Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 41, Issue 7, pp 894–906 | Cite as

The Familial Context of Adolescent Language Brokering Within Immigrant Chinese Families in Canada

  • Josephine M. HuaEmail author
  • Catherine L. Costigan
Empirical Research


Language brokering, whereby children of immigrants provide informal translation and interpretation for others, is considered commonplace. However, the research evidence remains inconsistent concerning how language brokering relates to the psychological health of child language brokers and their relationships with their parents. Furthermore, few studies have examined the familial context as an explanation source. This study evaluated the moderating effects of adolescents’ support of family obligation values and their perceptions of parental psychological control on relationships between language brokering frequency and both adolescent psychological health and parent–child relationship quality. Adolescents from 182 immigrant Chinese families residing in Canada (average age 15 years, 52% females) reported the frequency with which they translated or interpreted various materials for their parents. More frequent language brokering was associated with poorer psychological health for adolescents who held strong family obligation values or who perceived parents as highly psychologically controlling. More frequent language brokering was also associated with more parent–child conflict. Contrary to some past findings, language brokering frequency was not significantly positively associated with self-esteem or with parent–child congruence (i.e., levels of understanding and satisfaction with parent–child relationships). The findings are discussed in relation to their support for theories of parent–child role reversals or independent-interdependent scripts in language brokering.


Language brokering Chinese immigrant families Adolescents Psychological health Parent–child relationship 


