By Yang Guowei (pseudonym)
Toronto; the largest city in Canada. With a total population of almost 3 million, 10.8% of all Torontonians were of Chinese descent as of 2011. But despite having Chinese ancestry, many Chinese-Canadians are vastly different from their peers who have grown up in China.
I currently attend a Toronto high school. Of my classmates, over 90% of them are of Chinese descent, and the overwhelming majority of them are second-generation Chinese Canadians (2GCC), either born in Canada or immigrated at a very young age. However, most can only speak rudimentary Chinese, with only a small number capable of communicating fluently with native Chinese speakers.
The lack of Chinese skills in 2GCCs can be attributed to the environment that they grew up in. In Canada, the official languages are English and French, with French being limited to Quebec for day-to-day use. As Chairman Mao once said: “all genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.” With English being the go-to language for daily use in most of Canada, the only opportunities 2GCCs really have to speak Chinese are with their parents – which, with the advent of modern electronics, are likely to become fewer and shorter.
The language barrier, along with the environment they grew up in, all contribute to 2GCC’s lack of cultural knowledge – myself included. Often, the only knowledge they have of Chinese culture is through TDSB programs intended to promote cultural awareness in all students, and through their parents when they celebrate major festivals, such as the Spring Festival, together.
The lack of Chinese skills is exacerbated by the lack of resources with which one can use to improve their Chinese. For example, in 2014, the TDSB voted to cut ties with China’s Confucius Institute over alleged “human rights abuses”. Had the Chinese-sponsored deal put into action, the TDSB would have received Chinese teachers and supplies, largely as enrichment resources for after-school Mandarin classes. A search for Mandarin courses in the TDSB yields only two results – one at A.Y. Jackson Secondary School, and another at Agincourt Junior Public School.
Not only does the TDSB lack proper Mandarin facilities, however. Many websites pertaining to Chinese educational courses in Toronto are either outdated or broken. While the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, standardised Chinese skill test) website is functional, as of February 04, 2018, the “Practice” section is down, meaning that prospective test-takers, apart from signing up for paid Chinese-language courses, would have a tough time taking the tests.
Finally, the degree of “Westernisation” of 2GCCs can be seen in their interaction with Chinese exchange students. In recent years, there has been an influx of Chinese high schoolers into North America (and other parts of the world). Based upon my personal observations, these international students tend to group together, often communicating solely with other international students. 2GCCs, on the other hand, have almost zero voluntary interaction with them, instead preferring to stick with people raised in an English-language environment from a very young age. While a certain degree of alienation is to be expected, the fact remains that international students are overwhelmingly isolated from the general school populace – not only due to the cultural differences, but also because they simply don’t have the Chinese facility to communicate with them in an unobstructed manner.