“Is it this?” I pointed to the orange bags of apples in the fridge.
“No,” my mother said, “Tā shì zài niú nǎi de páng biān.” (It’s next to the milk)
“How about this,” this time I brung out the orange juice.
“Nǐ zhēn shǎ wǒ gào su nǐ yāo zuò yī gè jiǎn dān de shì qíng nǐ shèn zhì bù néng wéi wǒ zuò de,” my mother said. (You're so stupid, I am telling you to do a simple thing and you can’t even do that for me!)
“Well it’s not my fault that you didn’t teach us chinese when we was little,” I said in a frustrated tone.
“Hǎo bā sāng dí zhī dào zhōng guó hé tā de mā ma méi yǒu jiào tā,” my mother yelled. (Well, Sandy knows chinese and her mom didn’t teach her)
And there it goes again. She compares us to anyone she knows from the top of her head. Sooner or later she will bring up our cousins. My cousins in my mother's side who owned a restaurant.
She will say, “Kevin hé steven jiù xiàng sān zhì sì nián bǐ nǐ nián qīng tā men dū yǐ jīng zài cān guǎn gōng zuò kàn kan nǐ nǐ jiù xiàng yī wèi gōng zhǔ nǐ zuò de jiù shì děng dài wǒ tài zuò fàn chī le tā,” (Kevin and Steven is like three to four years younger than you and they are already working in the restaurant, look at you, you are like a princess. All you do is wait for me too cook and eat it)
She expect us to find a job and know everything. But when this occurs at this point, I’ll tune her out. I knew that the more I answer back, the more she will go talking about things other than what started it. I didn’t understand how I was suppose to know what to get when I can barely understand her. My mother is able to speak chinese, fuzhounese, mandarin and cantanase but how come she didn’t teach us when we were little. I have two older sisters and one younger brother, who barely knows that language so I wasn’t the only one.
I was born in New York and was raised around Philadelphia with my siblings. I attend school in Center City where all the students learn english and spanish and not chinese. Once, I had to ask my parents something for school.
“Mommy, can I interview you for my history benchmark?”
“Jì xù.” (Go ahead)
“Wǒ kě yǐ jì lù tā mǎ.” (Can I record it?), I said suddenly, wondering if she’ll say no,
I was able to speak chinese to her for a bit until my mind go blank to what I had to say.
“Nín de xuǎn zé.” (Your choice)
“I ask what culture shì bù (was different) compared to Philly.”
I usually struggle speaking in my language that I end up speaking in chinese and when I don’t know the rest, I speak in english. My mom would get lost of what I am saying causing her to be frustrated.
She responded with, “Shì bù tóng tā zuò.” (I don’t know what you're saying)
The fact that this was due the next morning, I was very frustrated. I tried google translate and other translators and she still could not understand me. I changed the question up and finally got something out of her.
No matter if a language is your first language, I believe our language can still be a conflict when speaking to a relative and parents. No matter if you're born to a chinese family, it doesn’t mean you will learn that language like that. In fact, some may talk amazing in their language but would not know how to read them and write them. It really depends on who you are raised around. If I was born in China, I guarantee that I would know chinese fluently because that what most people in china speaks.
My language barrier would also affect me in school. Since english is not my first language, I will still have to learn harder than people who language is english. I remember the first day I attended school. People, I guess my friends, would usually talk to me.
“Hi,” I was say back.
Our conversation would end like that. When I speak english, I don’t speak that language fluently like some would if English were their first language. In fact, everyone has an accent. In my case, my accent is english and then when ending in words I would struggle and add a chinese kind of accent. This affects me when I am trying to learn a different language such as spanish. Spanish is a topic that I have a hard time pronouncing certain words.
“Hola, mi nombre es Don Marcos,” the spanish teacher would say on the first day of school.
One time, he wanted us to do the warm up so that's what we did but it was different, he wanted to go around the room to read the sentence that we had wrote. The person next to me would speak and say their sentence and then it was my turn.
“Ayer yo fuí a la casa de amigos. Yo hablé con mi amigos,” I said.
It was an humiliating moment for me. My sentence made sense and was good but just because I had a hard time pronouncing “fuí” due to my accent it had really got to me. I learned that I had to practice twice as hard to say those word. It was my accent.
My accent sucks, I had to admit it. But I just get rid of these though by thinking about how others who can’t even talk and feel graceful that I can. Sometimes, it may not only be spanish words that I can’t pronounce, but english.
This moment kinda reminded me of the book “The Language Instinct”. In this book, the author talks about language and how it is an instinct and not a skill. There was this one quote, “The mind is a neutral computer”. (Pg 81) This quote got me thinking about how our mind is so much like a computer. The word that come out of our mouth, the way the mind think to pronounce the unfamiliar words and sometime familiar words.
This had started when I was in biochem. My group and I had to film a video on variables. We had made a script and everything. All we had to do was read them and record it, so that what we did.
My classmate would say the script, “Nowww will you tell me the independent variable”
“An inddipendent variable is…..I forget the lyrice
“You're pronouncing the word wrong”,
I’ll pronounce it again and get it right but I will have to pronounce it really slow.”
This was the way I had to speak to get it right. At the end, I realized that my language and accents is an issue for me at home and in daily life. It doesn’t matter where I was, school or not, I would still have issue pronouncing words, and having conversation with my parents and ancestor. Though, I did not let this get the best of me. I still spoke with my accent, I just gotta learn to embrace it.