Family Language Alive - Children Learning Chinese

Situation #1.3: Our family members speak very little English at home. It is getting more difficult these days to communicate with my child now that he is only speaking English that he learns from scho

August 30, 2010

1.3 Main Article

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Situation #1.3: Our family members speak very little English at home. It is getting more difficult these days to communicate with my child now that he is only speaking English that he learns from school.Reality: Many immigrants are facing a familiar and common issue: their children are losing their native language. Studies show that losing a language can be devastating for family bondage. The fact that families cannot communicate with their children fully hinders the intimacy necessary to pass on beliefs, values, and identity to generations after. Children lose their native self as a result of assimilation into the mainstream society.There are children, and sometimes their family, who have come to believe that speaking Chinese is inferior to speaking English, an obvious thing in their view that obstructs them in gaining acceptance from the society at large, besides their dress and having a Chinese name. In school, they want to be included and recognized as Americans, not rejected as immigrants.It is common, especially in the Chinese culture, to believe that school provides success. Perhaps it is true that it may open doors in the career-related, thus monetary, sense. But what about success in life? That is, what about knowing who we are and where we come from? What about understanding how we connect to our significant others, and to each event that comes our way? What is our responsibility to ourselves, our family, and our community? Why are we Chinese? All these and more can only be best answered by our own family, not the school.

If one loses his language, he too will inevitably and unnoticeably lose a major part of his own identity because we develop our self-identity through our culture. Moreover, their eventual inadequacy of Chinese may make them feel inferior and unintelligent as a result, indirectly forcing them to adopt other cultural value as their own, placing a biased view toward their own ethnic group unexpectedly and unknowingly.

Many families think it is only part of the process of becoming American and do not address the issue until it is too late. Not all children can switch back to speaking Chinese as easily. The reality is, when a child is not actively using Chinese in everyday interactions, he cannot develop it any further and is extremely likely to either retain it at a level not in his age range, or lose it altogether as a result.

Language is not an object that can be tossed about like material possessions. One’s soul, mind, spirit and kinship to one another reside in the language. That is what would be lost if one loses his language.

Considerations:

  • What is the real reason my child might be speaking English to me, especially when I know little of it?
  • Are there any indications that he is reluctant or despised in speaking Chinese to me, in private or in public? How can I discuss this with him, or understand more from his friends or teachers?
  • What is my child’s view in the importance of Chinese and English? What can I find out from him, his friends or teachers?
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June 18, 2017

Are You a Banana or an Egg? Language Shapes Our Cultural Identity

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Being overseas, we inevitably belong to multiple cultures simultaneously. It would be deceiving to think we actually can opt out from being Chinese and be completely American or British, as many native-born Chinese may at times want. Inarguably, language largely defines our identity. As the main article states, “one’s soul, mind, spirit and kinship to one another reside in the language.” Resistance to acknowledge one’s own identity can be counterproductive. Rather, embracing our various degrees of belonging in multiple cultures can be a blessing and open up opportunities otherwise not available. When a child actually becomes natural in switching languages when the situation calls, he has succeeded in serving the needs of others, accepting others as they are. Being truly bilingual is not solely academic. It is merely what life calls us to be. Language and culture go hand in hand. The talk of one without the other is as absurd as the use of one chopstick.

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