Chinese Language Barrier

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The analysis above shows that many clashes are caused by differences between collectivistic culture and individualistic culture. There is another serious issue, the language barrier, that adds to the problematic relationship between the mothers and daughters. As Huntley aptly points out, the language barrier “separates the old world and the new, the immigrant and the American born” (60). Not being able to express themselves in the dominant language in the new country, the mothers have been, to some extent, left behind in the old world. They are like the mother in the fable “Feathers From a Thousand Li Away”, who wishes to give all of them to her children, but her limited English has made it so difficult that she can only “swallow the sorrow…show more content…
As Jing-mei says: “my mother and I never really understood one another. We translated each other’s meanings and I seemed to hear less than what was said, while my mother heard more” (37). The Chinese language to Suyuan is much more than a language; instead, it is embodied by her memories of and history in China. She insists on speaking Chinese. The reason for this is on the one hand because her broken English stops her from passing on her wisdom and life experience to her daughter. On the other hand, it is her way of keeping and preserving her Chinese identity and heritage. But to Jing-mei, the different languages they use on a daily basis only create problems. She thinks that Suyuan “always [said] things that didn’t make any sense, that sounded both good and bad at the same time”(208). The language barrier makes Suyuan’s messages confusing, and therefore, Jing-mei is unable to tell her mother’s intention. In some cases, it is difficult to find an equivalent translation to Suyuan’s words, which makes their communication even more difficult. For example, Suyuan is proud of her table because it is made of a very fine Chinese wood, “hong mu”, and she explains to Jing-mei that hong mu is not called “rose wood” as it may seem; instead it is “so fine [that] there‘s no English word for it” (24). This implies that Jing-mei understands the literal meaning of “hong mu” and can very likely translate it to its literal translation -“rosewood”, but it is still not what Suyuan means or what it really is. With no experience of living in China or a deep understanding of the Chinese culture, Jing-mei is unable to comprehend or translate Suyuan’s message although she knows the literal meaning of the words. As a result, the wall between them becomes thicker and thicker, and they end up feeling as if they “never really
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