I’m a high school student from China and I’m now in the US at an American high school. I have an ESL class each day and the rest of my classes are all the usual subjects that every student takes. There are dozens of other international students at my school here, and lots of them are from China. I didn’t know any of them until I arrived here, but we now hang out together a lot at school.
So, that’s kind of the problem. My Chinese friends here always want to speak Mandarin because it’s of course fast and natural for us. Plus, other kids here and teachers don’t know what we’re saying. At first, I thought this was great. We learn our science, math and everything like that in English, plus we have an ESL class every day. So, why not talk to friends in our native language? Well, I’m seeing now that it’s making it hard for me to remember my English - especially stuff I learn that day. If I don’t take time to review my English skills, after class or at home in the evening, I sometimes don’t remember things, even the very next day!
This is why I’m trying now to talk in English more with some of the US students. As soon as I decided to do this, I saw that these kids are really happy to talk with me. I think they thought before that I didn’t want to hang out with them. Now, at least a few of them, see that we actually have lots in common. This week, I got invited to play US soccer with a bunch of American boys (we’re all in the 9th grade). It was so much fun - and I got to hear how kids talk casually in English about stuff.
Some of the other Chinese kids here seem to have backed away from me, because they maybe think I don’t like them as much anymore. One of them even said to me, “Lin, don’t you like to joke around with us?” I said that of course I do, but I just want to meet and be friends with lots of different kids. I added that, at least for me, this is why I was excited to come to the United States to study. In the US, kids and their families are really from all over the world. I’ve seen girls and boys here who have parents or grandparents who moved here from lots of other countries.
I think, little by little, my Chinese friends here at this US high school will interact more with American kids. One of my new Chinese friends here said he noticed that my Chinese accent when I speak English seems to be changing, too. I said, “See! That’s why it’s good to practice talking in English!” I told him I was tired of teachers always asking me to repeat myself because they couldn’t understand my accent. In our ESL class, we practice the correct pronunciation of words and phrases. I’m practicing this at home and with other US students, too, though. And I know it’s making a big difference already.
My plan, and what my family wants from me, is for me to go to a good American university. To do this, I know my English must be strong. When I came here, I had already had a bunch of years of English studies in China. It’s so different here, though! I had memorized so many English vocabulary words and I thought it would be easy here, especially because my phone can translate words from English to Chinese, and Chinese to English. Now I see it doesn’t really work like that. People talk in real time, and American kids don’t really seem to want to stand there and wait for me to keep using my phone to translate stuff. That’s not what they’re used to. Plus, now I see that they appreciate it when I try to use my best English. Sometimes they do ask how to say stuff in Chinese, and that’s fun, too.
I’m even now starting to raise my hand sometimes in class to give an answer in English. At first, especially in my Algebra I and Physical Sciences classes, I didn’t want to let on that I knew most of the answers. This was really because I wasn’t always sure how to say the answers in English. But now with my trying more to practice English more of the time, I feel confident enough to raise my hand sometimes and give the right answer. This has also helped for some other US kids to talk with me, because now they see that we can communicate pretty easily.
I do still talk everyday in Chinese with some of the other Chinese kids here, but I’m really trying to do it less and less. I know this is helping me, and I think it’s getting to be fun, too! I also think some of my Chinese friends here are slowly noticing my getting better in English, and they’re very slowly also trying to talk with me in English more. It’s not going to change in a day, but I feel so good that I’m improving my English fast. I also feel great that I’m helping my international friends here to get better with their English, too!
Here's a great link, too, that has given me more ideas about different ways and times to practice my English outside of school: