Tag Archives: english

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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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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Speaking Spanish in Spain

By Jacob Birsen

I spent the majority of my senior year in high school saving up money  to go spend a portion of my summer with my best friend in Spain. For two years, I had been dreaming of visiting her and taking in another country’s culture.  I had taken three years of Spanish in high school and I was finally ready to try out my Spanish in a real world environment.

However, on my first day in Barcelona, I realized that Catalan, not Spanish, was the primary language spoken. The ones who spoke Spanish primarily spoke it at a pace that was too fast for me to understand, so I wasn’t as vocal with the locals as I could have been. Towards the middle of my trip we were scheduled to go visit my friend’s extended family who lived about an hour outside of Barcelona. My lack of Catalan took me from very exciting to this portion of the trip to very nervous. Many of her older family members only spoke Catalan, and the few that did speak Spanish were always speaking in Catalan so it didn’t make a difference. When we arrived at the house of my friend’s grandparents, I was lost. I sat myself down on the couch and was basically waiting for it all to be over. I stayed this way for at least half an hour, completely intimidated by locals speaking a language I couldn’t understand.  Some of the adults tried to speak to me, and although I responded in Spanish, they grew bored of my limited vocabulary and went back to speaking with the main group once again.

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