But it’s really up to the individual how they want to answer the question.

And it’s also quite natural to think about family as people who you’re really close to and have a bond with. Often friends who share a unique bond will refer to each other as “family” or “brothers” or “sisters.” An example is the Fast & Furious franchise where it’s become a meme at this point.

Personally, I usually talk about my parents’ nuclear family because I don’t have kids and I’m not that close to my extended family.

The term, nuclear family, usually refers to the traditional family unit consisting of two parents, who are typically married, and their children.

There is some debate about what this actually means. Some people think the parents have to be married and the children have to be biological. Some are a bit more flexible and include the stepparents and adopted children.

There is another similar term, immediate family, which usually includes one’s parents, siblings, partner (or partners) and children.

This one’s a little confusing for me because there seems to be some debate about what “immediate family” means. I found sources that say it’s a synonym of nuclear family, but other sources would include uncles, aunts and cousins.

I always thought nuclear and immediate family were synonymous terms. However, having had a look at the Wikipedia page, I think it’s more accurate to include a person’s parents, siblings, spouse and children.

And it’s quite interesting looking into the differences between the two terms. Nuclear family is more of a sociological or anthropological term relating to social organisation to refer to the basic family unit. Immediate family, on the other hand, is more of a legal term in the area of death and inheritance, and work.

But yea, you definitely hear both terms come up in conversation.

Personally I think the term, “nuclear family,” is also bit restrictive. Family structures are different now. Unmarried parents and blended families are pretty common in Australia—moving away from the traditional family structure. A blended family is also known as a stepfamily, and this is where one or both parents have children from a previous relationship.

The term, extended family, is the larger family beyond the nuclear family that include the grandparents and other relatives. This term originally used to refer to relatives living in the same household but I think it’s pretty common to use this term these days to refer to your relatives whether you live in the same household or not.

Interestingly, on the same Wikipedia page, there is an acknowledgement that in many cultures the extended family is the basic family unit and that the nuclear family concept is more of a modern Western thing. I guess how family is viewed or perceived really depends on the cultural background.

My family

So let’s talk about my family. So I come from a fairly large family of six.

It’s funny how time has changed how I perceive family size now. I think most people I know have one or two children and three is like the limit. Any number over that and all of a sudden the family is perceived to be huge.

My dad was one of three brothers and they had an adopted sister as well.

My mother was the second youngest of ten kids. Huge family. It was a very different time. Apparently there were three more but they died as children. It was a very different time.

I have three siblings: two older brothers and one older sister. So that makes me the youngest in the family. The term, sibling, means brother or sister, or it can also be used as a gender-neutral term.

There is a pretty big age gap between my older siblings and I. I’m the only millennial in my family because I was born in the 80s. My siblings are Gen X because they were all born in the 70s.

I think because of this and that they were sent overseas to study at a pretty young age, I was never really close to them. It’s probably in the last decade or so that I’ve gotten closer to my sister.

All my grandparents have passed away. I don’t have any memories of my grandparents on my mother’s side. My grandfather apparently died when he was quite young and my grandmother passed away when I was just a baby.

My grandparents on my father’s side were still around when I was born. Now my grandfather passed away when I was very young, and even though I was told we’ve met before I don’t remember him at all. My grandmother lived on for quite a while but because we lived in different countries, our visits were quite sporadic. Sporadic means something that happens sometimes or irregularly.

She used to live in this old, poorly lit, semi-detached house in Malaysia. A semi-detached house is where a house is joined to another house with a shared wall.

I remember we stayed over one time when I was a child and I got stuck in the bedroom because the door jammed and I had to go to the toilet so bad. It’s so funny looking back as well because the windows had grills or bars and there was no way for me to crawl out the window so my mom gave me a cup in case I wanted to relieve myself.

I didn’t of course. Yea, this isn’t something to boast about but I used to be really good at holding my pee. Obviously I’ve gotten older.

Anyway, they finally got the door opened and I could go to the toilet. So yea, “toilet,” is a perfectly acceptable term in Australia. I think it’s American English to say, “bathroom,” instead.

Family resemblances and inheriting traits

With regard to family resemblances, among my siblings, my oldest brother and sister take after my mum and my second brother and I take after my dad. Take after means to be similar to an older member of your family in appearance or character. And here, I’m talking about appearance or physical traits.

Growing up this was something that people, particularly my mother, liked to point out. You know, what parts of our faces were inherited from either parent or who we looked like the most. Quite often my mom will make comments about her grandchildren and how they might have my brother’s nose or my sister-in-law’s eyes.

