“你会说英文吗?” and Other Obstacles When Adopting From China

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Guan Ya and her new family using Google translate

Everyday I find myself referring to the greatest source of information provided by the glorious invention of the internet: Google.  Whether it is for homework, a general inquiry, or looking up the weather, I rely on this specific search engine for the variety of information it holds at the tip of my fingers.  Adoptive parents of Chinese children have also found Google to be incredibly useful; primarily the usefulness of Google translate.  It provides English translations of adoption papers and correspondences written in Chinese for American parents.  This week I found an article entitled
Online Translation Tools Bring Chinese Adoptee, Mississippi Family Together from the Associated Press written April 6, 2013.  This article talked about the trouble adoptive parents have not knowing how to speak Chinese.  When the adoption process is ongoing, there is usually a translator from the adoption center or the adoption agency in China who is proficient in English to help the parents.  However when the adoption process ends and the family brings the child home, how does the new family communicate?

In the case of the Smith family and their 14-year-old adoptive daughter Guan Ya, they utilized Google.com/translate to communicate between English and Chinese.  (When the adopted Guan Ya, she hadn’t yet turned 14 which is the cutoff age to be eligible for adoption.)  The first time the Smith family needed help translating was when Guan Ya sent them an email completely written in Chinese.  Nikki Smith, the mother, put piecies of the email into Google translate one at a time to understand what she was saying.  After Guan Ya was brought back to America, they still use Google translate to help her transition to learning English.  It is incredible to think that something so emotionless as the algorithms in Google translate could be a part of such a heartwarming story.  Although the translations are far from perfect, it is a huge leap in communication between the Smith family and Guan Ya.

The article goes on to advocate the usefulness of the language tools and translators accessible through the internet.  It pointed out just one of the many obstacles adoptive parents must overcome.  There must be obstacles that I haven’t even thought of that arise during the process.  Language barriers and miscommunications must be very frustrating to both sides of the process.  It gave me an idea about how I can integrate myself into the orphanage(s) I plan to do fieldwork in.  The orphanage I would like to visit is called Half the Sky in the Chaoyang District of Beijing.  I was thinking I could somehow contribute to minimizing these obstacles.  I know a good number of languages and I have experience working with children; perhaps these qualities will convince Half the Sky to let me do fieldwork at their Beijing site.