Etsuo’s Corner: English

This week, I would like to introduce how some international students learn English and the struggles they can face when they come to Guilford. People who speak English as a first language do not recognize these difficulties, so I want to share how difficult English is for students who learn it as a second language. To do so, I also interviewed some students who came to Guilford from abroad.

First, I spoke with Mei Fujie, who is from Japan and a student at Guilford. “Before I start(ed) studying English in public school, I went to an English language school for children which my mother ran. There, I learned how to speak English by playing games or singing English song(s). I also watched movies such as Disney and Studio Ghibli in English. These experiences were very helpful for me to learn English. In Japan, students start studying English at the age of 12 as a required class. Like other students, I studied grammar mainly. When I went high school, I was surrounded by students who had experienced studying abroad or lived abroad and their English was much better than mine. So it was a very hard time for me. The unique point of my high school was that we had a class which our alumni or guest have a speech about their unique experience and background. Before studying abroad, English was a subject which I was studying, but now, it is a means of learning. I feel a lot of progress of my English through studying abroad.”

Secondly, I interviewed Xinxin Zhou, a Guilford student from China, about how the language struggles she faced when she came to Guilford.

“I struggled in classrooms because it was difficult for me to catch up the class. For example, writing a paper, reading a textbook and speaking something in the class was difficult for me. Furthermore, several phrases in the daily conversation were strange and I had no idea how to reply. When I was … (asked), ‘What are you up to?’ I did not have any idea how to reply to that. I … (had) not learn(ed) about that kind of phrases and I tried to reply. I was very surprised to know that the phrase was just a kind of greeting. Other phrases such as ‘how have you been’ and ‘how is your day going were also very difficult to understand. The only answer I knew how to reply was just saying ‘good.’ I always said ‘good, and I did not know other ways. One sentence I felt similarities with Chinese was ‘long time no see. The structure of this sentence was very similar to Chinese. (Etsuo’s note: according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the sentence might be a Chinese Pidgin English), which was very surprising to me.”

I, too, encountered a lot of difficulties with English when I came to Guilford. Like Xinxin, I did not know how to reply to “what’s up.” I interpreted it as “what did you do,” or “did you have something special?” There were a lot of unfamiliar and informal things which we could not learn in school, so it took time to understand those sentences and how to reply. Some English phrases which you think of as natural can be very confusing for us. So please do not mind if I cannot reply to you because it is unfamiliar to me, and sometimes I have no idea how to reply. Remember this when you see international students that may be facing some of these situations, and you might also encounter this if you study abroad.