The Benefits of Speaking Chinese
The Benefits for First Generation Immigrants
While Chinatown immigrants understand the benefits of speaking English, they rarely participate in the English language classes that are organized by communities and colleges. The reason is the benefits from speaking Chinese in the ethnic community. They live in Chinatown, where the ethnic neighborhood allows them to communicate in their native language. Chinese-language media have existed since the first Chinatown was established. In the contemporary Chinatowns, Chinese newspapers, television, radio, and online publications are the major institutions that impact life there. One of the most important benefits from locating inside ethnic networks is job market information. Mew immigrants especially can easily obtain helpful information about settling in the new society. They do not need to speak English in their daily life. Moreover, spending a long time to learn English and going to school regularly are a commitment that may seem daunting to some people, so they instead choose the status quo and stay in Chinatown and not speak English. According to Lazear’s (1997) essentially economic analysis, they can conduct all necessary social exchange without learning a new language. By remaining inside the ethnic community, immigrants can communicate in their native language and gain from trading without the cost of learning a new language; Learning English is a long-term investment of significant amounts of time. Thus, there is a conflict between their understanding the benefits of English and the immediate economic value of speaking Chinese. For new immigrants, finding a job quickly after immigrating reduces the amount of income lost due to the move. For those who have been living in Chinatown for a while, cutting work hours to invest in the uncertain future is risky. In addition to this cost-benefit perspective, the logistics of taking a class present a barrier.
The benefits for Second Generation Immigrants
Under the influence of monolingual ideology, many first generation parents hope their children speak standard English to ensure a future rich in opportunity, unlike that of their parents, which due to language is limited in job opportunities and residential choices. From a functional perspective, speaking Chinese can ensure their communication with their parents and ethnic group. If a second generation is literally fluent in both Chinese and English, this may enhance their cultural capital. However, this point remains unsure. In terms of language-as-identity, speaking Chinese is an important component to indicate who they are and where they are from. The benefits of speaking Chinese exist mainly in the family and ethnic community.
Based on my living in Chinatown, many second generation Chinese immigrants only speak vernacular Chinese. Throughout American bilingual education history, American society has delivered the message that bilingual (no matter Chinese-English, or Spanish-English) speakers do not have privilege in this society (Garcia 2005). As a result, to achieve their dream, their parents prefer their children to master English well in order to gain entry into the mainstream society; the second generations, based on the social reality, try to make English their primary language.
These are, briefly, the chief characteristics of the immigrants who live in the ethnic enclave areas. I will discuss the Chinese immigrants who bring human capital, speak fluent English and are residents in suburban area in another article.