Category Archives: Language

Supplementing Language Learning

By Caroline Donat

When young children learn languages, they are also learning about how the world around them functions. Everything is new and exciting so learning is fun. When learning a language as an adult however, we often experience more frustrations with the learning process. We know what we want to say but struggle to express it properly. Though we can use the social and occupational skills we have gained in adulthood, bringing back the fresh newness we experience as children can help us with our language acquisition.

International students at USC already face daily immersion into American life. Since this immersion can be shocking, it is hard to resist an opportunity for the comfort of speaking to another international student in your first language. This is okay and perhaps necessary to stay motivated to conduct the majority of the day in English. These small comforts do not need to be sacrificed in order to improve one’s fluency.

If we want to accelerate our language-learning however, we need to take our learning beyond the classroom and literally translate aspects of our daily life. This means carrying out our normal behavior in another language with the openness we had as children, by reading the foreign text on our breakfast food packaging or watching a late-night soap opera (perhaps with the help of subtitles). I say “we” because, even though I am a native English speaker, I am currently looking for ways to obtain fluency in Arabic and Spanish. There is always more that we can do to promote our learning. While we will never find the time to do everything, there are some tricks that we can work into our schedules without rearranging other commitments and priorities.

Newspapers are a great way to not only improve your English (or other language) skills, but to keep up with the local culture. Depending on your free time and interests, you can choose to browse sections about fashion and upcoming performances, or dip into today’s politics. Either way, you will have something to talk about with other English speakers. The best part is that you can fit this reading into your schedule by inserting it during meals, while riding the bus, or waiting for class to start. You can sign up for LA Times to be delivered to your home, download a news app, or pick up a free local newspaper from the boxes on the sidewalk.

Also, listening to music in your new language is an easy way to enhance your learning. iTunes, Apple Music, and YouTube are all popular, but most students prefer Spotify because of all of the songs you can listen to for free. Sign in with your USC email to gain access to your free account! On Spotify, you can view the top songs in the U.S. (and many other countries) or find new music similar to songs that you already like. If you like listening to acoustic indie music, try some Ed Sheeran songs. If you would like to try out RnB, search for music by Miguel. You do not need to pay attention to the lyrics, simply surrounding yourself with the words of your new language can help your comprehension and pronunciation.

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An Unspoken Language

By Stella Yeung

My grandfather had been creating Chinese art for as long as I can remember. My family would drive to his house, a couple towns over, every weekend. All my mom’s sisters, brothers, nephews, and nieces lived with him, keeping the house in a constant commotion. The house smelled of traditional Chinese dishes and bare feet. During every weekend visit, I begged to go home immediately, as I judged this side of the family who grew up so differently than me. It bothered me that they had mismatched bed coverings and antique art pieces that seemed to be blindly picked up from Goodwill. I pulled at my mom’s sleeves until she told me “Be quiet, we’re leaving soon”. I let out exaggerated groans and sighs until we’d finally leave hours later.

I spoke Chinese-English growing up, but the English side became more prominent as I went through American schooling and watched countless reruns of Full House. I watched enviously as I constantly compared my family to the characters in the show. I wondered why I didn’t have an uncle like John Stamos or a dad like Bob Saget, and why my life had to be so crude.

“Do you know how lucky you are to grow up in America?”

I roll my eyes at my mom because I’ve heard it all before, even though, on the inside, I know I take it all for granted. My mother’s side of the family are all immigrants, including herself. Most of them did not get college degrees and worked in the restaurant business for years after they came to America, just so they could pay bills, support the family, and repeat. Regrettably, I have never had much conversation with this side of my family. Their main focus was to get to America to provide a better life for their kids, and here I was, a non-Chinese speaking Chinese-American with everything laid out for me. The least I could do was learn Chinese, to say thanks, and commend them for their conquered adversity. However, they never fully learned English and I never fully learned Chinese; we were comfortable with how things were and therefore never felt compelled to change. As a result, I sit awkwardly and quietly at family gatherings, picking at food and wishing my relatives would quiet down (yelling is commonplace for their conversations). I am annoyed at their volume of conversation but also envious, because I’m not a part of it. Here we are, sitting, with the same blood running through us, but we are strangers. As a side note, I did go through multiple years of Chinese school, but my mother had to sit with me because I couldn’t understand the teacher.. After a few years, I finally convinced her to stop paying for my Sundays filled with embarrassment and boredom.

So, to keep myself preoccupied while at my grandfather’s house, my tiny self would hobble into my grandfather’s study room where he would be effortlessly gliding ink across parchment. There was parchment on the floor, walls, and tables. Ink and paint brushes were scattered across his desk as well. He would dabble in ornate paintings of mountains or large texts of Chinese. Each brush stroke was placed with precision, grace, and dexterity I wished I could do with such ease. I was an artist myself so I watched him with awe. Since I couldn’t read Chinese, I never quite knew what the words he wrote meant, but my young wide-eyed self knew they looked beautiful.

While I never lived in rural China and was never forced to farm for a living, I also found that same escape in art as my grandfather once did. When he wasn’t drawing, he was scowling. Veins thriving from his neck and brows constantly furrowed. He spoke in complaints and accusations. The only time I saw his face relax, and his muscles loosen, was when he was at his desk, in his study, with his brushes in hand and parchment in front of him. I stare at his concentration, the clear transparency in his eyes as his presence was no longer at his home but somewhere far off where he felt at peace. I smile because I know exactly where he is. He later passed his paintbrushes onto me because he knew I was an artist just like he was. Oddly enough, nobody else in our family had the same shared fire to create as we did.

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