Case Study on Being Bilingual in America The participant was my daughter, Amy. As soon as she arrived in Hawaii, USA, from Mainland China in July 1998, I began observing how she reacted to the new environment and how she adjusted to it. Over a five-month period (July-November, 1998) I kept a journal of what she did (about 35,000 words either in English or in Chinese), sometimes on the spot and sometimes upon recollection, and tape-recorded the conversations between us on three tapes. Amy was 12 when she came to Hawaii. She had finished fifth grade with a limited English vocabulary, which included pronouns, names of the seven days of a week, and the four seasons, etc. She had some idea of “be+noun/ adjective,” and the simple present and
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I thought it was a good way for her to practice English. One day I went to pick her up at school and spoke to her in Chinese while her classmates were around. She became angry with me and refused to say anything. Back at home, she said to me, “You told me not to speak Chinese at the supermarket, but why did you do so at my school? My classmates will laugh at me.” I was surprised. I didn’t expect that she interpreted my advice for being quiet as a signal of no Chinese. “I just wanted you to show courtesy to other customers by not talking too loudly. There is nothing wrong in being Chinese and speaking the Chinese language!” “Yes, there is!” she replied. “In class, whenever my teacher asks who gives this or that incorrect answer, the boy next to me always points at me and says ‘the Chinese girl,’ but it is not me!” Then she burst into tears. This time I was shocked. I hadn’t imagined that she would have experienced this at school.
I thought hard and consulted with my husband in Canada. Since at the time I was the only parent with Amy, my attitude toward our identity, our primary language, and our culture would shape, to a great extent, the ways she looked at them and the patterns of actions she took. I started by ringing the fact to her conscious awareness that there are different races of humankind just as there are different species of plants in the world, and that no particular race or language is inherently inferior or superior to the others. I