One of our latest publications is Young Children as Intercultural Mediators by Zhiyan Guo. Here, Zhiyan tells us a bit more about how she came to write the book.
I am utterly delighted that my book is now published! Tremendous thanks to all Multilingual Matters staff who have been involved in the different stages of the process. The book, as well as the doctoral study it is based on, were inspired by my own experience of living in a different country and being culturally mediated by my daughter, who has been schooled in England since the age of 4. With her being an indispensable channel, I learned about British schooling, social interaction, family relations and much more. During the gap periods between my study and my book, I was still so constantly sparked by the mediating moments that I thought I must share the experience with the wider world. Without her mediation, my acculturation to the new country would not have been so meaningful and interesting, just like those parents being brokered by their children in my book.
In a chat with a colleague who had just moved from Canada to England, I was surprised to know that she unexpectedly experienced differences despite the two countries speaking the same language. In this fast-moving globalised world where migration from one place to another becomes more extensive, how do people coming from non-English and non-European background cope with the ‘bigger’ cultural differences? In the migrant community, how do families survive each day of their life? Do parents still hold an unquestionable authority over their children?
I addressed these questions using real-life examples of interactions in a family’s everyday living in this book, and I concluded on three levels of cultural mediation; assimilative, appropriative and accommodative. Examples of these levels are when the children persuaded their parents to give them pocket money, change the type of food served on dinner table and alter their birthday invitation-sending protocol. Unlike previous studies on children being translators and interpreters explicitly for their parents with inferior English proficiency, the book reveals the implicit/invisible cultural mediation by children to their parents whose English is good enough to work in the mainstream society. With the informal language learning as part of the continuum, I found that children provided immediate and vivid contexts to develop parents’ knowledge of the language and society, from correcting pronunciation to insisting on the appropriate manner to sign off a Christmas card. Even when this process did not involve any conceptual change, it still led to a quantitative accumulation of knowledge, happening spontaneously, ephemerally and frequently in everyday life.
I wanted the children’s voices to be heard as loudly as, if not more than, the adults’, for children themselves were not fully aware of their mediating roles. However, the parents’ authority and the conventional family hierarchy was shifted and challenged, which resulted in altered family power relationships and loosened parental control. In my family this was quickly noticed by my parents who came to visit us from China. I also explored whether child cultural mediation could be conceptualised as work, because, as intercultural communicators and cultural translators, children are positioned in the middle, creating links between the two cultures and making significant contributions to a family’s social and emotional well-being in the new country.