Lost in Language

“Ni hao ma?” I said. 

“Wo hen hao!”  My grandma replied. 

“Lei ho ma?” I said. 

“Wo ho!” My grandma replied. 

My parents came here to America at a very young age. Even though they had both spoken different languages they learned English quite fast. Now my parents speak English more, but they're losing their language they had known before arriving to the United States. Then there's me an American born Chinese. My first language was English. Unlike other Chinese kids nowadays who actually know how to speak, read, and write in Chinese. I'm probably one of the few who barely know any Chinese. At a very young age just before I entered kindergarten, my grandparents taught me words and phrases in the Chinese language. On my mom side of the family, I learned Mandarin Chinese. On my dad side of the family I learned Cantonese Chinese. Mandarin and Cantonese are some of the very many dialects of the Chinese language. I knew phrases here and there and I was able to use them in sentences. As I got older my parents did not speak Chinese to me as much and I lost the language. Now that I think about it now from watching home videos and seeing how it effects me. I feel really terrible for not knowing as much Chinese as I could have known now.

When I was about five years old, my parents entered me in Chinese school. The Chinese school taught Mandarin Chinese. It went from the grades Kindergarten to Sixth Grade. If you failed a grade you would repeat it. In the beginning I actually enjoyed going there.

“Mom, I don’t feel like going to Chinese school today, do I really have to go?”

“Yes, you need to go and learn some Chinese.”

“I already know how to have a basic conversation, and besides the weekend is  suppose to be school free.”

“Well, when you’re finished 6th grade, then you can stop going, okay?”

“Ugh.. Yeah, I guess so.”

  Along the years I dreaded going there. Most of the time I felt as if I wasn't actually learning anything. Sometimes I felt like my parents where just wasting money because no matter how much I repeated a grade to learn something, as it went in one ear it went out the other. I thought it was always the teachers fault. Or perhaps maybe it was my fault because I just lost interest in learning the language. I did later on ended up not going anymore because I went to the highest level which was 6th grade. I went through 8 years of Chinese school, but in the end I felt like I didn’t learn much. I still couldn’t really have a fluent conversation in Mandarin. I think I did not really care much about learning Chinese when I was younger. Looking back I know that I wasted time and money for almost nothing. 

At my middle, FACTS Charter School, we learned Mandarin as a second language. I had to learn Mandarin from 2-8 grade. We had a heritage class and non heritage class based on if you spoke Chinese in your family. I was in on heritage for the longest time, but eventually it got too easy for me. So I moved to the heritage class. I felt like an outsider sometimes because my Chinese wasn’t as good as everyone else in the class. The things that we were learning in my Chinese class in 8th grade was like the things I learned in 4th grade at Chinese school. It should’ve been easy because I had already learned it, but it was the total opposite. 

“You can still read Chinese,”  he said cocking his head at the newspaper.

I nodded, I didn’t even mention is was all I could read. 

“I forgot everything. We’ve been in America for five years now.” This quote from Jean Kwok’s Girl In Translation, shows how a boy who is Chinese, has lived in America for five years, forgot almost about every little bit of Chinese he use to know. I feel like I can connect to the character, because growing up as a kid I spoke more Chinese than English. Ever since I started speaking more English, that’s when I stopped speaking Chinese. So the character in the story probably encountered the same problem because once he moved to America, he forgot how to speak Chinese. 

It’s not easy learning Chinese. Certain things are not said directly.” I feel like sometimes that’s why I gave up learning Chinese. It was just such a difficult language and if you didn’t have the patience to learn, then it was hard for you. 

When I talked to my grandparents I feel as if when speak I can’t remember how to say certain words and I just end up saying it in English. Sometimes I code switch between using Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese. If I forgot how it in one language then I say it in one Chinese dialect, I say it in the other. I think that also my grandparents make it somewhat easier for me to speak to them now because I speak Chinese but not as much when I talk to them because they know a little bit of English. My grandparents on both sides of my family enable me in a way because instead of me speaking in Chinese to them, they speak English to me. Sometimes I felt like there was always a language barrier between my grandparents and I. I feel like we have conversations, but their not deep conversations. For example, if I wanted to interview them for a school project, I couldn’t interview them. I had to ask my mom or dad, what they knew from what they were told. Also, I think that the fact my grandparents didn’t know English puts them in language barrier with them, and me.

Over the summer of 2009, I went to California to visit my family. Over the summer of 2009, I went to California to visit my family. I went with my grandparents from my dad’s side. I stayed in California for a whole month. My English before I went wasn’t too good, I would admit. I had to speak a lot of Chinese when I was there because most of my family there spoke Cantonese fluently. The TV shows, dinner conversations we would have were all in Cantonese. At the beginning of the trip I felt like there was not enough English being spoken, and I actually really missed talking to my parents. It was not at all that bad after a while.  Slowly I adjusted to speaking Chinese more often. I noticed that my Cantonese got better. I started having conversations and they were pretty fluent. Being around people who spoke Cantonese influenced me to speak more Chinese. When I got home after that month, I realized that I stopped speaking in Chinese. I feel like if I care about the Chinese language then I could try to speak it more often.

My parents have felt the same way because looking back at my old videos from when I was younger, my parents and I did speak more Chinese than we do now. My mom said that she is now going to try to speak Chinese more often as us. I think that even if it is a phrase or sentences overtime, if we keep communicating and speaking more in Chinese then we could be more fluent. Sometimes I feel as though I am losing apart of who I am, because I am Chinese. I know people who are Chinese and barely know any Chinese. Then there are people who know it fluently and they make me feel bad that I barely know any. I’m stuck between two languages.  

Works Cited: 

Kwok, Jean “Girl In Translation

“You can still read Chinese,”  he said cocking his head at the newspaper. I nodded, I didn’t even mention is was all I could read. “I forgot everything. We’ve been in America for five years now.”

It’s not easy learning Chinese. Certain things are not said directly.”