Story by Aki Nagasaka
When an international student wants to say something in English but doesn’t know the right words, communication becomes difficult.
Sanae Homma, a Speech Communication senior from Chiba, Japan, has overcome language barriers at Missouri Valley College. She is one of more than 200 students from other countries attending MVC.
Coming from another country to study and learn, students can find a big challenge in learning English as a second language. Sanae came to MVC to study English and learn about another culture. “I want to be an interpreter or maybe translator, so I came here and chose the Speech Communication major.”
There are various reasons why international students come to MVC, but the common aspect is that they have a strong desire to study in America.
“In my country, an American degree is considered very high. That’s why I came here to get a better education,” said Trudy Hotice Sika, an Accounting freshman from Dunkwa Central, Ghana.
Nina Wu, a Nursing freshman from Nanjing, China, said, “My major was Nursing in China, but it is different from American nursing. I’m studying here because I want to improve my knowledge.”
Many international students have a clear goal and are very serious about their academic and work pursuits. However, when they try to communicate in a different country using a different language, there is always a big hurdle. Sanae said that pronounciation and word order are top issues for her.
Some international students have learned English in their own country and may have had English-speakers in their area who taught them English. After they came here, they wind up with different dialects that people in college have, so they find more challenges.
“International students sometimes can’t understand us because of the way we say things,” said Susan Dittmer, an associate professor of Speech Communication. She is also Homma’s academic adviser. Dittmer gives international students the opportunities of one-on-one English lessons whenever they have problems about their English.
“I believe that’s the biggest thing because once you can get them past that barrier, they are more likely to start speaking out and getting a little more of that confidence,” Dittmer said.
Another barrier for the international students is the difference of environment. After graduation from high school, Sanae came to MVC and everything was different and new to her. “I got homesick. I missed my friends and foods, and I felt lonely sometimes,” she said.
As long as they keep studying in America, they have to overcome those difficulties sooner or later. But many of them are positive and enthusiastic about their progress in English. Some international students also try to hang out with students who are “English speakers.” That can help in better understanding the language. Reading, watching movies and especially making new friends are other ways for international students to improve their English, as well as to broaden their views.
Students from America can also find something new from international students. Geneva K. Looney, a History senior from Missouri, is one of Sanae’s best friends since they met in a choir class. Geneva said it is interesting to make friends from other countries. “It is completely different compared to what I’m used to, and it’s interesting that everybody comes from a different place and they do things differently,” Geneva said.
Amos Altibila, an Accounting sophomore from Ghana, said English is one of the official languages in his country, but he can’t say he can command the language and is still learning because education is a process and there is no end.
Nina said, “Studying English is hard, but I’m trying my best because it is different and I like different things. This is my choice.”
Sanae said her biggest obstacle was that she didn’t have the confidence about her speaking skills. However, she said that Dittmer, her academic adviser, was the first person to accept her Japanese accent when she was speaking English. “Since she said she likes my accent, I have never minded my Japanese accent,” Sanae said, adding that thanks to Dittmer, she became more conversational.
Trusting in what they have learned and conversing in the second language of English can be the starting points for international students in furthering their language skills.