Language problems facing Chinese migrants in Canada


Learning a new language is usually a nerve-cracking process. It has been described as “one step forward, two steps back” (Cross Cultural Adaptation 2). Some of the most prominent problems encountered by Chinese migrants in Canada are: language barriers; academic performance; and social change. This paper will dwell on these aspects.

Language Barrier

Language ability is a critical transformational process. Language barrier can create a lot of problems to an individual who migrate to a foreign country. For example, a Chinese migrant felt completely lost, inept and dysfunctional when he moved to Canada. He lost his voice, thinking skills and ideas because he was unable to speak English.

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He was unable to buy food at McDonald’s because of language barrier. He felt saddened and detached from the outside world. He feared meeting other people because they viewed him as someone incapable of doing anything (Cross Cultural Adaptation 3).

The English language curriculum used in Taiwan and mainland China gives credence to reading and writing over speaking and listening. As a result, most students migrate to Canada with excellent reading and writing abilities. However, they soon discover that such brilliant English skills are not adequate to enable them communicate and study in Canada.

According to Christina Lok, Hong Kong migrants are more skilled in English language than their Chinese counterparts (18). However, both Chinese and Hong Kong migrants encounter persistent problems when communicating in English. These problems arise because the English as Second Language (ESL) courses offered at home teach them elementary English.

For example, Chinese and Hong Kong migrants who seek professional employment in Canada attend ESL courses up to level five. However, one requires a minimum of level eight to be able to communicate effectively in the Canadian business world. Thus, once they move into Canada, these migrants are forced by circumstances to enroll for ESL class to attain the requisite level, which in most cases turns into a never-ending venture (Lok 19).

Academic Performance

Majority of Chinese and Hong Kong students have a difficult time studying in Canada because both of the differences in learning styles between Canada and Asia countries.

Take the APA citation style as an example; most migrant students from Hong Kong and China were totally puzzled when they heard it for the first time in class. Since these students are unable to communicate effectively in English language, they cannot participate fully in classroom activities. As a result, they feel depressed when they are required to take part in group activities, make oral speech or merely pose a question (Cross Cultural Adaptation 3).

Socio-cultural adaptation problems

Communication is considered as the pillar of adaptation process. However, Chinese and Hong Kong migrants usually lack language (English skills) to converse with local and other foreign academicians and students from different parts of the world. They rarely engage in social forums because of poor language abilities. In addition, the huge gap between the Asian and Canadian culture compels them to socialize with their fellow Chinese students.

As a result, they find it hard to adjust in to the Canadian society. Since they are alienated from family members and friends, isolation and despair produce significant adverse effects on their social lives and academic performances. As a matter of fact, there is a direct relation between psychological and socio-cultural adjustments. Therefore, self-construal, communication abilities and language skills are vital elements need by Chinese and Hong Kong students to achieve cross-cultural adjustment in Canada (Cross Cultural Adaptation 6).

A culture is developed when individuals reside together and influence actions of each other. A culture is made up of beliefs, values, patterns of thinking, aesthetic principles and how people use their language skills to communicate in a society. Thus when Chinese students migrate to Canada, they encounter a foreign culture with dissimilar values and beliefs which create confusion. Consequently, they experience cultural shock.

Cultural shock can be described as a type of isolation as a result of personal inflexibility, inadequate prior knowledge and lack of knowledge. The Chinese and Hong Kong cultures are based in Confucianism whose morals and tenets are significantly different from the Western culture. Consequently, majority of Chine and Hong Kong students in Canada experience cultural shock that emerges from role shock, language shock and education shock (Cross Cultural Adaptation 8).

Phonetic Relations between English and Chinese

One of the main basic differences between Chinese and English is tonal use. While Chinese is mainly a tonal language, English is not. In most tonal languages, phonemes are adjusted via tonal inflection alterations to give new meaning. Chinese uses five tones. Four are pitched while the fifth is a neutral tone. The first one is high and balanced; the second tone is begins in the middle and ascends progressively.

The third tone begins low, plunge to the lowest level, and ascends almost to the top. The forth tone begins at the summit and declines swiftly to the bottom. The fifth tone is flat with no stress. For instance, the phoneme Yi can be used in several ways to mean physician in the first tone; to move in the second tone; already in the third tone; and strange in the fourth tone (English 5).

Since inflections in Chinese language convey different meanings, speakers do not articulate their characters and regional idioms in the unsystematic and humorous way that English speakers do. Another major difference between these two languages is that Chinese use a logographic writing system-where a single character represents word-while English use alphabets.

Chinese language has over 46, 000 symbols. However, Chinese speakers use about 4000 characters in their daily conversation. On the other hand, English speakers only use 26 letters (symbols) to communicate. Thus, Chinese students usually find it tricky to learn English as a second language (English 6).

In English language, verb tense is managed by an intricate system of verb auxiliaries and inflections. For example, the phrase to be and its entire varieties (is/are and was/were) and the notions of perfect and progressive tenses are concepts usually assumed by people who speak English as their first language. On the other hand, Chinese speakers are incapable of handling the idea of time via verb structures.

Therefore, Chinese migrants in Canada usually encounter enormous challenges while they attempt to learn the complexities of the verb system used in English. Moreover, while articles are prominently used in English, Chinese language does not use them. Articles are crucial in English language because they are used to give meaning to sentences. As a result, most Chinese speakers who have gained proficiency in other areas of English language still find it extremely hard to use articles when communicating in English.

Works cited

Cross Cultural Adaptation. A Literature Study of Cross-cultural Adaptation in North America: Chinese Students’ Difficulties and Strategies. N.d. Web. August 10, 2011. <>

English. English as a Second Language to Chinese. N.d. Web. August 10, 2011.

Lok, Christina. How Do Skilled Chinese Immigrants in Canada View Adult Education? Athabasca University: Athabasca, 2007.


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