For children of migrant parents, acting as translators is a norm that has been inculcated in them since a young age. These children are fulfilling big responsibilities from a young age, dealing with doctors to real estate agents for their parents. As Renu Narchal, senior lecturer in psychology at Western Sydney University states,
“Most children start as early as eight or nine…Very big shoes, whilst they are very tiny.”
She further states that for a country as multicultural as Australia, little research has been done on “language brokering” the act of children translating for their parents.
However, there exists anecdotal evidence from experiences such as those of Annie Chew who continues to visit her 79-year-old mother once a week to translate all the mail she receives.
She has done this since she could understand English and has therefore developed a maturity beyond her years as she quickly became the integral link between her parents and the broader community. As she says, “translating naturally moved on to making decisions… They say as you get older you end up looking after your parents and the role of carer is reversed. I felt like that happened to me since I was in grade four.” Many children of migrants, see this as their responsibility to bear to help their parents in the difficult process of settlement in a foreign country.
Annie would stress about the news her parents received and often advised them on their situation and what the next steps had to be. Nevertheless, Anne recalls the advantages she had particularly in getting what she wanted at school.
“One instance I remember is that I wanted to spend more time playing with my friends after school, so I lied to my mum about her needing to sign me up to afterschool care so I could work on a school project with my classmates.”
This dynamic in which the parents are reliant on their children informs the unique relationship that exists between migrant parents and children.