Projects RDD

Lost in translation – negotiation of language and identity among Chinese immigrants in Berlin

Jingyang Yu


Different from the platitude over how reluctant immigrants are to learn the local language and integrate into local society, recent studies have shown that nearly 50% of immigrants in Germany actually speak German at home (OECD 2015). This project speaks to this phenomenon, by conducting 12-months fieldwork among Chinese immigrants in Berlin and observing the crucial role of language learning in their everyday life.

Through analysis of the shared trajectory of immigration and the current living and working conditions among Chinese in Berlin, this research aims to understand two sets of tensions: 1) the tension between the anxiety among the first-generation to push their children to speak German at a young age, and their struggle later when they ask the same children to speak Chinese; 2) the tension between the reluctance and resistance among the second-generation to speak Chinese, and their frustration to come to terms with Chinese culture and to communicate with their own parents.

By examining the different roles of family, school and church, this research explores the formation of identity among second-generation Chinese immigrants and the dynamics of cross-generational communication within their community. Through the lens of German/Chinese language, this project invites further discussions over current debates of integration and assimilation.