How can I deal with this nagging sense of guilt that I should know more Chinese than I presently do? Or, how can I improve my Chinese as a busy twenty-something year-old?
As an American who grew up speaking Chinese at home, spent summers in China, and attended some Chinese school, I have a decent Chinese language foundation: I understand idiomatic phrases, my pronunciation isn't bad, I'm conversant in two dialects, and Chinese takes up a part of my brain that is very different from the parts occupied by German and French (languages I studied later in life): my vocabulary might be low, and I can't understand the evening news very well because it uses more formal language, but all of the words I do know actually mean
something to me.
I don't exactly have a use for Chinese at the moment, since my schooling is in English, and my friends use English. I don't go back to China often, nor do I have plans to ever live in China, and I can speak with my family just fine. I considered taking Chinese in college, but after reviewing the material and consulting my parents, decided that learning Chinese in a classroom setting would be inefficient compared to going to China for a few months and picking things up that way. Indeed, whenever I go back to China, my fluency increases after a week or two.
I have thought about watching more Chinese television and films as a way to improve or at least maintain my Chinese. I have thought about taking Chinese classes, or living in China for for a year or so at some point in the future (if that's at all a possibility-- I have years of medical training in the US ahead of me, and who knows how life will turn out, but I've heard of doctors working internationally in, say, global health)... but upon further reflection, I'm not sure if the issue at hand is truly a matter of my fluency in Chinese or if it's more an issue of sense of belonging:
Growing up, my parents disparagingly referred to me and my sister as "those Americans," while in elementary school, I was the token Asian. Today, I certainly do not fully identify with white American culture, and frankly, I don't even feel fully welcome in that cultural realm (especially after having moved to a region of the country where I am complimented on my English, asked if I'm adopted, and asked, "no, where are you really from?" not all that infrequently). This recent move and general lack of connection to white American culture somehow, to me, implies that I "should" identify more strongly with Chinese culture and language, but the truth is, that sense of identity, too, is lacking: no Chinese person who grew up in China would ever mistake me for one of their own. I know that there's a large Chinese-American diaspora in places like New York and California, and that cohort of individuals would best share my life situation (children of immigrants or those who immigrated in early childhood), but I have not found that to allay my sense of confused guilt. I saw this
AskMe about a week ago, and I am so sad that my hypothetical offspring likely won't be able to speak Chinese well.
Perhaps my question is not clear from what I've written, but, to summarize: I'm American when I'm around Chinese people, and Chinese when I'm around (non-Asian) American people. My instinct, which could be waaaay off, is that improving my Chinese abilities would be one way to nurse this guilt/confusion. (Plus, I do like learning languages, and it would be nice to improve my Chinese regardless.)
If you are also a child of immigrants, or spoke another language at home, I would welcome perspective, suggestions on how to improve my Chinese this late in my life (and as a full-time, busy medical student), and/or suggestions on how to deal with this general sense of confusion.