Easing Into a New Language

Listening to and speaking English can be one of the biggest challenges for international students studying in the United States for the first time. Adjusting to a new environment and culture, and communicating in a second language can sometimes lead one to feel highly challenged and certainly frustrated. At times, it feels as if the task of English comprehension has taken over your life. Now English surrounds you in your academic, social, and daily environment. Even such simple tasks as shopping at a local grocery store or making a phone call may feel burdensome. Here are some tips to help guide you through this process.

Communicating and understanding clearly is more beneficial than pretending to understand. When you feel that you have misunderstood what someone has said (such as a professor or a peer), directly communicate this to the person, and ask him or her to repeat or paraphrase for you. This is an essential tool for success in your academic and personal life. Remember, it is okay to speak slowly and imperfectly, especially as a novice learner.

Remember that your goal is communication, not speaking perfect English. When you focus on grammar and pronunciation too much, especially in day-to-day tasks, you may keep from expressing yourself in an immediate way. Whatever it is, just try and say it!

Practice! Practice! Practice! The more you actively hear and speak the language, the better your English language skills will become. Watching television programs and listening to the radio are some good (and fun) ways to enhance your language skills. Joining ISSA’s Conversation Exchange Partners program at the Intercultural Center is also another good idea.

Be patient with yourself. Second language acquisition can be a time-consuming and slow process. Having unrealistically high expectations and goals (for example, mastering English in one year) can only lower your spirit and frustrate you.

Remind yourself that feeling angry, tired, and frustrated is a normative part of adjusting to a brand new culture. There are also times when you may feel like completely giving up. This is okay. When you have these feelings, it may be beneficial to engage in activities that feel familiar to you and also represent your cultural background, such as reading a newspaper from home or chatting with a friend or colleague in your native language.

Have fun! At times, it helps to step away from work and engage in activities that bring you pleasure, such as hobbies, sports, or socializing with good friends. Giving yourself a well-deserved break will recharge your energy.

The University Counseling Center is here to help you. In addition to the challenges of learning English, our staff understands that international students may also experience feelings of isolation, loneliness, or homesickness. You may need resources or support to help you cope with adjustment and/or acculturation. You do not need to have serious issues in order to visit the UCC. Receiving counseling does not mean that there is something wrong with you. Rather, counseling can be a place where you can feel supported and find healthier ways to deal with your difficulties. It will help to make your life and study in the United States a more meaningful and positive experience. Please call us at 574-631-7336 or stop by the University Counseling Center to make an appointment. We are located at the 3rd floor of Saint Liam Hall.

Originally published in the International Student Services and Activities newsletter, Volume 8, Issue 2, October 2004, by Swati V. Pitale, Psy.D., and Hyun-Joo Park, Psychology Intern