Improving English Skills

By Joanna Enos

When I joined the American Language Institute at USC as a One-On-One Conversation Partner, I didn’t consider the ways in which being an English tutor would improve my own language skills. Ever since I can remember, I have been very interested in the English language and foreign languages. As a political science major, I am also interested in foreign governments and societies and enjoy talking to people from other countries to learn more about the country they’re from and how it differs from the U.S. in terms of politics, government, culture, and many other things. My interest in foreign nations and comparing life in the United States to life in other nations is what sparked my interest in being a conversation partner in the first place, so in the first few weeks of being a tutor I thought the main thing I would get out of the tutoring sessions was new knowledge about countries I have not visited and have not studied extensively in my political science courses.

However, I have recently realized that the tutoring sessions are as beneficial for me as they are for the international students I meet with. This might sound odd since I am a native English speaker and have taken numerous English language, grammar, and literature classes over the course of my academic career. Nevertheless, speaking in English with international students whose native language is different than mine has forced me to think more critically of the English language and how I use that language in everyday conversations.

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How (Not) To Be the Only Person You Know in an Entire Country

By Autumn Palen

Last spring, towards the end of April, I boarded an overnight bus at 11pm — just me and the backpack my mom had loaned me for the semester. One uncomfortably upright night of sleep later, I found myself in a country where nobody knew me, and I didn’t know their language.

And I spent one week there.

This is how that went.

The country in question was The Netherlands, and, although I arrived at Amsterdam Sloterdijk Station, just outside the capital itself, I stayed with a family in Heemstede, south of the markedly smaller city of Haarlem.

Getting from Amsterdam to Heemstede on my own, at dawn, turned out to be a bit trickier than expected. Even in English, the ticketing machine was exceptionally confusing, and the validation system was something my Morning Brain was not ready to absorb. Once I boarded the train, anxiety hummed within me as the Fare Enforcement Officer made his way up the aisle, for fear of not having done it correctly. Thankfully, the officer didn’t bat an eye, nor did I have to open my mouth and make Dutch come out.

I wasn’t in the clear, though. There was still the matter of getting off the train.

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Communicating in Two Languages

By Jessleen Dhaliwal

My mother and I speak two different languages; she speaks Punjabi and I speak English. We choose to speak different tongues. My mother asks a question in Punjabi, and I answer in English. Even though we communicate, the truth in our words is lost.

I never understood how our words lost meaning until I read Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club. Tan describes language as a key factor in the cultural gap between Chinese mothers and their American daughters. In each story, there were misunderstandings because neither the mother nor the daughter understood one another. After reading The Joy Luck Club, I wanted to understand why my mother and I spoke different languages. Was it my limited knowledge of Indian culture? Or was it my mother’s fractured English? How could we speak, yet not understand each other?

When I finally asked my mother, she replied with a simple answer. In Punjabi, my mother said, “That is the way it has always been.”

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Academic and Professional English Language Instruction