  1. Achenbach, T. M. (1991). Manual for the child behavior checklist/4–18 and 1991 profile. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont Department of Psychiatry.Google Scholar
  2. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. London, England: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Barber, B. K. (1996). Parental psychological control: Revisiting a neglected construct. Child Development, 67, 3296–3319.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beyers, W., Goossens, L., Vansant, I., & Moors, E. (2003). A structural model of autonomy in middle and late adolescence: Connectedness, separation, detachment, and agency. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32, 351–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, B. B. (2004). Adolescents’ relationships with peers. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (3rd ed., pp. 363–394). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  6. Buriel, R., Perez, W., De Ment, T. L., Chavez, D. V., & Moran, V. R. (1998). The relationship of language brokering to academic performance, biculturalism, and self-efficacy among Latino adolescents. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 20(3), 283–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Canadian Council of Social Development. (2001). Demographics of the Canadian population. Retrieved December 19, 2008, from
  8. Chao, R. K. (1994). Beyond parental control and authoritarian parenting style: Understanding Chinese parenting through the cultural notion of training. Child Development, 65, 1111–1120.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chao, R. K. (2006). The prevalence and consequences of adolescents’ language brokering for their immigrant parents. In M. H. Bornstein & L. R. Cote (Eds.), Acculturation and parent–child relationships: Measurement and development (pp. 271–296). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  10. Chao, R. K., & Tseng, V. (2002). Parenting of Asians. In M. H. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting: Vol. 4. Social conditions and applied parenting (2nd ed., pp. 59–93). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  11. Chung, R. H. G. (2001). Gender, ethnicity, and acculturation in intergenerational conflict of Asian American college students. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 7, 376–386.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Collins, W. A., & Laursen, B. (2004). Parent-adolescent relationships and influences. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (2nd ed., pp. 331–362). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  13. Costigan, C. L., & Dokis, D. P. (2006). Relations between parent–child acculturation differences and adjustment within immigrant Chinese families. Child Development, 77, 1252–1267.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Costigan, C. L., Hua, J. M., & Su, T. F. (2010). Living up to expectations: The strengths and challenges experienced by Chinese Canadian students. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 25, 223–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dorner, L. M., Orellana, M. F., & Jimenez, R. (2008). “It’s one of those things that you do to help the family:” Language brokering and the development of immigrant adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 23, 515–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fuligni, A. J., & Pedersen, S. (2002). Family obligation and the transition to young adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 38, 856–868.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fuligni, A. J., Tseng, V., & Lam, M. (1999). Attitudes toward family obligations among American adolescents with Asian, Latin American, and European backgrounds. Child Development, 70, 1030–1044.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fuligni, A. J., Yip, T., & Tseng, V. (2002). The impact of family obligation on the daily activities and psychological well-being of Chinese American adolescents. Child Development, 73, 302–314.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fuligni, A. J., & Zhang, W. (2004). Attitudes toward family obligation among adolescents in contemporary urban and rural China. Child Development, 74, 180–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Goossens, L. (2006). The many faces of adolescent autonomy: Parent-adolescent conflict, behavioral decision-making, and emotional distancing. In S. Jackson & L. Goossens (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent development (pp. 135–153). New York, NY: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  21. Graber, J. A. (2004). Internalizing problems during adolescence. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (2nd ed., pp. 587–626). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  22. Halgunseth, L. (2003). Language brokering: Positive developmental outcomes. In M. Coleman & L. Ganong (Eds.), Points and counterpoints: Controversial relationship and family issues in the 21st century: An anthology (pp. 154–156). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury.Google Scholar
  23. Hall, N., & Sham, S. (1998). Language brokering by Chinese children. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the British Educational Research Association, Dublin, Ireland.Google Scholar
  24. Harris, B., & Sherwood, B. (1978). Translating as an innate skill. In D. Gerver & H. W. Sinaiko (Eds.), Language interpretation and communication (pp. 155–170). New York, NY: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  25. Ho, D. Y. F. (1981). Traditional patterns of socialization in Chinese society. Acta Psychologica Taiwanica, 23, 81–95.Google Scholar
  26. Jia, G. (2004). The acquisition of English and maintenance of first language by immigrant children and adolescents in North America. In U. P. Gilen & J. Roopnarine (Eds.), Childhood and adolescence: Cross-cultural perspectives and applications (pp. 350–373). Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  27. Jones, C. J., & Trickett, E. J. (2005). Immigrant adolescents behaving as culture brokers: A study of families from the former Soviet Union. The Journal of Social Psychology, 145, 405–427.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kagitcibasi, C. (1990). Family and socialization in cross-cultural perspective: A model of change. In J. Berman (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation (pp. 135–200). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
  29. Li, J. (2001). Expectations of Chinese immigrant parents for their children’s education: The interplay of Chinese tradition and the Canadian context. Canadian Journal of Education, 26, 477–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Love, J. A., & Buriel, R. (2007). Language brokering, autonomy, parent–child bonding, biculturalism, and depression: A study of Mexican American adolescents from immigrant families. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 29, 472–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Martinez, C. R., Jr., McClure, H. H., & Eddy, J. M. (2009). Language brokering contexts and behavioral and emotional adjustment among Latino parents and adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 29, 71–98.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. McQuillan, J., & Tse, L. (1995). Child language brokering in linguistic minority communities: Effects on cultural interaction, cognition, and literacy. Language and Education, 9, 195–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Morales, A., & Hanson, W. E. (2005). Language brokering: An integrative review of the literature. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 27, 471–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Oznobishin, O., & Kurman, J. (2009). Parent–child role reversal and psychological adjustment among immigrant youth in Israel. Journal of Family Psychology, 23, 405–415.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Shek, D. T. L. (2007). A longitudinal study of perceived parental psychological control and psychological well-being in Chinese adolescents in Hong Kong. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63, 1–22.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Su, T. F., & Costigan, C. L. (2009). The development of children’s ethnic identity in immigrant Chinese families in Canada: The role of parenting practices and children’s perceptions of parental family obligation expectations. Journal of Early Adolescence, 29, 638–663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Trickett, E. J., & Jones, C. J. (2007). Adolescent culture brokering and family functioning: A study of families from Vietnam. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 13, 143–150.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Trickett, E. J., Sorani, S., & Birman, D. (2010). Towards an ecology of the culture broker role: Past work and future directions. MediAzioni, 10. Retrieved from
  40. Tse, L. (1995). Language brokering among Latino adolescents: Prevalence, attitudes, and school performance. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 17, 180–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tse, L. (1996). Language brokering in linguistic minority communities: The case of Chinese– and Vietnamese–American students. The Bilingual Research Journal, 20, 485–498.Google Scholar
  42. Umana-Taylor, A. J. (2003). Language brokering as a stressor for immigrant children and their families. In M. Coleman & L. Ganong (Eds.), Points and counterpoints: Controversial relationship and family issues in the 21st century: An anthology (pp. 157–159). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury.Google Scholar
  43. Wang, S., & Lo, L. (2004). Chinese immigrants in Canada: Their changing composition and economic performance. Policy Matter, No. 10, produced by the Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement—Toronto (CERIS). Retrieved from
  44. Wang, Q., Pomerantz, E. M., & Chen, H. (2007). The role of parents’ control in early adolescents’ psychological functioning: A longitudinal investigation in the United States and China. Child Development, 78, 1592–1610.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Weisskirch, R. S. (2005). The relationship of language brokering to ethnic identity for Latino early adolescents. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 27, 286–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Weisskirch, R. S. (2007). Feelings about language brokering and family relations among Mexican American early adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 27, 545–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Weisskirch, R. S., & Alva, S. A. (2002). Language brokering and the acculturation of Latino children. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 24, 369–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wu, N. W., & Kim, S. Y. (2009). Chinese American adolescents’ perceptions of the language brokering experience as a sense of burden and sense of efficacy. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 703–718.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Xu, S., Connelly, F. M., He, M. F., & Phillion, J. (2007). Immigrant students’ experience of schooling: A narrative inquiry theoretical framework. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 39, 399–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Ying, Y., Lee, P. A., & Tsai, J. L. (2004). Psychometric properties of the Intergenerational Congruence in Immigrant Families: Child Scale in Chinese Americans. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 35, 91–103.Google Scholar
  51. Yuang, X. (2000). Correlation between self-esteem and mental health of secondary normal school students. Chinese Journal of Clinical Psychology, 8, 102–103.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

Personalised recommendations