SSU of the Month: Tess

International Student Edition
Interview Topic: Language Barriers 

image: Single Sisters in University

Today, we’re looking back at Tess’experience as a French-speaking native (originally from the Republic of Congo) studying in the States.

Tell us a bit about your initial steps to learning English. How long did it take to get comfortable with the language?
It was a tenacious and frustrating period of my life! I was a bit adept at writing papers in English, but as for listening and speaking English I struggled and stumbled a lot. Not only I had hard time understanding what people said, people also had a hard time understanding my words. I had a vivid desire to interact with other people, but my broken English didn’t smooth things out. I remember reading the dictionary everyday after school thinking it would improve my English :D! It took me quite some time to get comfortable with the language. I never stopped practicing listening and speaking English because practice makes perfect. And today, I am still practicing and sharpening my English skills because I believe that we never stop learning.

You must have probably stumbled along your journey, how did you recover and encourage yourself?
It saddened and frustrated me a lot whenever I made a mistake or mispronounced a word. I remember being silent throughout the day-sometimes in school-because my English wasn’t good at all. When I talked to my ESL teachers about my broken English and what I needed to do to improve it, they relentlessly told me : “Practice makes perfect”. Aside from that, they told me to allow myself to make mistakes. Although, I liked the sound of it, it was still hard for me to put into practice; my ego didn’t allow me :)…But ultimately, I came to the realization that it’s only by practicing and making mistakes that I was gonna learn and thus better my English. So, from that moment on, I no longer cared about making mistakes or people making fun of my English.

According to you, what was the most challenging part in learning English? What did you do on the side to boost your confidence?
The most challenging part in learning English was listening or understanding what people were saying. That is because the American English is a bit different from the British English-which is taught in my home country. My failure to understand the American English also affected my school performance. Whenever I was in a conversation with someone, I always told the person in advance about how broken my English was; thus he/she had to bear with me. And that gave me somehow courage and confidence.

How was your experience in terms of your interaction on- and off-campus?
It was a hard-bitten, an embarrassing and a humiliating experience 🙂 ! I recall just nodding yes and smiling whenever I did not understand a question. I even avoided making friends because I was afraid people would make fun of my broken English and my accent. I had a strong desire to communicate or interact with other people, but my broken English didn’t allow me. However, now that my English is better, I interact with people more than I used to.

What advice do you have for upcoming international students in terms of language barriers?
Do not get discouraged or frustrated while learning English; things don’t change and get better overnight. And, always remember that practice makes perfect. Furthermore, don’t be tough on yourself and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes aid us to strive for excellence-they help us do better and evolve into a better person.I constantly used to stress over my broken English… And I still do sometimes. But one day, I felt something telling me to hand this issue over to God; not to worry about this any longer. I had to hand this matter over to God, I had to trust in Him, and He would make everything fall into place-like I so longed for. And all of the sudden I was reminded of what the scriptures say in Zechariah 4:6-it’s not by might nor by power but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty. Since that moment, I have not excluded God from my learning, and He in turn has been faithful. Therefore, do not to leave God out in your journey as an ESL student if you want to excel.

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