December 1, 2008

by Teresa LeYung Ryan

I was eight years old when my parents, my siblings and I came to the United States. An older cousin (who was born in California) gave me a picture-dictionary. “A” for apple, “B” for bus, “C” for cat, etc. I learned those words by listening to my cousin enunciate them. My first day of school (third grade in San Francisco) was a memorable experience. I was too scared to say anything, so, the other children laughed at me. Their laughter compelled me to learn English with urgency. By the time I entered fourth grade, the teacher couldn’t tell that I was a new immigrant.

However, mastering the language wasn’t that easy. My first language is Cantonese; there are no verb tenses in the Chinese language. In Chinese, we would say: I eat today; I eat yesterday; I eat tomorrow. In English: I eat today; I ate yesterday; I will eat tomorrow. Also, I had to remember to add “s” after the verb when the verb is used with third-person singular: He/She eats today; he/she ate yesterday; he/she will eat tomorrow.

And, the English language has many idioms. Idioms are common phrases that usually do not make sense when you translate the strong of words. Examples: “Keep an eye out” which means “watch for …” (I thought it was “keep both eyes out” and my friends would laugh); “Hold your horses” which means “be patient” (not “hold on to your horses” which invited more laughs.) is a useful website to learn English idioms. Be careful though; using idioms with someone who is not familiar with idioms could create misunderstandings. I’ve been speaking English for over forty years and sometimes I still have to ask: “What do you mean?”

My biggest advice to ESL students:

  • Connect with nature. Even if you and I don’t speak the same language, we have something in common–we appreciate the gifts from nature. So, go for a walk in the park/on a trail, visit a garden, sit near the ocean or under a tree; there’s something for everyone.
  • Watch DVDs and turn on the subtitle feature (choose English of course) so that you can see the spelling of words while listening to them.

I welcome your advice to fellow ESL students. Please post your comments on this blog. Thank you.

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One Response to “English as a Second Language ESL”

  • admin says:

    I had a lovely time today with Ms. Miriam Queen’s delightful students at CCSF. I hope they will comment on this blog and share their stories about being ESL students.
    Teresa LeYung Ryan
    author of Love Made of Heart

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