Learning Chinese to fix the language barrier that leaves parents and son near-strangers
He cradles a cup of water in his hands at the wide conference room table. He pours out words in bursts. “Back at home, I wasn’t very close with my family because they were always working,” he says. “Because of the language barrier and time, I’ve been loosely connected to them.”
At first mention of the language barrier, it doesn’t strike me what he’s actually saying. It’s an almost foreign concept: his having real trouble just talking with his parents. But it’s the heart of his story, a story about the isolating power of a lost mother tongue and an education spent retrieving it.
Daniel was born in Brooklyn to Chinese immigrant parents. When he was a toddler, his parents sent him to China to live with his grandparents as the young couple tried to settle into stable working conditions stateside. Neither his grandparents nor his parents spoke any English and — to this day — they still really don’t. So, by the time Daniel returned to the United States at age 4, he had been brought up with Shanghainese, a dialect spoken around Shanghai.