Language Challenges in Getting Married

One practical problem to speaking Chinese at home when I have my own family and household, whether I eventually go into an “interracial marriage” or not: family devotions.

I would love to speak Chinese at home and speak no English. No major problems there. The thing is, I can’t read. More specifically, I can’t read enough Chinese, and I also don’t want English alone to become associated with God and with the high intellectual pursuits, or I will have managed to convince whatever the number of children God gives that God really is a white man’s god. The fact is, I ain’t an immigrant from Asia. These are real questions to consider.

The troubles of assimilation

I really don’t want to paint such an inaccurate picture, and being “white” in the most explicitly Christian sphere of life, that is, our hearing from and communication with God, would put me into such a dangerous position. If so, it would seem sheer hypocrisy to talk about God being the God who loves all people of every ethnicity and works to redeem every culture. Furthermore, it’s obvious to any young child that Chinese mom and pop look different from the white people they see elsewhere.

For my kids to become more assimilated to “average American” culture isn’t in itself a horrible, horrible things in my eyes, but it certainly holds a host of issues that I don’t know how to take on: how will it affect how I proclaim Christ to a family in my charge if, God willing, I start one to God’s glory? It seems to be such an old problem. It seems to be something many people must have dealt with before. Yet for some reason it seems to be something so acutely limited to my own life at this degree that I find myself unable to just rely on the assumption that somehow the reality that generations of immigrants do assimilate more and more makes everything fine and dandy, albeit difficult at times.

Sometimes I suggest in jest to some of my friends that around my family, after I get married, I’ll speak English only with an Indian accent. Maybe there’s a reason I think of such totally odd things. It’s a hard change, and let’s not even think about the language of instruction for the option of homeschooling. It’s something I’m sure I’ll struggle with as marriage actually becomes a thing of the near future rather than a hope for the indeterminate future.

Is there resolution?

What do I do? I suppose one way would be to prepare in advance the Chinese as well as the scriptural truths. One more reason to get better at Chinese. How else? Use a third language. French, maybe? The Latin Vulgate? No way looks simple, and every way will take a lot of work.

And what if I marry someone who neither speaks nor understands Chinese? The default way seems to be just becoming white in a very bland, suburban way and suppressing many aspects of the other cultures, all the while asserting one’s own Asianness. This, to me, will not do. Something needs to be done to make a household more emphatically Christ-honouring than melting-pot American. Neither will throwing in food and clothing and superficial things do anything substantive, since a culture is so much more. Too complex. I simply have no idea how the cultures would interact.

So I come back with no answer. What are your thoughts?

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8 responses to “Language Challenges in Getting Married

  1. My thoughts? Get a girlfriend first. XP

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  2. I’m talking about the principles that aren’t specific to particular people that would play into what’s morally right and wrong. For most of these possibilities, the person isn’t a huge determining factor. Furthermore, if some ways are inherently inferior no matter who the spouse is, it doesn’t always take a “girlfriend” to discover that truth, which frees up the future experience for deeper rather than more superficial learning.

    I don’t believe everything can come from a priori reason, but I also believe, based on the view also held by John Calvin that all knowledge is ultimately of God and of self, that first I need to think about what God thinks and place myself into that way before I can be in a position to know more later on. By this, some things can be known by observing others and their experience, if it’s experience you’re after.

    Another problem with the adage to “get a girl first” is that this issue could very well itself be a selectional factor, in which case such a directive would not make sense. Even if not, much of this is more about culture-clash experience than the dynamics of married life per se, which I also need not mention isn’t revealed by a “relationship” anyway.

    There’s a reason I don’t defer all questions to the time when I have a specific person to talk about but do defer many. Obviously I don’t think about whether chocolate or something else is better: that much really is vastly more dependent on the individual person than on transcendent truths. Some truth, though, is not dependent on the dictates of an existentialist worldview.

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  3. OK, so I got bitten in the butt for that one. My point is, I think you are nitpicking a little. I grew up reading and studying and discussing the Bible in English, and I don’t think God is a white man’s God. Why do you assume your kids would take it that way? Then teach them, in whatever language you please, that God is not a white man’s God! I don’t understand why you think English is worse than any other language. If you teach your kids the Bible in French or Latin Vulage, so what? What do you expect will be better with this method? “Something needs to be done to make a household more emphatically Christ-honouring than melting-pot American.” What, can melting-pot American not be Christ-honoring? Why contrast it that way?

    Actually, if you teach your kids the Bible in French or Latin Vulgate, that would make it even MORE “white man’s God”-ish. Latin Vulgate, especially, would make it not only white man’s God, it’d make it SNOBBY white man’s God.

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  4. Ah, ok, so your real point wasn’t to “get a girlfriend first”. 😆 Then say so! Hehe.

    Ok, so I guess my impression of English is the Western language that ignorant Americans expect everyone will just learn for its usefulness, by which they mean adjustment to a world that superimposes the Anglosphere on you whether you’d like it or not.

