An international student adjusting to the English language
One thing is for sure: there is a lot more English in the English that I had known. I could find myself staring at my English friends, with a confused smile on my face waiting for them to finish the conversation only so that I could ask them to say it all again. (Warning, it’s raining with English slangs and colorful accents.) When I don’t understand them, I’m frustrated because I had studied English since primary school and up to the day I graduated high-school. Yet, one of my biggest fear prior to coming to university was that my English is not going to be good enough so as to keep the standard high throughout my academic performance or just in casual conversations. Gradually, I’ve realized that my problem had nothing to do with my English level, but with my approach to English. And this erroneous approach is very much a result to the educational system I was exposed to in my previous studies.
The English I was thought I school was the so called ‘standard English’, the English that I am supposed to use and the one that would depict me as a polished person, the gate-opener in both formal and informal situations. Everything more was just part of ‘the dialects’. Now here come the questions: Who chooses what is considered standard? Who can put the barrier between language and dialect?
I didn’t question these issues in high-school and I took everything for granted, thinking that my English coursebooks contained just what I needed. Once coming here, these are the questions that I face in every interaction I have. The way English is spoken in different parts of the country could indeed differ a lot, and I found some accents (the Northern one, for instance) particularly harder to understand. Now of course, for each speaker, standard is understood as the way they talk. This is why, slowly, for me, standard English has become an utopic concept and what I had thought it is dialectal language, is actually part of the immense language variety. Therefore, all of my concerns that my English is not good enough were just an effect of my narrow attitude towards this language.
So, when you start living with people from all around the globe and all parts of the UK and when you hear the word: ‘water’ pronounced in 52982 ways *ok, I might have exaggerated that*, don’t panic! They are all alright and what you need to do is to let your own accent breathe through your English. As internationals, of course, we can’t dismiss out cultural identity and it would be a shame in trying to do so. If you want to sound more English (but again, ‘English’ is such a broad term), there is not much you can intentionally do, but wait. In time, the environment you live in will shape your accent without you noticing it. Until then, embrace yours and the other’s cultural identity exhibited throught their speech.
I had the obsession of always trying to speak as correctly as possible so as not to bother the interlocutors or make the other person feel uncomfortable in the conversation. But, because I was trying that much, I was the one staring to feel nervous and at unease. The first time I had to held a presentation in front of the class was therefore a total fail. I wanted to outline that the X issue was predominant, but, instead of that, I translated in my head form Romanian to English, and the result was that the X issue was pregnant. (in Romanian, pregnant=predominant) You can thus imagine that all I wanted to do next was to make myself magically disappear from that awkward situation. No, I couldn’t do that, but instead, I could listen to the moral of the story:
As an international student, no one expects you to talk flawlessly and you, as the speakers, should not feel pressured in any way to do so. We believe it’s our duty to make the conversations go smoothly and we feel guilty if we stumble, pause, or block. What I’ve learnt here is that it’s actually the interlocutor’s duty to facilitate the conversation flow by helping us out in finding our words, or just through positive gestures, such as nodding. So, when you start studying in England, don’t be afraid to take the word, don’t get intimidated because of the English language.
At the end of term two, my approach to English has changed completely and what I want you to keep in mind is that, when you do your luggage for university, leave your worries about your English competence at home as it’s of no use here.