Children thrust into adult world when translating for parents



rafe arnott/metro vancouver


Lisa Chen, 12, works on her ESL homework at her bedroom desk yesterday evening. As the daughter of recent immigrants who don’t speak English, Chen is often part of adult affairs acting as a translator for her parents. Chen’s mom declined to be photographed.

By virtue of usually learning English faster than their parents, immigrant children are often part of adult affairs, acting as translators for mom and dad.

Lisa Chen, 12, moved to Vancouver from China two years ago with her parents.

"Sometimes when there’s an English phone call my mom just calls me," she said, adding that she also helps translate when shopping and running errands.

Chen said it’s sometimes scary or difficult to understand when adults speak fast.

Almost 40 per cent of school children in Vancouver speak a language other than English or French, according to a study released by Statistics Canada yesterday.

The 2006 Census: Immigration, Citizenship, Language, Mobility And Immigration study also found that 27,600 school-aged children in Vancouver were new to the district in the last five years, most coming from China, India, the Philippines, Taiwan and Korea.

Lee Gunderson, a languages professor at the University of British Columbia, said the school district is becoming more diverse, which means an adjustment is needed.

"The province has to begin to think about more funding for ESL students," he said. "Teachers don’t require ESL training to get a certificate. This has to change."

Gunderson said children learn faster when their specific needs are addressed throughout the school day, not just while in ESL class.

And to children like Chen, the extra help could make speaking to fast-talking adults a little less scary.

Vancouver’s children

  • Almost 40% of kids here speak language other than English.