Learning English

Student experiences in learning the language

Aidan Arslanoglu, Editor-In-Chief

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The words just couldn’t come out.

This has been the case for Ayush Mehta, junior, in many respects. He could formulate ideas in his mind, but once they reached his lips, he froze.

Consequently, Mehta has always had a patchy relationship with the spoken word. He eventually overcame his crippling stutter, becoming a very social kid who spent nearly every waking moment with friends and family.

Soon, he would have to go through the whole process again. Mehta arrived in the US on Dec. 14, 2015, leaving his Punjabi community in India and initiating a new lingual trial.

“When I first got here, I was so lonely. I didn’t know anybody,” said Mehta. After living in such a close-knit community for all his life, this was a shock to him.

He further lacked the communication skills necessary to socialize. “Even though in India we learned English, it was British English. The accent we practiced and listened to was much different than what I heard here,” said Mehta. Regardless, learning a language in class and living in the language are two entirely separate idioms in his experience.

When people initiated conversations him at school, he would instinctively respond in Punjabi only to see confusion on the faces of potential friends. In a way, his childhood stutter resurfaced across languages as he was faced with an unfamiliar place, unfamiliar people, and above all an unfamiliar language.

The academic transition proved to be just as tough. “The lectures were so difficult to understand since it would take me a few seconds to understand each word,” said Mehta. With this delay, he explained, half of what the teacher said would be lost in translation.

“You want to ask the teacher to slow down, but you’re also embarrassed because everyone else in the class is keeping up fine,” he said. He didn’t want to hold the rest of his classmates back.

Having endured the first few months as a “total Desi”, a South Asian living abroad, he began to make progress. The English Language Learning class at Shorewood gave him confidence in his speech through repeated practice and presentations, but the catalyst for mastering English wasn’t at school.

“The best way to really become fluent in a language is to get a job. You’re forced to speak English for six to seven hours in a day with native speakers, and that’s invaluable.”

Now, he’s reached a high level of proficiency in English. Language isn’t a barrier to academic or social situations. However, he thinks that his English style has some Punjabi mixed in. “In Punjabi, we speak so loud. I feel like sometimes people think I’m mad when I talk, but that’s just my culture,” said Mehta.

And he doesn’t intend to change anything about that.

As Nikita Chetrari, junior, boarded the plane, he knew that this would be the last time he could truly call the country in which he had lived for the past 14 years his home.

He and his family departed from Chisinau, Moldova, on a one-way ticket to the States.

His family decided to make the move to the land of opportunity for its namesake appeal and better education, but he harbors love for his original home. “It’s a small but beautiful country, Moldova,” Chetrari said.

He still remembers the day he arrived. “I was both scared and sad to leave my small country and go into such an unfamiliar one without properly speaking and understanding the main language,” he said.

From the onset, the majority of people spoke with him patiently. He could tell that sometimes people didn’t understand what came out of his mouth during conversation, or that the pace of the conversation would gradually slow down for him to understand everything being said, but that’s what happens to every non-Anglophone who first comes to the US. “I think everybody in this circumstance will go through some painfully awkward situations at first,” said Chetrari.

He managed to attain a not-too-shabby 3.8 GPA in his first year at Shorewood. Yet, he struggled with the same problem as Mehta.

“It’s very frustrating when you were learning the same material easily in your own country, in your own language, but the language barrier prevents you from getting the grade you really deserve,” said Chetrari. He was always a straight-A student back home, so his performance slightly disappointed him.

Currently, his proficiency in English “is not perfect, but way better than when [he] first got here,” he said. Communicating in English is now like second nature to him.

For both Mehta and Chetrari, their native language still plays a large role in their life.

“My family prefers to speak Russian at home. It just feels right,” said Chetrari.

Mehta’s family is ethnically Hindi, and they usually speak Hindi with each other. However, since he grew up in Punjab, Punjabi is his language of choice. “It’s not just your family that determines the preferred language. It’s the community around you that does,” said Mehta.

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