Losing the Mother Tongue

by Azusa Iwata

The reading Alejandro Portes by mentions that relatively few immigrants retained their parental tongue. (Contexts, Spring 2002). I have a friend mixed with Chinese and Japanese, and grew up in Canada. So she can speak both of Japanese and English not Chinese, and usually she uses English in her house and her community. However her problem is that she is not perfect about English and Japanese, which seems to makes her sometime confused. When I talked with her, her Japanese is very hard for me to understand because of the accents. In addition, she knows that her Japanese and English are a bit different from the native speaker’s. Thus, she seems to feels uncomfortable saying “I am Canadian” as self-introduction. It shows the language spoken strongly connected to their identity. She also mentioned that why she cannot speak English perfectly even though she was born in Canada is because the communication in the house was with improper English caused by their parents, that is, the education in her house got her not perfect English and Japanese. Then, I would like to talk about the difficulty to choose language for the mixed people from this example.

First, I think the mother tongue is very important for the family community. For example, she said that it was very hard for her to talk with her relatives in China because she cannot speak Chinese at all. Thus, it seems that she felt like “I was an outsider” whenever she visited her relatives in China. From this example, I think the education for maintaining their parental tongue is essential for their family through the education when they are kids. On the other hand, English is as you know global common language, which I think makes the mixed people think “Only English is ok”.

Second, I think language is not only the tool for communication but also the culture for the speakers. In the concrete, Japanese has honorific words called “Keigo”, which are supposed to be used for our elder. Thus, I feel that most Japanese are careful of their language whenever they talk with their elders. On the other hand, English does not have honorific words such as Japanese, which I think makes no wall between their elder and their junior. I think this characteristic is one of the cultures and makes their identities.

In my opinion, in terms of their family and their identity, maintaining the parental language is very important for the people whose parental language is different. As I mentioned before, language is not only the tool for communication but also the culture. Thus, we need to promote the education for the people whose parental language is different. Moreover, with such a globalization, I think people who can know various cultures including languages are needed for the society in these days.


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