We’re committed to keeping our readers informed

We’ve removed our paywall so all can enjoy PEI’s best local content during the coronavirus crisis. Please consider supporting the vital role of local journalism in our community and province. Subscribe now
A place
a place

English is my second language. Even though I started learning English when I was 12, English still feels like a language from another planet to me because I grew up in a non-English speaking environment.

I remember the first time I actually used English to converse with a native speaker was when I met an American friend at university. At that time, I didn’t know a lot of vocabulary, for example, mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms! I can still recall one time when me and my friend were chatting about our favourite foods, and I tried to tell him that I love mushrooms, but I didn’t learn the word ‘mushroom’ yet. I tried to describe it: “I love to eat the vegetable that looks like an umbrella!” Thankfully, he understood what I was referring to and taught me the word ‘mushroom’.

Another one is the word ‘turtle’. I guess the word ‘turtle’ is known by any native speaker, even babies, because turtles are often seen in children’s books. However, at that time, I hadn’t read any children’s books. The only English books I read were textbooks that were all written in formal language and with no stories. So I used to say “the animal that can get its head inside its body” to refer to turtles.

Despite not speaking great English, I was still able to get along without any problems, because, after all, I was in Taiwan. The real challenge came when I went to the US for graduate school. During the first semester, I was barely able to follow what the professor was talking about. The entire time I was in the classroom, I wanted to escape and go to the library, where I could read on my own. However, I did some calculations and found out that every class costs around 250 US dollars, so I felt I’d waste too much money if I didn’t sit in the classroom and listen to the professor. Fortunately, I studied in the designing field. I could get my ideas across through my drawings and models, so I didn’t flunk. 

One day, the mother of my host family told me I should try imagining in my mind the words I’m about to speak before speaking, as it might help with my pronunciation (sometimes, she couldn’t understand what I was talking about). I suddenly realized: when I’m learning new vocabulary, I memorize the spelling and pronunciation of the words separately.

After living in the States for several years, I started to grasp certain rules and patterns of pronouncing words, but I still wonder whether or not my counterpart understood what I was talking about.

Thereafter, I moved back to Asia and stayed for about 15 years. Now that I’m back in an English speaking place, I had to re-learn English.

Several weeks ago, I went to Kent Building Supplies. I don’t know what other people think when they go there, but for me, the store feels like a maze filled with mechanical tools I’ve never seen or heard of before. I wanted to buy a hook that could be screwed into our roof’s beam over the outdoor deck. Putting a hook there would be useful to hang bird feeders or plants.

I walked through column after column of tools while thinking about possible ways to install the hook. After awhile, I decided I might as well ask the store clerk. I tried very hard to describe what I wanted to do: I want to screw a hole in the roof beam which is covered in a layer of steel with wood inside and I want a hook, etc. After I finished my descriptions, the clerk told me I expressed myself very clearly and he knew exactly what I wanted. I suddenly realized I had used all my strength to describe this petty thing, and my voice was so loud everyone in the entire store could hear me. I felt quite embarrassed but very grateful towards the clerk because he understood my difficulties and encouraged me.

What I want to say is that currently, my English is like this, not very great, but I feel everyone I interact with is very understanding and supportive! I hope one day my English will be as good as a native speaker. Even though I’m not a native speaker, I believe when people communicate with each other heartfeltly, we’ll all understand each other.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.