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

Jingyang Yu

- completed -

Contrary to platitudes about how reluctant immigrants are to learn the local language and integrate into local society, recent studies have shown that nearly fifty percent of foreign-language immigrants in Germany actually speak German at home (OECD 2015). This project examines this phenomenon by conducting twelve months of fieldwork among Chinese immigrants in Berlin and observing the crucial role of language learning in their everyday lives.

Through an analysis of the shared trajectory of immigration and the current living and working conditions of 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; and 2) the tension between the reluctance and resistance of the second generation to speak Chinese, and their frustrations in coming to terms with Chinese culture and in communicating with their own parents.

By examining the different roles of the 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 lenses of the German and Chinese languages, this project invites further discussion of current debates on integration and assimilation.

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