Writing 2nd-Gen Immigrants 101: Languages

        As I’m writing this, I’m actually in China which is my parent’s home country. (Would you want to see a recap on that later?) I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, but have decided to for once and for all actually write it. 😛 I am a 2nd-Gen immigrant, though I’m not really bilingual but my parents are. 

       Accurate rep in literature is something that we all need. However, a lot of the time it’s just rep minus the accurate part. Now, first off, I would like to say that I am by no means an expert in writing good rep. But I, personally, find it helpful when people post things that help with rep. This is especially true when they are part of that group themselves.

         So, this is just a disclaimer that I am no professional in writing or in doing good rep. Since that’s cleared up, let’s move onto the post!

  Blank 10 x 8 in (1)

Writing 2nd-Gen Immigrants: Languages

          First off, what even is a 2nd-Gen Immigrant? Well, let’s take a random character – we’ll call her Juliet – and say that her parents were born and raised in France. After they immigrated to America, they would be considered 1st-Gen Immigrants. This would be because they are the first generation to immigrate to America from France.

           Since Juliet is the second generation, she would be a 2nd-Gen immigrant. See it now? Right now, this is a trope that is used, for the most part, those cute ‘lil contemps.

white ceramic teacup with saucer near two books above gray floral textile
Photo by Thought Catalog on Pexels.com


        I, personally, only know conversational Chinese. I would certainly not be comfortable carrying on a full on conversation, though. Knowing quite a few others in the 2nd-Gen community, here’s what I’ve observed in terms of their parents’ native language. 

      It is rare for a 2nd-gen to be speak their parents’ native language fluently. Take Juliet, for example. Would she be able to speak French at the rate of no man’s business? It’s unlikely.

        We will, however, be perfectly familiar with a few phrases that are often used around the house. For example, take the phrase “Aiya” in Chinese. I’m not even sure to what it translates literally, but it’s normally used in cases of exasperation, irritation, and stuff like that.

         I use that phrase all the time. Why? Because I’ve grown up with it frequently. Even though I’m not fluent in Chinese, I still say it as easily as “Oh my goodness” or something like that. It rolls off the tongue as smoothly as the English phrases which I have always known all my life.

book book pages bookcase browse
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


        I don’t speak Chinese to my parents, though. I speak English to them, and they speak dominantly English with a few Chinese phrases thrown in. However, this varies with each family. But, most families that I know have a similar experience to me. Here’s something that will happen often (I’ll use Juliet again):

Parent: Juliet!

Juliet: What is it?

Parent: speaks French, often with a tidbit of English

Juliet: also reverts to French, but more often than not, with a few English substitutes

black ball point pen with brown spiral notebook
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

       I personally have not had that experience. I never speak full-out Chinese unless in China, but a few people I know do have that experience.

        Another thing to address is parents speaking their native language. Here’s one thing that’s  interesting to note:  It is not common for parents to speak in their native language WITHOUT any English in it. 

        Even in the examples of the parents which speak dominantly their native language, some English will still be thrown in! Most often, the English will be the following:

a) Phrases that they always speak in English, never their native language. (Mostly things said around the workplace)

b) Conjunctions and adverbs.

c) Words that they simply don’t know their language to anymore.

green leaves on top of open book near paint brush and green snake plant on pot
Photo by Alina Vilchenko on Pexels.com

        As I said before, though, each family is different! Some might speak in all their native language – just in the experiences that I and people that I have known like me have had, it is not common.

        Something to note is that when parents speak in English when substituting for a Chinese word/phrase, it’s very seamless. There’s no awkward gap where they struggle to remember – it’s perfectly normal for them to just use the English word/phrase.

         This does, however, create confusion for both those who only speak the parents’ native language and those who only speak English. Often, my parents would use a Chinese/English combo with my Caucasian friends, only to realize that they don’t understand the bits of Chinese that they have snuck in.

photo of cat standing on top of a book
Photo by Klaudia Ekert on Pexels.com

      Example Conversation:

Juliet: Hey, Dad – this is my friend, Jill.

Dad: mind is somewhat otherwise preoccupied Hi, Jill. How are you? then speaks in French/English, while still addressing Jill

Jill: is confused has decided that Juliet’s dad is no longer speaking to her

        Yup. It happens all the time.

        But listen! It doesn’t happen vice versa. Again, speaking for myself and for the other 2nd-Gen people that I know, parents will not speak English with a bit of a Chinse thrown in. (Some 2nd-Gen friends and I call this “Chinglish”.

      For example, these two conversations would both be inaccurate.


Dad: Can you get me a *French word for screwdriver*?

Juliet: Okay.



