Sunday morning is not the time for these children to relax. Instead of taking advantage of the free weekend, going to Chinese language school for two or three hours during the day is part of their weekly regimen. Sitting in the third-grade classroom at West Valley Chinese Academy in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, children are just six years old.
“No English, remember?” said Ms. Li, one of the teachers at West Valley Chinese Academy. “You have already spent a lot of time speaking English every day. Please take the opportunity to practice Chinese when you are here. “Li said.
The first native Chinese language school was established in San Francisco in 1886. According to a 2008 language study, approximately 160,000 students were learning Chinese in language schools across the country in 2005.
Chinese language schools are usually open on weekends or after regular school hours. They allow non-Chinese students to learn a new language and Chinese American students to learn their native language and culture. These schools also create a community for these students to make friends and establish their socio-ethnic identity.
Mandarin Chinese is considered exceptionally difficult for native English speakers, who may not have learned their mother tongue from their parents or grandparents.
“Because of the difficulty of the language and the fact that there is almost nowhere to use it except at home, many parents have to force their children to come to school,” Lily said. Xu, mother of a West Valley Chinese Academy student. . Her son has been learning Chinese for three years now.
John Chen is the father of two boys who are learning Chinese at WVCA.
“I went to Chinese school until fourth or fifth grade, then I had a fit and finally got out of it,” Chen said. “I wish my parents would force me more or make me stay.”
Chen is one of many Chinese American adults who would have liked to spend more time learning the language. Children of immigrants face an important choice at a very young age: whether or not to learn the language of their culture.
This is the second year that Gina Shaw’s daughter has learned Chinese at WVCA. Shaw’s family emigrated to the United States in 1980 when she was five years old.
“At that time, it was mostly Caucasian American culture. It was hard to speak a different language, to attend classes every day, not knowing what people are talking about,” Shaw said. “Because we didn’t speak English, the children constantly laughed at us.”
Shaw said that because her parents wanted her and her siblings to fit into American culture, they didn’t speak much Chinese at home and told their children not to speak Chinese in public.
Shaw did not follow the language and said speaking a foreign language was taboo and a source of shame when she was growing up.
“Maybe it’s because I’m so disconnected that I feel like I need to be more connected. To go back and have my daughter be a part of it,” she said. I want her to be very proud of her heritage.”
Shaw hopes that before the next time they go to Taiwan, she and her daughter will have made progress in learning Chinese.
Shaw said her sister made a completely different choice.
“My older sister isn’t that culturally attached, even though she knows more about the language and the culture than I do,” Shaw said. “She has no interest in returning to Taiwan to visit. And she hasn’t let her children learn Chinese either.
Shaw said some people likely experienced more bullying than others saw or understood.
“Some people swing the other way, to the point where there’s self-hatred,” Shaw said. “They don’t want to learn their culture and their own languages, because they want to assimilate.”
In 1943, Chinese immigration to the United States was permitted for the first time since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The U.S. Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, abolishing the origins formula national laws, which had largely restricted immigration from Asia.
Since then, Chinese immigration has increased dramatically, among the newcomers were large numbers of scholars, students, and people with other jobs who spoke Chinese. Like other immigrant families, second-generation Chinese-American children typically do not share the same native language as their parents. But language and culture are closely linked and not knowing a language can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication.
“Some humor just can’t be translated into another language. When I watched a Chinese TV show and laughed, my son didn’t find it funny. That’s when I felt a bit sad,” Lily Xu said.
Xu said if his son learned more about Chinese culture, it would be helpful in creating more understanding between the two of them. She said, however, that it would be very difficult for him to achieve such high linguistic proficiency to be able to deeply understand the culture.
Min Liang, director of WVCA, said if she couldn’t communicate with her children in Chinese, she would feel like something important was missing in their relationship. “It would be a real shame for me, as a Chinese-speaking parent, if I gave up on passing the inheritance on to my children,” Liang said.
“Although he is my child, he is growing up in a completely different environment from mine,” Xu said. “I’m still finding my way to be the mother of an American child.”
She said many families like hers face the same problem.
“I want my children to learn that when they love and appreciate their own culture, other people will be attracted to their culture as well,” she said.