Often you see in movies as well, someone might say something like, “Oh, you have your mother’s eyes.” I guess people like to affirm children’s likeness to their parents. But yea, I’m not exactly sure why it’s such a big deal.

That being said, of course there are preferences to what one would like to inherit from either parent. My second brother started to bald from quite a young age while my oldest brother still has a full head of hair. My sister has remained very slim even after having two kids while I am chubbier in comparison. Of course, I accept my body for what it is but losing weight and maintaining it is not an easy task for me.

When it comes to personality traits or talents, it’s a bit hard to say who takes after whom.

There might be some impulsiveness and hot-headedness that run in the family. Run in the family is an expression to describe a quality, ability or disease that many members of a family have. There may be certain skills that we have or are good at but nothing that stands out in particular to make any comparisons to our parents.

I’m also not aware of any genetic disorders that run in our family. Hereditary diseases are diseases, usually genetic, that are passed on to the children from the parent. Genetic disorders result from a mutation in a person’s genes, which can be inherited but can also occur in a person’s life.

For example, cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that can be passed onto the offspring. Offspring means a person’s child or children and this is a more academic term. Down syndrome is also a genetic disorder but is not hereditary. It is actually an error that occurs in the sperm or egg cell and then results in the condition.

And then there are genetic predispositions to certain diseases. Genetic predisposition or genetic susceptibility is the increased likelihood of developing a particular disease because of your genetics. This is not the same as a genetic disorder because you need the right conditions to trigger the disease and there’s always a possibility that you may not develop the disease in your lifetime.

My gosh that was difficult to say.

My dad had diabetes type 2 so I might be predisposed to that. But he did have a really bad diet though before he was diagnosed. So I guess if I have a relatively balanced diet, I might be okay.

On the other hand, my mom doesn’t have diabetes even though she doesn’t hold back on her sugar intake. She does have migraines which may be hereditary. Personally I don’t get migraines that often even though I get headaches.

My family history (or ancestry)

Okay, so let’s talk my family history. So ancestry would be about my relatives who lived a long time ago or the origins of my family. However, because of the lack of information I can only really talk about my grandparents and even then, the information isn’t very detailed.

I mean it would be nice if there were written records of a family tree of some sort but there aren’t. So I’m really going to talk about where my grandparents came from.

So let’s start with my dad’s side. Apparently my grandparents came from China but I’m not sure where exactly.

If I remember correctly, they got stuck in Indonesia when World War 2 broke out and lived there for a while before moving to West Malaysia.

Apart from that, I don’t really know that much.

I know that our surname is quite unique and I don’t think I’ve met anyone else who is not related that has the same surname as us.

And because of this my dad was able to trace it to a small village in China. Again, I don’t know where. But yea, it was kind of his personal endeavour. It’s not like my dad passed on any contact details to keep in touch or anything. He didn’t really tell me about any distant cousins or relatives, you know.

I mean, to be fair, I’ve already lost touch with my cousins in my immediate family, so I doubt I would’ve kept in touch with my distant relatives.

My grandparents on my mother’s side came from East Malaysia and then migrated to Brunei. I believe it was for job opportunities and then just stayed. My mom told me that it’s possible her older siblings might have been born in Malaysia before they moved and she was born in Brunei.

There was also no mention about how the war affected them though, so it’s possible they were able to avoid the worst of it at the time.

My mother’s side of the family is also of Chinese descent but she doesn’t know when or who was the one who decided to emigrate and then settle in Malaysia.

My great-grandparents also had a tailoring business in Malaysia. So both my grandmother and my mother know how to sew and make their own clothes. This skill however has been lost on my generation. I usually wing it when I have to sew something but sometimes I look it up on YouTube.

So yea, I believe we have distant relatives in East Malaysia but we’ve also lost contact with them.

My dad grew up in West Malaysia and my mom grew up in Brunei. He then moved to Brunei for job opportunities, met my mom here and started a family.

Yea, that’s all.

Non-traditional families

Now let’s talk about different types of families.

I’d say that traditional family structures are more common in my extended family, coming from an Asian background. And you can also imagine, things are quite traditional and fairly conservative.

But of course, I’ve also spent quite a lot of time in Australia so I don’t necessarily share in the same traditional family values but I will be making some comparisons here.

As you can probably tell, most of my family are of Chinese descent and interracial marriages have only become a little bit less out of the ordinary in my generation. I have a few cousins who married people of non-Chinese descent and have biracial children.