    Still, I’m not against Western culture at all. French and Latin are the ones that I think I can do. For Latin I was thinking the advantage would be fast and early access to the Latin church fathers. Obviously I’d prefer them to be able to study the Bible in its original Greek and Hebrew instead, but my Greek isn’t good enough.

    I take issue with the notion of Latin being inherently snobby. Luther, who spoke against preaching being in Latin, did so because he wanted people of all ages to understand, but he recognized equally that schoolchildren, both boys and girls, should be educated to know Greek, Hebrew and Latin.

    Now of course Latin and French are just as Western as English is, but it does so happen that I live in America in particular, which means it’s in an Anglo culture in which I’m immersed, against which all Asian immigrants swim in trying to transmit the things that American culture – not necessarily Western culture – is missing.

    Everything of particular value that I see in English-speaking culture, all that cannot be supplied by, say, Chinese culture, is not in the pop culture but in the folk and high cultures. As for vigour, who will deny that Cantonese is vigorous as a spoken language? My struggle, therefore, is with American pop culture, to teach only what is of use in it and to have the rest not as a part of education that becomes part of the child but as a tool only.

    Because of this, it’s with English, not with French and Latin, that children will have to contend for their identity. As for mother tongue/heart language issues, Chinese may well be truly the only way, which would mean I’d just have to improve my Chinese.

    »“Something needs to be done to make a household more emphatically Christ-honouring than melting-pot American.” What, can melting-pot American not be Christ-honoring? Why contrast it that way?«

    I was talking about how deeply each is part of the household’s identity. When the two become confused for each other, we get lots and lots of theological weirdness. Moreover, as an Asian American I feel more of a need not to let God’s glorious truths of unity in Him be replaced with the “multicultural” blandness that America so celebrates and have it pass for the real thing.

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  5. I think I got a little lost in the middle of your essay, but here goes.

    My point was to get a girlfriend first. Since I think you’re nitpicking, getting a girlfriend is above all this nitpicking.

    So you’re judging a language by how Americans use it and expect others to learn it? I have never heard anything more absurd (or well, I have, and all from you). How about English-speaking American farmers in the Midwest who couldn’t care less about making other people learn English? How about British people who speak English? How about Ferrari??

    I think you need to separate in your mind the concepts of the English language vs. American pop culture. I am probably the most ignorant moron ever when it comes to any pop culture, and I pride myself on pretty decent English, thank you very much.

    I don’t understand why you think God’s glorious truths are in danger of being replaced by melting pot-ness as an Asian American. You’re the one who’s chucking different issues into the same spot, stirring them altogether, and creating a bunch of goo.

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  6. I gotta go soon, but for now:

    Getting a girlfriend isn’t above any of this, because it has nothing to do with answering or invalidating the issue. Don’t try to cover everything with the same slogan, or you’ll sound like propaganda to me. You know what I think of propaganda.

    I’m not talking about ordinary Midwesterners or Southerners but about some of the bad effects of globalization, and I don’t actually have anything against English being spoken. It’s just too overwhelming to deal with all the time. Too much, too much.

    I’m saying nothing about mastering English. Of course I want them to speak and write good English.

    Uh, quite a lot of people confuse God with America, unfortunately. You’d be surprised how extensive it is.

    And let’s insinuate less unsavoury material, both of us.

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  7. I never said that getting a girlfriend answers or invalidates these issues. My point – and everyone else’s, when they chant this at you – is that if you don’t get a girlfriend, you won’t even need to – nay, get the chance to – decide these things. If you have no girlfriend, you have no wife (okay, so shoot me on that one because your parents worked out without the girlfriend stage), and if you have no wife, you have no family. You yourself are not in danger of thinking God to be a white man’s God, so you could do your devos in any language your heart desires, including English, without falling. In which case, this entire discussion would be irrelevant. That is why I say it.

    Then define your terms. Don’t just say “Americans.” There are plenty of Americans who aren’t into globalization. I pushed you to the extreme so you can clarify what you’re really against, and not just tack on labels.

    Fair enough. There again, know thy enemy. What are you really against? Not melting pot-ness. You are against confusion of God with America. They are two entirely separate things. I don’t think anyone should need to hold “melting pot-ness as an Asian American” at arm’s length as if it’s the devil.

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  8. If you want me to get married, I think you’d do better to put more effort into helping me become a godlier person than to urge me to do what I know comes at some point on the string of causation.

    But now I see what you were getting at. The thing is, while you believe I’m not in danger of the pitfalls I mention, I believe the way that came about for me was from a pretty delicate balance, and I’m afraid to upset that balance for those who come after me. I totally wouldn’t even be thinking about this if I were white and assimilated. It wouldn’t be a noteworthy issue at all.

    I just think it’s important for people who actually are from a strongly Chinese background not to treat it as something more to the side than the idea of “America” is. I myself have constantly had to check whether I actually been taking advantage of the origins God’s given me or if I’ve been going the lazy way.

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