Overcoming the Language Barrier (China)

This photo depicts the most iconic building in Wuhan, where I came from. It is named the Yellow Crane Tower. creative commons image

Journey to the West—an infamous novel known by everyone in China—describes a story during the Tang dynasty, when a monk named “Xuanzang” and his companions heads towards the west—India. The monk seeks to bring the Buddhist culture and knowledge from the west to China. As their journey begins, the group faced immense amounts of obstacles and monsters, in which they eventually overcome and brought back the Buddhist Scriptures. I have always sought more knowledge and learning new things, and I thought that immigration would grant me a lot more than I would ever learn from China.

Ever since my childhood, I have always enjoyed science, and I also liked knowing more about other parts of the world. In China, however, it is hard to obtain either due to strict censorship and the lack of education about the subject of science in schools. I read lots of books about science and technologies that are from the west, but I never found those enough. I also enjoyed traveling, as knowing the culture from another entirely different place in the world never failed to amaze me. After I heard the information from my mom that we would be coming to the United States, I was extremely thrilled, even though I have to live separated from my dad and only be able to come here with my mom. However, I thought the benefits are much more than the drawbacks as I would have better education and would have known much more about the world than what I would have ever got in China. Although the plane trip to America is only 12 hours or so, the actual process of learning how to live there was significantly longer.

The lifestyle in America is entirely different than China. Life here is much more comfortable, and the overall pace is a lot slower. Instead of wandering around in large cities and being crowded in a subway, it is a lot more sparse and usually more comfortable to live in. Later, I have also managed to adapt the culture by overcoming the “Chinese way” of thinking and adapting Western thoughts and cultures. I learned to accept religion as a belief and also learned lots about social justice and awareness.

The process of learning an entirely different language was the toughest challenge among all others. The language barrier was a persistent challenge throughout the last several years as I lived in the United States, even until now. I barely understood any English words when I initially arrived, and I was terrified to even say simple greetings like “Hi” and “How is your day” to others because I wouldn’t be able to understand what they have replied to me. When I was first going to school, the lectures were challenging because I only knew around 500 words.  It was nearly impossible to understand anything except guessing what the teacher meant. Not only did I not know many English vocabularies, but I also didn’t know almost all of the grammar rules of English since there is generally no grammar in the Chinese language and I never learned much grammar in China either. It was tough to adapt to the new language you are speaking, and I would sometimes randomly pause to figure out what I am trying to say next.

In the first 3 to 6 months, I attempted to learn more words from watching TV shows in English without subtitles, and I tried every possible way to communicate with my teachers and seek for help, but there was almost no progress. I was very frustrated since there wasn’t much improvement despite the amount of effort I had to put in, and it felt like a bust, and it has exceeded the difficulty that I had initially expected. I didn’t give up, but instead, I proceeded with even more reading and learning about grammar. After 1 year, I have entirely been able to speak English, and I have got out of ELL class once in for all and joined the class where every native speaker was in. Despite receiving a bad grade in the first year with people in my class making fun of me not being able to complete most of the assignments, it is also the year that I have improved the most, and after that year, I felt much more comfortable speaking English than ever before.

Contrary to my initial belief, the life in America wasn’t all smooth sailing, as the language barrier is significantly harder to overcome than I have thought, and schools here weren’t as easy as I thought in China. However, all the challenges were worth it. I have learned an entirely new language, and I have also received significantly better education on not just science, but also lots of other subjects. I have also learned a lot about how politics work and different political system instead of only receiving limited knowledge due to censorships. Similar to the novel, even with the significant challenges I faced due to the immigration and adaptation process, it was worthwhile after all, and I have achieved what I wished.

Eric Tian, a student at Palo Alto High School wrote about his own recent immigration to the US.


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