(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.
赵小兰虽然不是ABC,但我想从她说起。

几天前,我从美国媒体得知,赵小兰被特朗普任命为美国交通部长,她曾经是美国第一位被任命为总统内阁的亚裔美国女性。几年来,中国媒体也经常报道她,因为她是一名美国著名的政治人物。小布什任期内唯一一位满8年的部长。

还让我感到惊讶的是,她的中文非常好。有一次,她在央视某节目做了一次演讲,分享了她的人生经历,鼓励年轻人追求梦想。她的中文真的很棒!显然她从未停止学习中文,而且非常刻苦。

好像大多数美国华裔父母会敦促他们的小孩从小开始学中文。很多小孩放学后还要去中文学校,我真的觉得他们有点小可怜,别的孩子放学后可以玩耍,他们还要继续坐在教室里面学中文。

当我去我大伯家玩时,我看见他三岁大的女儿在学中文。我对我大伯说,“好羡慕!她这么小就会说两种语言了。”但是我大伯摇摇头,说,“未必!要看情况。很多ABC到了6-7岁,读小学的时候,就开始讨厌学中文。如果他们还是保持反抗,不想学,很可能他们以后一辈子都不会说中文了。”

听起来好像也是这么回事。学校教育,尤其是小学,是一个人学语言重要的时期。赵小兰8岁去的美国,其他1.5代美国华裔也是这个岁数去的美国,但他们的英语都非常好,还能出畅销书。某种意义上,英语就是他们的母语。和很多中国人一样,普通话也并不是我的第一语言,我们家乡的方言和普通话很不一样,发音完全不同,词语和语法也有很多地方不一样。但是,我们小学就开始学普通话,所以经过这么多年的教育,普通话就是我的母语了。

我以为ABC不会说中文是一件很容易理解的事情,但是,几天前,某个全国性媒体有一篇文章,取笑一位ABC不会中文。让我很惊讶的是,很多评论也赞成这个观点。看了他们的观点后,我明白他们为什么是这样的态度了。