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Case Study On Being Bilingual In America

3037 words - 12 pages

Case Study on Being Bilingual in America

The participant was my daughter, Amy. As soon as she arrived in Hawaii, USA, from Mainland China in July 1998, I began observing how she reacted to the new environment and how she adjusted to it. Over a five-month period (July-November, 1998) I kept a journal of what she did (about 35,000 words either in English or in Chinese), sometimes on the spot and sometimes upon recollection, and tape-recorded the conversations between us on three tapes. Amy was 12 when she came to Hawaii. She had finished fifth grade with a limited English vocabulary, which included pronouns, names of the seven days of a week, and the four seasons, etc. She had some idea of “be+noun/ adjective,” and the simple present and simple past tenses. But they had never become automatic in her linguistic production. When the study began, she just registered as a sixth grader in a local public school in Honolulu. Since it was the first time she had ever been abroad, I witnessed how she was excited by the new environment, shocked by the new culture, and struggled to learn the new language. I also noticed how her first language (Chinese) and second language (English) interacted with and promoted each other in her daily life and academic study. Some daily happenings and utterances between us were related to purposeful language practice and some were simply every day occurrences in natural settings of transition to a new culture…
The second day after Amy got to Honolulu, we went shopping in a supermarket. Curious about the names and products on the shelves, she asked me a lot of questions in Chinese in a somewhat childish loud voice that drew some glances from other customers. I asked her to be quiet and she didn’t ask any more questions. Later I found that whenever we were in public places, Amy would either keep silent or stumble in English. I thought it was a good way for her to practice English. One day I went to pick her up at school and spoke to her in Chinese while her classmates were around. She became angry with me and refused to say anything. Back at home, she said to me, “You told me not to speak Chinese at the supermarket, but why did you do so at my school? My classmates will laugh at me.” I was surprised. I didn’t expect that she interpreted my advice for being quiet as a signal of no Chinese. “I just wanted you to show courtesy to other customers by not talking too loudly. There is nothing wrong in being Chinese and speaking the Chinese language!” “Yes, there is!” she replied. “In class, whenever my teacher asks who gives this or that incorrect answer, the boy next to me always points at me and says ‘the Chinese girl,’ but it is not me!” Then she burst into tears. This time I was shocked. I hadn’t imagined that she would have experienced this at school.
I thought hard and consulted with my husband in Canada. Since at the time I was the only parent with Amy, my attitude toward our identity, our primary language, and our...

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