“Bilingualism”

Illustration for ‘Atlassian’ by myself http://www.jennliv.com

As a young child, I didn’t start speaking until the age of four. My parents found this alarming and brought me to a speech therapist for consultation. The speech therapist suggested that I was confused from hearing two different languages being used at home — Mandarin and English. She advised my parents to only use one language at home instead to aid in my speech development as a child. As new immigrants from China, their English was still limited to the textbook examples they had learned in their homeland. However, they decided to only speak English in our household, and shortly afterward I began to start speaking very often at home.

As a young child, I kept to myself a lot. I loved reading books and I would devour everything we had. My parents provided me with a plethora of picture books, mostly written in English and some in Chinese. However, I enjoyed reading English dictionaries the most. I would spend my days flipping through pages and learning new definitions of words each day. As I grew older I learned what a thesaurus was and that added to my vocabulary as well. My fluency in English only ever grew stronger and in school, I always excelled in English classes the most. Whereas throughout my life I have always shied away from learning Chinese.

From my negative experiences in Chinese school, to awkward interactions with Chinese relatives and family friends, I withdrew from my family’s native language as I grew older. My relationship to my own culture is one that is filled with the guilt of being unable to fully adopt Mandarin into my life. Because of my reluctance to speak Chinese, I am often viewed as an outsider by my community rather than being a part of it. As I try to reforge a connection to my Chinese identity in my adulthood, my first steps are through learning Mandarin again once more. In my daily practice, I try to speak and learn as much Mandarin as I can and find joy from sensing my own improvement each day. I have found through my own studies that Mandarin was never truly disconnected from me at all. I find myself knowing more Chinese vocabulary than I realize from living a lifetime of accumulated experiences of being Chinese. My Chinese heritage has been deeply internalized within me whether I am cognizant of it or not.

— Written for my Directed Interdisciplinary Studio 2 class at OCAD University as part of the IAMD Graduate Program.