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Coming back to Mandarin in the third generation

February 21, 2021
Making dumplings for the Spring Festival.

A lovely piece by a woman who grew up Mandarin-speaking in the United States, lost her Mandarin and then found it again when she had children. And always nice to have one of my Mandarin immersion articles linked to in the New York Times. Due to the COVID lockdown I haven’t done a 2020 “State of Mandarin Immersion” article, but I’ll try to put one together in the next month or so. I fear we’ve lost some schools but haven’t had time to go through all the links I’ve collected. And I know we’ve added a few, so hopefully we’re still up above 300.

Connecting My Children to Their Heritage in Mandarin

Although my parents’ English is serviceable, it is only in Mandarin that they’re at ease, that they can inhabit their own skins.

New York Times

By Connie Chang

  • Feb. 12, 2021

On Sunday afternoons, my grandfather would sit by my elbow while I gripped his prized calligraphy brush, tracing inky lines on tissue-thin paper. “Many Chinese consider calligraphy a high form of art,” my grandfather reminded me whenever my attention flagged or arm drooped.

I’d sigh in response — this weekly ritual just felt like more school.

Growing up as a child of first-generation Chinese immigrants, I was used to straddling two worlds — that of my parents and the country they emigrated from, and America, where the pressure to assimilate buffeted us constantly. The message was clear in the media and popular culture of the 1980s: It was better to speak English, exclusively and without an accent; to replace thermoses of dumplings with hamburgers. My father’s college classmate, also a Chinese immigrant, proudly boasted that his kids knew no Mandarin, a claim confirmed when his son butchered the pronunciation of his own name while my parents looked on with unconcealed horror.

My parents, instead, dug in their heels against this powerful wave that threatened to wash out the distinctive features of their past. I spoke no English until I started preschool, but in Mandarin — according to my grandmother — I was a sparkling conversationalist, a Dorothy Parker of the toddler set. The school administrators wrung their hands, worried that I’d fall behind, but my father shrugged, figuring (correctly) that I’d learn English quickly enough.

Please read more here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Connie Chang permalink
    February 21, 2021 2:40 pm

    Hi Elizabeth!

    Thanks for linking to my article in the NY Times – I’m glad you enjoyed it! When I first started this journey, of looking into mandarin immersion for my kids, your book was super helpful to get a lay of the land. Growing up in the Bay Area, I was lucky enough to have access to Saturday schools, but I think Mandarin immersion is so much more effective in normalizing it.

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