Dad: Can you get me a French word for screwdriver?

Juliet: Huh?

Dad: Oh, sorry. A screwdriver.

book on a white wooden table
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

         Both those would be wrong.

         Sneaking their native language into English does not happen seamlessly. This is actually something that most literature has gotten right – so good job, people. Something like this is more realistic:

Dad: Can you get me a sewdiver?

Juliet: A what now.

Dad: You know…begins speaking in French describing the screwdriver

Juliet: Oh, a screwdriver!

        So, there you have it – writing 2nd-Gen immigrant parents.

Photo by Adrienne Andersen on Pexels.com


        This section will be pretty short, as siblings/friends almost never use their parents’ native language around each other. Even in the examples with the more native-language oriented families, for siblings/friends to speak to one another in that tnogue? It’s rare. 

       We will still use the fun phrases, though. “Aiya”, again, is one. 😉 But however, our conversations will remain very English.

Blank 10 x 8 in (1)

         Well, I hope that this post was helpful to you and not too mind-boggling. 😉 If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know down in the comments below. Also, I would like to announce that I am reviving the schedule.

          Remember when I said that I was tearing the schedule apart? Well, I now give it my most humble apologies as well as duct tape. Because who would have guessed? It turns out that I do work better with a schedule after all. 

            I will now be posting every Tuesday and Thursday. As before, though, this might vary throughout the summer. But hey – we’re all human. 😛

           What generation are you? Which part of this post did you find the most helpful? Do you want to see a part 2 on culture, relatives etc. etc.? 

Blank 4 x 2 in (3)








23 thoughts on “Writing 2nd-Gen Immigrants 101: Languages

  1. This was so interesting! It’s super neat that your parents are bilingual and you are… quartilingual?? :’D It’s funny because when my granddaddy was a boy, he didn’t know ANY English; just Pennsylvania Dutch. I grew up hearing occasional Pennsylvania Dutch words used in normal conversation, such as “hommies” for “calves.” I didn’t realize for the longest time why that happened. XD But my Dad doesn’t know any more Pennsylvania Dutch than I do, I don’t think.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hiya Enni! I’ve seen your blog around and now that I’m finally here, it’s amazing! I’m also a 2nd Gen Immigrant (my parents are Indian) and I COMPLETELY relate to everything you’re saying! My parents actually speak 60/40 Tamil to English to me but I speak predominately English with a sprinkle of Tamil for words like food, spices, and other stuff 😀
    I hope you check out my blog and enjoy it as well! I really loved this post!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow, this was really interesting! I would LOVE to read a recap of your time in China. My ten-year-old sister is very interested in China (has read lots of books set there or in the US with immigrant families and has attempted to learn a few words) and I wouldn’t be surprised if she went there someday. 🙂

    I often wonder what it was like for my ancestors from Germany immigrating to the United States. My parents are a mix of English, Scottish, and German, but the majority of our ancestry is German. I love learning about the past and tracing our family tree way, way back. Ancestry.com is very helpful for that! 😀

    Sorry for the bunny-trail of thought. Please do a post on your time in China! I would love to read it. nods vigorously 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was so interesting! I’ve seen a lot of this first-hand, as two of my best friends are 2nd gen immigrants from Russia. Funny story actually, one time their moms were speaking in Russian to each other, and the conversation went like this:
    “Russian, Russian, Russian, bouncy house?”
    It still cracks me up every time I remember it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. True! While I’m not a 2nd-gen immigrant, I am bilingual in French, because that’s my mom’s first language, and she’ll sometimes throw French words in, but me and my siblings don’t. We sometimes speak French with her, but not a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “oH sOrRy iT’s hARd tO sWiTcH bAcK soMeTimES”

    like i swear if i see that in fiction one more time i’m going to actually start my world domination plan

    i’m semi bilingual and i can attest that we never use hebrew unless we just kinda feel like it or there’s something undescribable in english that we need, ie: ayyyy where is my tanach bruh i can’t find it i’m so heckin bamboozled OH HERE IT IS BARUCH HASHEM

    not: brother where is my hebrew bible
    not: achi ayfo hatanach sheli

    just: bruh where is my tanach


    Liked by 3 people

    1. That one drives me crazy because it literally never happens in real life. I have never heard one SINGLE person say that before.

      Also, that was hysterical and I would 100% read the heck out of that.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. The funniest thing about this is that I have never learnt a single word of Chinese but I feel you on words you just use even though you mostly speak English. XD This post needs more people reading its wonderfullness. AND YESS FILL US IN ON CHINA AND HAVE FUN 😀

    Liked by 3 people

Fly Away on Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s