Conversations through Generations

A story about what it’s like to live with immigrant parents:

My Korean isn’t great. My parents say that it’s above average, which seems more telling about the average Korean-Americans Korean language ability than any competence on my part. One of the issues is the disparity between my Korean and my English is so vast. As my cousin put it, “Joel, when you speak English, you sound very articulate and sophisticated. When you speak Korean, you sound like a 12 year old.”

My parents’ grasp of English is solid. My dad was an actuary at Blue Cross; my mom is a pharmacist at a local hospital. They interact frequently with English-speaking customers and co-workers. Still, Korean is their native language, and I do make an effort to speak to them in Korean.

There were times when I would feel ashamed about my meager grasp on Korean. I felt that somehow, I had failed them as a son in not becoming fluent. I would think “If I only studied harder, I could have learned this better.” I equated my weak grasp of language with a failing in my moral character and diligence.

Fortunately, I no longer feel this way, but I know some still do. It can be difficult enough to talk with one’s parents. Imagine if talking with them becomes a subconscious rebuke, a reminder of “not trying hard enough, not working enough, not good enough.” It’s insidious. The gap between parents and children widen, and before long there is no longer any communication.

I didn’t let that happen. My parents didn’t let that happen. Don’t let that happen.

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