Student shares experience with English as second language

The first time I had a dream in English was at the end of my freshman year at Gannon. I woke up wondering why I felt weird when the significance of the event dawned on me – English was my primary language then.

I didn’t use to dream in English. In fact, I hadn’t used the language – in the full sense – before I came here.

I started learning English when I was 5 years old. One of my very few memories of my childhood – they can probably be counted on one hand – is of me sitting in the front row seat at my preschool watching my teacher write the letter “B” on the green chalk board.

The first English song I ever listened to was “The Call,” by the Backstreet Boys, unfortunately. The second was Sarah Connor’s “From Sarah with Love,” and, at the time, I liked these songs so much that I made it a point to remember them. I actually remember telling myself to memorize their names.

I read my first English book, all on my own, when I was in fifth grade. It was “The Magic Faraway Tree” by Enid Blyton.

That was when I fell in love with the language.

I started listening to more songs, reading more children’s books. I actually tried to read “The Fellowship of the Ring” in sixth grade – however, and keep in mind English is my second language, it was too long and far too descriptive for me to go on with it.

Don’t worry though, I read it later on – and I wouldn’t tell you if I didn’t, considering I’d probably get hanged by some of the avid fans.

Television also provided me with access to American shows. It started with my watching “Clueless,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Saved by The Bell.”

“Felicity” was the next big thing on television until I asked my father what “sex” meant and that’s where my – and my sisters’ – journey with American television shows ended for at least a few months.

The idea of pursuing my higher education in the United States was cultivated in me after two of my sisters made the trip first. When I got accepted into Gannon, I didn’t think speaking English nonstop would be a difficult task – I even went into the journalism program.

However, it proved to be tiresome and demanding. I learned many rules the hard way. First, I needed to unlink my thoughts in Arabic to my words in English. For instance, “ate Tom an apple,” would be my version of saying “Tom ate an apple” in Arabic.

The second rule I learned, and that is one I continue to struggle with on a daily basis, is coping to the English idioms and proverbs. Most of them have an equivalent in Arabic, but then there are some that you just can’t mimic.

As confident as I am with my English, there are certain times I just want to stop using it, go back to my Arabic with all its rich proverbs, and return to dreaming in Arabic again.



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