I obtained my doctoral degree from Graduate School of Education in University of Bristol in 2009, majored in Narrative Inquiry, and now work in an international NPO, still using both languages at work daily in Taiwan. Studying and working in England for 7 good years raised my awareness of the complexities of using different languages. Having friends of my country and colleagues of the UK, my life, work, study, and even research was inevitably multilingual. Although my research was not directly related to multilingual issues, the process involved the way in which language in conversation, in mind or in writing notably affected the orientation of my research.
My doctoral research used the new research approach of Narrative Inquiry, Collective Biography, to apply to identity study, mainly individual identity with a hint of collective sense, examining the impacts of two aspects, culture and language. Although the main focus of my research was not purely on doing research multilingually, it formed a large part of my thesis. The final thesis surely was done in English language except for participants’ writing, which was written in Chinese, collected from our four workshops. I then turned our writing into verses and translated it into English. I consulted my participants while translating our writing to ensure I interpreted the meaning correctly. All the documents I sent to them prior to our workshops, however, were written in English for the sake of my research. Even so, the later stage of research, to a certain degree, was not greatly engaged with my participants apart from the time that I needed their comments each time I finished each chapter.
To collect our stories and life experiences, I conducted four workshops with the participants in Chinese language, and consulted my supervisor in English language, all relying on my interpretation without her understanding of the original texts. Prior to the first workshop, my participants were asked to make a decision on which language they felt comfortable to work with and, as I mentioned earlier, they all chose their mother tongue to avoid writing and speaking with hesitation and ambiguity.
In addition to these processes, literature review is another tricky part in my multilingual research. I knew there were a few diasporic literatures in Chinese language in Taiwan, but no digital ones can be found at the other end of world. I then had to give up on the Chinese diaspora stories and only focused on those English references, which were mostly American experience. Apart from literature of diaspora, other aspects of literature are far easier and much more to find in English world than Chinese. Due to the fact that I had only limited capacity of finding Chinese literature regarding diaspora, which is the main theme in my thesis, thinking and analysing in English throughout became a necessity. The juxtaposition of our Chinese writing and my English translation/interpretation not only made me sensibly think how the thesis could be done, but also emotionally connected to our stories.
The interesting part of the research process is that I actually consulted the Chinese writing rather than the English translation, which served no other purpose than getting English speakers to understand the writing. In so doing, Chinese traces more or less blending into the English thought of analysis is somehow inevitable. I invited my participants to read my thesis after it was finished. Funnily enough, they did not even recognise their own writing in those well-blended themed stanzas. It is a pity that they only commented after I finished the whole thesis, even though I sent them each chapter during the research process. It is however still a great discovery on which this new methodology works on individual stories as well as collective issues regardless of the languages.