Understanding the Real Intentions of an ESL Student
By: Victoria Ifatusin
The College of Staten Island is known to be one of the most diverse schools, as it contains students from all over the world.
Because of that, various students are put as ESL students – English as a Second Language – ignoring their mother tongue to communicate and learn in the English language.
Of course, these students start off by having a difficult time in understanding what is being taught, studying the material in English, and speaking to others, especially the latter.
Often, students such as these are misunderstood and are misjudged by students and professors due to their language barrier.
However, everyone should know that even though ESL students may not communicate their thoughts and knowledge as well as regular English-speaking students, it does not mean that they don’t understand the material they are taught.
Because people misjudge this miscommunication as a sign of stupidity, ESL students are commonly insulted, which can hurt their self-esteem and desire to learn English.
Let this story show that ESL students understand a lot more than you think, they just perhaps need more time to respond properly.
The Banner was able to interview an anonymous student who gave us their experience as an ESL student.
Q: When did you come to the United States?
A: Approximately four years ago.
Q: Why did you come to the States?
A: To unite with my family.
Q: Did you come for a better living, education, etc.?
A: For a better living.
Q: When did you start to see the verbal harassment/abuse from others?
A: So generally, I struggle almost every day in the first year when I tried to go to the store and I tried to ask the questions. It was not actually abuse, but I felt not confident and I really was afraid to ask people questions and people don’t really understand me and I realize that I should study English. It was not about abuse, but it was about questioning my level of English.
Q: What were they doing or saying exactly that made you not confident?
A: Exactly in the store, I understood people, they would just say to me, “we don’t understand.” If it was something for questions I cannot answer; to pursue people in my point of view and it was often painful. But it was my problem, I should study English.
Q: How was it your problem?
A: First, it was my problem because I didn’t know English well and it was my blame; I should study English, for the first year. But when I gradually improved in my level, my level of self-esteem increased. After one year, I decided to go to college because I saw that by myself I cannot pass the boundary and I actually went to college.
Q: Whenever you spoke to someone who didn’t understand you, did they say anything in particular that you didn’t like?
A: Really in particular was just one teacher when she asked me to answer quickly to multiple choice questions and I cannot concentrate because I didn’t realize quickly what the question was about. I asked her to repeat for me the question slowly. But the teacher asked me “are you really present in the lessons are you really understanding?” I said yes, but I needed time. I understand, but sometimes I cannot catch to quickly information. Most of the information I take it by reading not by hearing. If I don’t understand one sentence, two or three, I begin to lose track but at home by reading it is easier for me to memorize and understand.
Q: Do you think that they are doing this on purpose?
A: No, maybe just because the teacher wants me to really concentrate and wants me to understand the material well. But I think that some students need more time. Usually, I do tests later than other students, not because I don’t understand but because it takes time to read questions. I am not familiar with everything. Sometimes I have to guess.
Q: If there are students out there, ESL students, who are going through the same situation as you are, what would you say to them? Would you encourage them?
A: I saw a lot of students who went out from college just because they couldn’t pass. They would get a W in the class. They are so clever and it’s painful for me that they didn’t pass it. Three times, four times, and they just went out from college. I think for ESL students they are not given enough time for writing. For native students it’s easy, but for ESL students it is very difficult. They fail multiple times in writing not because they are not clever but because there is no time. It’s not enough for me, for ESL students. I’ve told a lot of my friends to try to do it again. I would read a book by myself and I even try to write every day. I would ask for additional work from my teacher. A lot of my friends do essays, but they wouldn’t pass.
Q: If you could talk to the professors or anyone who doesn’t fully understand ESL students, what would you say to them?
A: I think it depends on the personality. I really appreciate my first teacher who after first lecture, I realized that I didn’t understand what he would say in class. I was afraid but I told him that I was lost in the lecture and he encouraged me to translate my notes and study and I did it and I’m grateful to him. He didn’t say that I should drop the class like every other person said he just gave me time and I used it. I saw that a lot of professors tell the students “if you are not able to pass class, if you’re not confident, just drop it.”