(2-1) An ABC Mocked for Being Unable to Speak Chinese

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Jan 13, 2017 23:07
Elaine Chao isn’t an ABC (American Born Chinese), but I want to start with the story of her.

The other day, I learned from the American media that Elaine Chao had been appointed by president-elect Trump to be the US Secretary of Transportation. She was the first Asian American woman assigned to a President’s cabinet. Over the years, Chinese media has reported a lot about her because she was a prominent American politician - the only cabinet member in the George W. Bush administration to serve for the entirety of his eight years.

What amazes me as well is her Chinese skills. She once made a public speech on a Chinese national show, sharing her life experiences and encouraging young people to follow their dreams. Her Chinese was amazing! Apparently, she never stopped learning Mandarin and worked really hard.

It seems like most Chinese American parents will prod their kids to learn Chinese when they are very little. Many of the kids go to Chinese schools after school. I really feel for them, because many of their peers can play after school, while they have to sit at classrooms to study Chinese characters.

When I visited my uncle’s in America, I saw my three-year-old cousin studying Chinese. I said to my uncle, “Wow. I’m so jealous. She’s bilingual at such a young age!” However, my uncle shook his head and replied, “Not necessarily. It depends. Many ABCs hate learning Chinese when they turn 6 or 7, the time they begin school. If they remain to be defiant and refuse to continue studying Chinese, they will probably be unable to pick it up again and won't be able to speak Chinese forever.”

It rang true to me. Schooling, especially elementary education, is perhaps the most crucial phase for one’s language proficiency development. Elaine Chao immigrated to the US at the age of eight. Some other 1.5-generation Chinese immigrants to the US moved to the US when they were 7 or 8, but their English is so excellent that they have published English best-sellers. In a sense, English is their native language. Like many other Chinese people, Mandarin isn’t my first language. What folks in my home town speak is very different from Mandarin. The pronunciation is utterly different. The vocabulary and grammar is also different in many ways. However, Mandarin was taught in my elementary school. With years of education, Mandarin has become my native language.

I thought it was easy to understand why many ABCs can’t speak Chinese. But, several days ago, an article in the national media mocked an ABC for being unable to speak Chinese. To my surprise, commenters all agreed with the writer. After reading their reasons, I started to know why.