We May All Speak English, but We Don't Always Speak the Same Language

By Vishda Patel.

When families emigrate to the United States, they come in a myriad of ways. Some

families come together, and their intention is to move the entire family to a new place.

Others send just one adult, with the intention of staying temporarily, perhaps for work or

study, to return home in a few years. Others come one at a time, sending for other

family members as time and money permit. Each of these styles of immigration impacts

the experience of assimilation into the new culture. Giftedness in the mix of the

immigration adds additional challenges.

Giftedness is defined differently across the globe. In some cultures, where all children

are believed to have the ability to excel, giftedness is not considered an attribute.

Sometimes there is a strong work and education ethic where children are driven to

succeed through hard work and long hours of study. And, in other cultures, giftedness is

identified and addressed with differentiation.

Consider the following part of a journal entry written by a gifted teen from a first

generation immigrant family (see the end of the article for the full entry):

I want to have friends and do things with them. I want to be able to invite people over

without my parents grilling them about their SAT scores. I want to drive places by

myself. I am old enough and I have my license. They let me get my license so they

could tell everyone that I have it. But now, I can’t drive anywhere by myself. When I ask

to go out .they say sure but they have to call the parents and verify everything. They

won’t let me drive with my friends and they insist on sitting in the car and waiting for me

if I ever do go to a movie or friend’s house. It is SO embarrassing! Worse they want me

to have my friends over. Then they spend the entire time grilling them on colleges, SAT

scores and even more personal questions all the while trying to ply them with our native

food. I don’t even like to eat that food.

Working with culturally diverse gifted populations poses several challenges that are not

readily apparent. Sometimes the characteristics of the culture mask aspects of giftedness, and, conversely, those same characteristics prevent us from understanding

the gifted student.

Several things are worth keeping in mind when working across cultures with gifted


Start with yourself. Understanding your cultural heritage and the assumptions that

stem from that background is important. The culture we are raised in defines many of

our judgments and