University of Oregon
No, I Don't Speak Mandarin
What does culture mean to you?
“You know how in Chinese, the first character for swan…”
Stop right there. I do not know anything about the characters for swan. Turning to my classmate, I repeat the phrase for the hundredth time in my life: “See… I don’t speak Chinese.”
Starting when I was young, it’s always been a sore spot; I was the child of two Chinese immigrants, yet my vocabulary in Mandarin was limited to “Hello”, “Want” and “Refrigerator.” Worse, I felt like the only one with this deficiency; anytime I visited a Chinese friend’s house, I couldn’t understand many of the conversations, leaving me feeling awkward and clueless. Sure, our family celebrated Chinese New Year and the Moon Festival, but outside of that, I felt that the culture was at least a linguistic ocean away. I regretted that my parents had never taught me the language, feeling that I didn’t fully fit in as Chinese. So where did I fit in?
“No, I don’t speak Chinese,” yet it also felt like I’d missed some lessons on American culture. Cultural osmosis had given me a vague idea of what things were “supposed” to be like, but both my parents and I were clueless about the specifics; I still hadn’t found my place. It didn’t help that by the time I was ten, I’d moved twice, placing me in...
Join Now to View Premium Content
GradeSaver provides access to 1084 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 8445 literature essays, 2299 sample college application essays, 367 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.
Already a member? Log in