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When Kids Become Translators for Their Parents

Watch the life of an immigrant mother and daughter captured in a one-minute film by Vancouver director Kevin Kim.

Christopher Cheung 13 Jun 2024The Tyee

Christopher Cheung reports on urban issues for The Tyee. Follow him on X @bychrischeung.

What’s it like being a translator kid?

For many children of immigrants in places like Canada, it means taking on the role to help their parents navigate life in a new country.

No matter how young the kids are, the role can entail translating everything from one’s own report cards to letters that arrive in the mail (“Is this an ad from the bank, or am I in trouble?” a parent might ask). It also means interpreting everything from phone messages to medical appointments (“Is there bad news?”).

It’s a phenomenon that I reported on for a piece called “The Translator Kids,” which won a Jack Webster Award back in 2021 as part of a series on pandemic stories.

But film is a medium that moves in different ways, and Vancouver-based director Kevin Kim captures the experience poignantly in his new minute-long short, titled What Did They Say?

We step into the life of a mother and daughter as they watch TV and go on trips to the grocery store and the doctor’s office.

“I immigrated to Canada at seven years old, and as the story usually goes, I learned English much faster than my parents and ended up as the family translator,” said Kim in an interview with NextShark, an Asian American news outlet that produced the film.

“It’s a common experience which can be exciting at first, playing the ‘adult.’ Yet, it can also lead to situations that surpass the maturity of a child.”

You can watch the short film above.

“I hope that it acts as a conversation starter for what may seem so innocent at first, but in hindsight can create some uncomfortable memories,” said Kim.  [Tyee]

Read more: Rights + Justice, Film

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