Language Barriers

Learning a Language

By Misha Rekhter

The majority of CHS students will never experience the problematic nature of moving to a foreign country without speaking the native tongue. Today, English is spoken almost universally, which is wonderful for English speakers and alarming for those who don’t. My parents confronted this issue head on when they immigrated to America from the shattered remains of the Soviet Union over 20 years ago.

My dad had a stronger grasp of English than most and already had a job in place before coming here. With time, he has developed a strong understanding of English, but he will never escape his accent, and Russian will always be his strongest language. It’s disheartening to recognize how he is consistently misinterpreted and wrongly judged because of his accent. In his time in America, my dad’s fluency of the English language has grown significantly and is now better than the majority of native-speaking Americans, yet people continue to look down on his English-speaking abilities because of a measly accent.

On the other hand, my mom came to America with no job and without any real knowledge of the English language. She struggled upon arriving to America, and it took years for her to learn English. Similar to my dad, Russian is still her preferred language and she is consistently at a disadvantage due to her accent. Her inability to speak the language delayed her professional career and crippled her social life for a couple of years. Unable to speak English well, it wasn’t just hard to make friends—it was impossible.

The majority of immigrants and their families have similar struggles. This is not to say that immigrants are ungrateful for the opportunities America has proved for them, but rather that America is not an easy place to thrive. An accent should not be a negative, but merely a trait.

CHS students should not view immigrants as lesser Americans, but as unique in a good way. All CHS students can recognize that learning a second or third language is difficult and frustrating. It is essential to understand people are a byproduct of their actions, and as Americans should be judged without bias. CHS must understand an accent doesn’t define a person.

Losing a Language

By Riya Chinni

Out of the 22 languages in India, Hindi is the predominant one. Mumbai, the bustling city on the Western coast where my family resides, is almost full of only Hindi speakers, but there’s one problem—I don’t speak it. I haven’t receive as much exposure to Hindi being part of the second generation in the United States. My mother and I usually visit Mumbai for a month every few summers, and while I enjoy spending time with my family and reconnecting to my heritage, not being able to speak to locals or even some of my family can be incredibly disheartening.

There have been many instances where I’ve been out with family or friends in India and have experienced the same situation repeatedly: someone asks me a question, I attempt to comprehend what the person is saying for a few seconds, eventually give up and helplessly turn to the people around me.

These are the moments where I feel caught between two worlds, not entirely American but not really Indian either. Being from the United States, I’m already seen as “uncultured” to some of my family members, and their disappointment definitely comes across when they have to speak to me in broken English or get my mother to serve as a translator.

Not being able to talk to family members is the worst part of not being able to speak my family’s native language because I’m missing out on opportunities to bond with and get to know them simply because of the language barrier. Spending time with family is the reason why visit I the motherland, but not being able to communicate once there is a major obstacle.

Although language issues are discouraging, I’m trying to lessen this issue by talking to my mother more in Hindi and increasing communication with my family members in the hopes that I’ll learn the language little by little and can eventually overcome this obstacle. Not being able to speak my native language, while difficult at times, only inspires me to seek out opportunities to try to learn it and discover more about my heritage along the way.

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