Interracial means involving different races. Biracial means having parents of two different races, and multiracial is having parents of two or more different races. A commonly used term for biracial and multiracial is mixed-race.

For example, I have a cousin who married a French white lady so they have an interracial marriage. If I remember correctly, they had two kids so they are mixed or biracial.

I also have a close friend who is black and she married a person who is mixed-race—I think Polish and Sri Lankan—and their kids are also mixed-race or multiracial.

This is, I guess, an indication of changing and hopefully more progressive times. My generation has also travelled much further and have bigger social circles, so those are definitely contributing factors.

Because of the conservative nature of my family history and culture, gay relationships or marriage for that matter are unheard of.

LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. This is—This is often used to refer to the community as a whole. There is another popular variant, LGBTQ, that includes the letter Q for queer, and this is kind of an umbrella term to describe people who are not straight or don’t identify with the gender they were born with.

Unfortunately homosexuality is still illegal here in Southeast Asia. For this reason, gay people are not open about their sexuality even though there is growing support and acceptance.

Anyway, marriage equality for same-sex couples have come a long way. Australia only legalised same-sex marriage in 2017. I’m not sure why it took so long because same-sex couples have been accepted in Australia for a long time and a lot of them have kids as well.

Families with same-sex parents have a few different names. They can be called same-sex parented families or LGBT families or rainbow families.

Marriage is a big deal in my culture and is considered a precursor or something that happens before starting a family. So to have a child without getting married was and still is a big no-no in Southeast Asia. I’m not aware of any unmarried parents in my extended family or even people who had children before marriage.

In comparison, in Australia, having a child now without being married or before getting married is pretty common. Unmarried couples, or what is also known as de facto relationships, can have pretty much the same rights as married people.

But yea, most people I know who are of Asian descent or come from more traditional and conservative backgrounds living in Australia are still more likely to marry before starting a family.

Divorces are definitely more common now in my time. It was also unheard of in my parents’ and grandparents’ time because it was such a huge stigma but you would hear stories of wives running away rather than getting divorced.

Because divorces are more common in my time, so are single parent families and shared custodies.

single parent is a person who lives with a child or children and who does not have a spouse or live-in partner. And well, a single parent family is a family with a single parent. Although these may be appropriate descriptions, they are disapproving terms so be discreet.

Shared custody is the legal right and care of a child or children that is shared between the parents who don’t live together.

There is a lot of debate about what a single parent actually means. Some people believe that single parents are parents who are the primary caregiver and the other parent is out of the picture. So the term, coparent, is preferred to indicate shared parental responsibilities.

Some believe that single parent is only about cohabitation, so if there is no partner living under the same roof, then they are still technically a single parent whether they have shared custody or not.

Yea, I don’t really have any strong opinions about this. I’ve known a few parents who became single after their divorce but it’s not like I called them “a single parent”—they were just “single.” I guess it’s just not a label I’m inclined to use.

And in my experience, most divorced parents I know end up remarrying. I only know of one person who has decided to remain single.

So with remarriage, the new spouse becomes a stepparent to their children and they become what is known as a blended family. If the new spouse has children from a previous relationship, the kids will become step-siblings because they are related by marriage. If the new couple has a child together, then the child is a half-sibling to the other kids because they are related through one parent.

Yes, there’re a lot of terms involved when describing a blended family.

So an example of a blended family is my brother’s family. He and his first wife divorced and he then, after some time of course, met and married his second wife. He has a son from his previous relationship and she also had a son from her previous relationship so the kids are now step-siblings. The couple eventually had a child together and this child is a half-sister to the other brothers.

Make sense? Okay.

I also mentioned earlier that I have an adopted aunt on my dad’s side. Back then, it was quite common for poor families to give up a child for adoption to another family they knew that was better off. I think the parents knew each other through church. And I believe my grandparents also wanted a daughter after—after having had three boys.

Now my aunt is actually a twin but was unable to be adopted together by the same family and was split up.

I know, it’s—it’s quite sad they were split up but it was also a very different time. She was about twelve or thirteen when she was adopted.

And it was never a secret that she was adopted. But because of this, I always thought it was really weird when you watch dramas and soap operas where the parents don’t tell their adopted child that they were adopted and then it becomes this huge scandal when they find out. I probably watch too many drama shows.

Alright, Well, I’ll finish here.

Don’t forget to like, subscribe or follow if you found this interesting or helpful.

Please check out the website, alongcameenglish.com, and also the YouTube channel if you haven’t already.

Thank you so much for listening. Stay safe. Have a good day and I’ll catch you later. Bye.