#19 - Letting Go of My Childhood Stubbornness and Improving My Chinese

I was born in Hawaii and moved to California when I was four years old.

My mom and dad have always spoken Chinese to me. They wanted me to learn the language and to stay connected with my family's heritage. But everyone else in my life spoke English to me.

I desperately wanted to fit in, so I shunned my mother tongue and refused to go to Saturday Chinese school.

At home, I spoke with a mash-up of languages. Anytime I didn't know a word or phrase in Chinese, I'd use English. My Chinese vocabulary and pronunciation didn't improve until I started taking college classes.

As a result, my parents and I have always had a language barrier. It prevented me from understanding them and expressing myself fully.

Since embarking on this journey to rebuild my relationship with my parents, I've discovered just how important it is to work through our language barrier.

Improving my Chinese has become a way of connecting meaningfully with my parents. If I don't understand or know how to say a word or phrase, I can always ask them in conversation to practice.

I am working towards talking to them more fluently and deeply understanding their stories & perspectives.

A teacher said, "I always tell my students that when you speak to someone in their mother-tongue, you are saying 'I love you.' All the more so if there are language/cultural/generational barriers within a family."

I had to let go of my childhood stubbornness and choose to say "I love you" more to the two most important people in my life.

Joseph J. Lam
On a mission to help people connect deeply with their parents. | CEO & Co-founder of Parents Are Human (parentsarehuman.com)