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A nice essay about how easy it is to lose a language

January 7, 2022

It astounds me sometimes when I heard of people denigrating immigrants who speak their home language with their kids, or who say immersion programs keep kids from learning English. Truth be told, retaining a home language is very, very hard and requires a ton of work and persistence. The amazing thing is that second-generation children ever speak anything but English. Here’s a nice essay about how a language can so easily slip away.

As A Chinese American Mother, I Didn’t Want My Family’s Native Language To End With Me.

The author of The School for Good Mothers on how raising her daughter forced her to confront her relationship with Mandarin.

BY JESSAMINE CHAN

Elle, JAN 4, 2022

Why can’t you read?” It was spring 2020. The interrogator was my daughter, who was three at the time. My parents, Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants who came to the U.S. in the 1970s, had gifted her the picture book Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen, which is about a baby crocodile who believes he’s a duck and joins a family of ducks. Hijinks ensue. It’s a tale of acceptance, belonging, and family. Though this version contains an English translation crammed onto the last few pages, all the fun illustrations are in the body of the book, where the story is written in Chinese characters.

I’d like to tell you that I could once read the book in its original language, but actually I never could, despite two valiant years of Chinese courses in college. But as a child, I would have understood the story being read to me, say by my parents or grandmother. At my daughter’s age and through elementary school, I was bilingual. My parents and maternal grandmother spoke to me almost exclusively in Mandarin. I could carry on my side of the conversation. I didn’t feel lost in Mandarin, as I do now.

Please read more here.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sy Provost permalink
    January 23, 2022 8:05 am

    Hello Ms. Weise,

    I am currently researching schools and learned that, according to the Marengo Elementary School’s website (South Pasadena, CA), their Mandarin Immersion program is 50/50 (Spanish is 90/10).

  2. Elizabeth Weise permalink*
    February 19, 2022 3:30 pm

    I’ll update my list. Thanks.

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