Intercultural and Intergeneration Communication Within the Chinese American Families

Topics: China, Chinese language, Family Pages: 8 (2579 words) Published: September 19, 2012
Intercultural and Intergeneration Communication within the Chinese American Families

In recent decades, migration waves have brought to the United States large numbers of Asians and Pacific Islanders (API). Well over two-fifths of all non-amnesty persons admitted in the U.S. in 1991 were API.[i] The trend of increasing API immigration is clear and the API portion in the U S. total immigration steadily grew from the 1972's 28.7 percent to 1985's 44.2 percent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2003, 25% of the Asians are foreign born. APIs were identified as language minorities; by 1989, the number had reached 547,000 (National Center for Education Statistics. 1992) With their drastically different cultural backgrounds, cross-cultural communication is a fundamental issue not only in API family but espeically in the Chinese American families, not to mention inter-generation communication. Chinese American families have distinct communication norms that are significantly different from those of native born Americans and other immigrants.

Most of the Chinese immigrants are from three regions in Asia, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Though they are all ethnically Chinese, some of the cultures and traditions are different in different regions, not to mention that the languages are different. Chinese from Hong Kong use Cantonese as the main dialect whereas China and Taiwan use mainly Mandarin and many local dialects. The written languages are also slightly different between Chinese from Hong Kong and Taiwan to those from mainland China. Historical trend has been that early Chinese immigrants came from pre-Communist China, Taiwan, or Hong Kong and were literate in traditional characters. Over the last two decades, however, Mainland China has become the dominant point of origin for Chinese immigrants. The younger generation of Chinese immigrants received their education in simplified characters. Many of them cannot read traditional characters at all. Those who can read traditional characters are middle-aged or older, or are highly-educated people.[ii]

Historically, under the influence of Chinese Confucianism, Chinese developed complex literate cultures and cohesive family organizations.[iii] Cultural contrasts are, of course, sharpest between Chinese and American mainstream society. For example, Chinese think about social institutions such as school quite differently from American parents. Like middle-class Americans, Chinese highly value formal education and life skills like playing some form of musical instruments. They often consider their children's schooling directly related to the family's integrity: success in academics brings honor and prestige to the family, failure brings shame.[iv] The intense pressure upon children to succeed often generates intergenerational conflicts and psychological difficulties for children. Many Chinese children suffer from test anxiety, social isolation, and impaired self-esteem because of their mediocre school performance.[v] Another source of family tension is the communication barrier between predominantly Chinese speaking parents and predominantly English speaking children.[vi]

Language differences are striking between Chinese and American mainstream society even for persons that are fluent in both languages. For example, translated documents or verbal language presented many identified problems. These include syntactic structure (question vs. statement) problem which Chinese translation lacks consistency in translating the document. Or key words in the English language were mistranslated. The Chinese translation either uses a word that differs in its semantic coverage from the original English word or collapses two concepts into one word. There is also the difference between classical Chinese vs. vernacular Chinese. The written form of a language is always considered more formal than the spoken form. Finally, some concepts are difficult to convey in another...
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