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Do students with limited spoken English have to push themselves?

When students with limited spoken English start taking college classes with more fluent speakers, they may need to push themselves to participate and succeed in class.


Phuong Huynh, a student originally from Vietnam

Phuong Huynh
Photo: Sarah Sarkissian
The best thing that I like about being in a class with those students is to communicate with them. I can practice my speaking skill.

 

I have been living in the U.S.A. almost two years. The hardest thing for me about being in classes with students who have lived in the U.S. for a long time is to understand the way they answer the questions when the teachers ask them because they use a lot of new vocabulary that I do not know. It is hard for me to get the answers. They speak too fast, too. The best thing that I like about being in a class with those students is to communicate with them. I can practice my speaking skill.

In my past classes, almost all my classmates had come to the U.S. at the same time like me or less, so they couldn't speak well and I didn't either. We didn't talk to each other much because we didn't know how to explain to the others what we wanted to say. We didn't understand when we communicated with each other by some English words, and the rest of the conversation was sign language. Now, I don't feel lonely anymore because I have been here long enough to communicate with my classmates.

 

Phung M. Nguyen, a student originally from Vietnam

Phung M. Nguyen
Photo: Sarah Sarkissian
In order to do well on an exam, you have to understand the lectures well, understand the question perfectly and give a complete answer.

 

Recently immigrated and international students who are studying English in the same classes with native English speaking students have problems understanding the academic content. In comparison with their native English speaking classmates, they usually have to put in a tremendous amount of time in studying and the result is often not as good as it should be.

The immigrated students have in general small vocabulary. They are not used to reading specialized English at high speed and struggle with specialized and non- specialized English. For some, listening to English is also a problem, which again affects your learning. It is a classic problem in reading an academic text that students don’t know many words. They have to look up in the dictionary or guess what the words mean. This process is time-consuming and sometimes when you try so hard to understand every word you read, you might lose the main idea or the perspective of the content. In another word, you “drown” in words.

Taking notes during a lecture is another issue for foreign students. They can’t take notes fast at the same time with listening to their teacher. If they concentrate too much on taking notes, they don’t understand the lecture. And if they concentrate on listening and understanding the teacher, they don’t make good notes.

Time is also another big factor in how well these students are doing in classes and during exam situation. In order to do well on an exam, you have to understand the lectures well, understand the question perfectly and give a complete answer. In this kind of situation, foreign students don’t tend to do very well because all their language problems would culminate here.

In other words, foreign students have to put in huge amount of time in studying compared to their native English speaking friends in order to get the same result or something just close to it.

 

Ming Ki Yu, an international student from Hong Kong

Ming Ki Yu
Photo: Sarah Sarkissian
I think the best way for them to help each other to learn English is to work more together. It can create more chance for those who have recently come to U.S. to speak English and for those who have been in U.S. a long time to learn more grammar.

 

I am an ESL student that came from Hong Kong and I have just been in U.S. for two months. I think the strong points of the students who have been in U.S. for a long time are that they can speak fluent English and they know more vocabulary. In contrast, the strong point of the students who have only recently come to the U.S. is that they have already studied much grammar in their own country.

I think the best way for them to help each other to learn English is to work more together. It can create more chance for those who have recently come to U.S. to speak English and for those who have been in U.S. a long time to learn more grammar. However, I think they should understand each other's difficulties. The difficulty for most of the ESL students who have been in U.S. for a long time is their grammar foundation is not good enough or even they haven't focused on learning grammar much.

On the other hand, the difficulty for most of the ESL students who have come recently is that they didn't speak much English in their own country. As a result, maybe sometimes they don't know how to present their own opinion or answers. That's my own experience.

 

Manabu Kuwahara, an international student from Japan

Manabu Kuwahara
Photo: Sarah Sarkissian
I think that it is a good way if people who can do well in grammar, but can’t speak fluently can teach grammar to people who are not good at grammar, but can speak fluently.

 

I am a typical Japanese. Although I do well in grammar, I am not good at speaking. It is because I mainly learned grammar in English classes for six years in Japan, but I scarcely learned how to pronounce a word and speak. I studied only for entering a university (the exam is grammar and reading).

In my advanced writing class, I don’t care that some students can speak English fluently, and it does not matter because speaking and listening is not the subject. However, during class discussions, it is uncomfortable because I want to speak and I don’t want the other students to be bothered by my strange speaking in the class, but I am always learning how to pronounce words, new vocabulary, and how to use words.

I have no idea how the different groups of students help each other to achieve their common goal of learning English because their goal is different. One student is trying to improve writing to transfer to a university; the other wants to improve speaking for business. However, I think that it is a good way if people who can do well in grammar, but can’t speak fluently can teach grammar to people who are not good at grammar, but can speak fluently.

 

Suho Lee, a U.S. high school graduate, originally from Korea

Suho Lee
Photo: Sarah Sarkissian
When I started attending ESL classes, I met lots of friends from all around the world and some of them can speak like native speakers and others can write beautifully.

 

The first two years in the U.S., I attended high school and graduated. At that time, my English skill was not good enough to attend regular English classes, so I took ESL classes to learn more about English. In the past few years, I have taken several ESL classes that really helped me to develop my grammar and speaking skills.

Since most Asians who have come recently from their countries don’t talk a lot, I don’t like to talk a lot with others. I didn’t have many friends, either Korean or foreign, but when I started attending ESL classes, I met lots of friends from all around the world and some of them can speak like native speakers and others can write beautifully. Because of these friends, I can learn how to speak and write English.

Even though some ESL students cannot speak English at all, the students who can speak fluently and the students who have good grammar skill can help each other to develop their English skills to the next level. So later, those two groups can achieve their common goal of learning English, which is speaking and writing, as well as most Americans do.

 

Wazhma Achackzad, originally from Afghanistan



I am in the classes where I have to get a good grade of A or B, but to do this I have to put more effort than a regular first year college student.


 

Learning a new thing is always hard for me, especially a new language I had never thought about as I moved on in life. My destiny brought me to the to the U.S where I had to take ESL classes which were very hard at the beginning of each semester, but as time goes by I got used to that class and enjoyed it.

My biggest problem is non-ESL classes: from the beginning of the semester through the end, I always have problems. For example, I cannot ask too many questions in the class because I am afraid that the students and the teacher will criticize me. I cannot ask for repetitions because the other students will get bored. Let me give an example of my math class: I know how to solve the problem, but I cannot explain it. No matter how kind and understanding the teacher is, I will still lose points. I am in the classes where I have to get a good grade of A or B, but to do this I have to put more effort than a regular first year college student.


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The teachers, Sarah Sarkissian and Greg Conner, comment on this project.

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