Children as Language and Cultural Brokers in Asian American Families (page 2)
For many Asian immigrants, their arrival in the United States gives them hopes for a new beginning and a brighter future. As much as some Asian immigrants want to thrive quickly in the host country, they can face many challenges. For those with limited English proficiency, simply communicating in and understanding the new language and culture may be the greatest challenge.
Life in the United States may require Asian immigrants to have interactions with others who do not speak or write their heritage languages. These situations can occur while:
- Applying for legal documents or government assistance.
- Registering children to attend school.
- Obtaining health insurance and receiving health care.
- Seeking employment.
- Trying to read letters and documents sent in English.
The Need For Children To Become Language And Cultural Brokers
Bridging Old And New Cultures
Characteristics Of Child Language Brokers
- They have acquired some knowledge of the English language and the U.S. culture.
- They have familiarity with their heritage language and culture.
Prevalence Of Child Language Brokers
- Many children of Asian immigrants begin performing brokering tasks within three years of arrival in the U.S.
- Some begin performing language brokering tasks in the early grade school years.
- Studies of high school students from Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean backgrounds have found that around 70% -90% took on the role as language brokers4,5,6.
Where Language Brokering Occurs
- Child language brokers primarily broker tasks for their parents, siblings, relatives, and friends.
- One study reported that 80% of participants brokered at home and 65% brokered at school3.
- Child language brokers frequently fill out school forms, write notes, and translate school letters and notices for their parents. Many facilitate communication among parents, teachers, and school staff.
- Some of the most frequent language brokering tasks include translating for parents, answering the phone or door, and scheduling or accompanying parents on appointments.6
- Language brokering also occurs at government offices, hospitals, banks, grocery stores, restaurants, post offices, and on the street.
The Process Of Language Brokering
Benefits of Child Language Brokering
- Some also feel pride in being language brokers.4
- In a 1995 study, most participants enjoyed and benefited from language brokering.3 Brokering gave them opportunities to learn, to become more independent, and to broaden their knowledge of both their heritage and host cultures.
- Many participants reported that language brokering enhanced their cognitive skills, increased their comprehension of adult-level texts, helped them gain the trust of their parents, and helped them become more bicultural.3
- As a result of performing language brokering tasks for their parents, many child language brokers also reported that language brokering provided them the opportunities to learn about and become more aware of their parents' life experiences in the host country.3
Disadvantages Of Child Language Brokering
- Many of the children often had to assume responsibilities on behalf of their parents that affected the welfare and safety of the whole family. For instance, participants reported that they had to translate and interpret legal letters, accompany their parents to doctors' offices to interpret medical information, and interact with authority figures.
- Taking on such a responsibility may put child language brokers in states of fear and uncertainty.2 In circumstances where child language brokers have limited knowledge to deal with complex adult matters, they can find themselves experiencing high levels of stress.
- In traditional Asian families, parents wield great authority and power, and children are expected to defer to their parents. Role reversal may occur when children language broker for their parents. Children's language brokering may undermine the traditional power relationship between parents and children in Asian families.
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