The Language Barrier

by Tduer1 on November 18, 2013 - 11:32pm

     In the documentary Somewhere Between (Knowlton, 2011) four teenage girls live in different parts of the United States but they all have one thing in common, all of them were adopted from China at a very young age. Haley Butler was one of the teenage girls that decided to share her life story of growing up as an adopted Chinese child in America.  Haley was abandoned in the city streets as a baby due to circumstances of China's 'One Child Policy' and was fortunate enough to be found and brought to a foster home. She was then adopted and brought back to America to live with adopted parents. As she grew older Haley realized that she was a lot different than most of the kids her age but that didn’t stop her from achieving her goals. She was a fantastic violinist and exceeded her expectations in school. Haley was living the life of a normal teenage girl but there was always something missing, her Chinese heritage. She was thirteen years old at the time and wanted to meet her biological parents because she wanted to know where she came from and why her parents abandoned her. This was going to be a major task to find Haley’s biological parents since China’s population is now at 1.35 billion people but that didn’t stop her from trying to find them. Haley and her adopted parents traveled to China in order to find her family but there was another obstacle other than the sheer number of people; the language barrier. Haley and her adopted parents did not speak Chinese at all so it was going to be an even bigger task to find her family. Even with the language barrier and number of people it wasn’t too long before someone recognized a picture that Haley was holding up. That person went and gathered Haley’s biological family to reunite them together.

     The two families met together in a hotel room and there was instant bonding. Haley’s biological mother and father both broke down into tears almost instantly. Even though they could not communicate with each other, because Haley’s biological parents did not speak English and the Butler family did not speak Chinese, there was still an unbreakable bond between Haley and her parents.  Since the two families are very culturally different, there was a lack of understanding and communication between them. They had to hire a translator in order to communicate with each other which played a big role during this meeting between families. The translator not only just translated the words but also the families’ actions and explained each other’s stories more in depth since there was such a difference between cultures. After the families greeted each other with open arms they started to ask each other questions. For example, Haley’s adopted mother asked her biological mother the story behind abandoning her at such a young age. Since there was such a large language barrier, the story had to be told through the translator. This would be a difficult task but could be achieved. The biological mother told the story of her difficulties raising multiple girls at a time even though the One Child policy was in effect. Since Haley did not turn out to be a boy they had to get rid of her because they a boy to work in the fields and also did not have the resources to raise her. Haley’s older brother told his parents that he was taking her to a relatives to live but instead brought her to the city and left her on the sidewalk. This story was important for the translator to translate accurately and with emphasis and if that did not happen, each family could have interpreted the others’ stories differently. Haley now knows more about her heritage and plans to visit her biological family more often because of the great experience she had while she was there.

     If people are from a different culture and speak a different language, it is hard to overcome that cultural gap. With the internet and people like translators, the worlds’ different cultures are able to communicate and connect like never before. Language is no longer a major barrier that separates cultures from each other; we are now able to create relationships with another people even if they speak a different language.    


APA Reference:

Knowlton, L. (Director). (2011). Somewhere Between [Motion Picture]. USA:

   Available from Long Shot Factory & Ladylike Films


This summary makes me very emotive. Indeed, I find it so terrible that many children are abandoned because of the policy of the country. However, I find very generous that the parents who adopted Haley went with her to China to meet hey biological parents. Also, it is incredible that even if the two families do not communicate in the same language, with a translator they can understand each others.

I had to read your summary when I saw the tittle because I asked myself, what is this about? I found it out by reading. I found it really interesting, and also sad to see that this girl could nor speak directly to her parents and than she had to pass through a translator. But she also had the chance to find them, every adopted child that wants to find their biological parents are not always able to. I think that Haley had a lot of chances to have such goos adoptive parents that accepted to go to China to find her biological parents, because most parents would not have accepted or just could not afford it. I think Haley had a lot of chances to find out who her biological parents are and that she understand their act even if it has to be hard to accept.

It was interesting to see that you chose the language barrier as the border that was crossed by this film. I actually never even thought of that so it was interesting to see your point of view. It can be difficult to talk to your parents in general and you did a great job of focusing on how it was unimaginably difficult to talk to her parents for the first time after being alive for 12 years. Personally, I have been exposed to multiple language barriers throughout my life; the two most notable ones being between exchange students at my high school and myself. My junior year there was a student from Germany who went to my high school. On one occasion I was with a group of friends at the mall and he was there, so we decided to talk to him. It was difficult for him to speak English in a social setting because of his limited vocabulary and I was thinking about this the whole time I was reading your review. A translator or even a German-speaking friend of Jan (the student) would have made conversation more seamless and eliminated any awkwardness. Your focus on the translator as a way to cross the communication border was superb.

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