The Joys and Challenges of Learning English
By Mohammed Almalky, English Language Program and MS Biology Graduate from Chatham University
Mohammed wrote this narrative and deliver it as a speech at the International Education Symposium at Chatham University in November 2014.
My name is Mohammed Almalky. I came to the U.S in 2012 to learn English. I started to learn English in Saudi Arabia, but I was not effective because I did not use English often. I faced many challenges in learning English, yet I have found different ways to overcome these challenges.
When I first came to the U.S.A, I would talk for an hour with a native speaker, and at the end of the conversation they would ask me, “What you are talking about?” As you can imagine, it was difficult to find native speakers who were willing to spend time and talk with me. Of course, they would be more interested in talking with someone who they could have a smooth conversation with. Thus, to attract them to have a conversation with me, I invited them to parties and restaurants so they would come and enjoy the parties and meals and I would enjoy speaking with them.
The second challenge I faced was learning the meaning and the use of words. When I learned new vocabularies by translating them from English to Arabic and vice versa, I thought I got the meaning, but in fact the use of the words was different. For example, in Arabic the word “calendar” has two different meanings: dates and dental braces. So when I went to the dentist in the U.S., instead of asking for braces, I asked him for a calendar and he gave me a folder. I realized that he misunderstood me because of my English.
The third challenge and biggest challenge is learning English pronunciation. For instance, in English they have the two different sounds p and b while in Arabic we only have the sound b. One time I had an appointment with a native speaker and he called me and asked “Where are you?” I said, “I am outside.” When I arrived he asked me again, “Where have you been?” I said, “I was barking on Fifth Ave.” He said, “Why didn’t you come and bark here!” I did not understand what he meant. After three months he said, “Your English is getting better. Do you still bark?” I could then answer, “No, now I am parking”.
After several semesters of studying English, my English greatly improved. I got admitted to study a Master's degree in Biology. As a biology student, I now know words that many native speakers do not know, such as anastomose, decussate, osteoclasts, and lipolysis. After looking back at my experience, I can confidently conclude that you never fail until you stop trying.