The Relative Advantages of Learning My Language by Amy Choi
In The Relative Advantages of Learning My Language by Amy Choi we have the theme of kindness, connection, loss, identity, maturity, guilt and responsibility. Narrated in the first person by Choi herself it becomes clear to the reader from the beginning of the story that Choi may be exploring the theme of kindness or rather the lack of it. Choi has no time for her grandfather. It is as though he is a problem for Choi. Something that is noticeable when Choi hopes her grandfather won’t sit down to watch TV. This may be significant as it suggests there is no connection between Choi and her grandfather. She does not feel that she has anything in common with him. Which may leave some readers to suggest that when it comes to the family environment Choi, like many teenagers of Asian heritage, is more interested in living her life as an Australian rather than strictly as someone whose parents come from China.
There is also a sense of loss and regret in the story. When Choi’s grandfather dies she regrets not having spent more time with him. She may on occasion have followed and helped him navigate his way through the city but there is a feeling that she was obliged to do so. It seems that looking after her grandfather, who appears to be suffering from Alzheimer’s or Dementia, was too much for Choi. Though some critics might suggest that Choi is being selfish it is important to remember that she was a teenager at the time. Her interests, as with many teenagers, would not have been to connect with older people like parents or grandparents. Parents and grandparents may have been people that Choi was rebelling against. As teenagers do.
What is also interesting about the story is the fact that despite not wanting to help her grandfather Choi does not hesitate when it comes to helping him. She may not feel a connection with her grandfather but this does not stop Choi from taking responsibility for her grandfather. Even if she might wish she was doing other things. Choi if anything steps up to the plate and is fully cooperative with her parents’ wishes when it comes to her grandfather. There is a sense that Choi is maturing. Something that is noticeable by her desire to learn Chinese. There is also a degree of guilt when it comes to taking responsibility and her grandfather’s death. Choi realises that she could have been more helpful to her grandfather and regrets the fact that she might have thought only of herself.
The end of the story is interesting as Choi admits that she does not necessarily want to write Chinese or embrace Chinese culture. She only and honestly wants to learn how to speak Chinese. She feels as though by doing so she is reconnecting with her heritage in some way and not allowing for her grandfather to be forgotten. It is after all her grandfather’s death that spurs Choi on to speak Chinese. What may be important is the fact that Choi remains comfortable being Australian more than Chinese. This could suggest that Choi has westernized herself. Which may be part and parcel of growing up in Australia for a girl (or boy) of Asian heritage. Many first generation Asian-Australian people may have preferred a western lifestyle than the traditions of their parents. Choi is no different. However Choi is not prepared to let go of all her families’ traditions and her learning to speak Chinese. She may consider herself to be different to her parents but she still nonetheless sees the importance of language and how it can connect people.