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Third Culture Kids: Bridging Language and Culture

The term Third Culture Kid was first conceived in the 1950s by American social researchers Ruth and John Useem to define individuals who were raised in a culture different to that of their parents’ culture during their developmental years. As explained by Andrea M. Moore and Gina G. Barker in their work, “Confused or multicultural: Third culture individuals’ cultural identity,” Third Culture Kids, TCKs for short, are individuals who are immersed in a distinct culture from that of their birth country before their personal and cultural identity has been fully developed.

Although the term TCK was initially used to solely describe the children of American citizens working and living abroad; due to the advent of Globalization, the term has evolved to encompass anyone with similar experiences regardless of their country of origin. Moreover, the term TCK has also expanded to include immigrant and refugee children rather than solely the children of those who live abroad due to career choices (i.e., military, diplomats, missionaries).

So, you might ask what are some of the benefits of being a TCK, considering that a child’s developmental years already tend to be quite difficult, and even without moving from one place to another? Well… TCKs tend to be bilingual, and in some cases even multilingual, due to their first-hand experiences abroad at an early age. They also have an expanded and cross-cultural worldview, which leads them to be more sensitive to other cultures than, for instance, non-TCKs.

As Bryant elaborated in a previous post entitled Do Our Culture and Behavior Reflect the Way We Speak?, the relationship between language and culture is a very intricate one. So much so that he concludes his blog post with an interesting analogy, comparing us linguists to a bridge, which must then connect language and culture in order to provide completely accurate language services. Taking all this into consideration, if TCKs don’t sound like the perfect breed for a translator, I don’t know what does.