International Students Learn the Intricacies of the English Language


International students at Marshall are taking advantage of a new partnership that helps them better learn the English language.

Akira Uchida is an international student at Marshall from Japan. He’s taking advantage of dialect lessons in the Marshall University Speech and Hearing Center.

“One class we do is, we go into a classroom and we learn some slangs, not bad slangs, but what American students use to communicate and how to take an order to a restaurant when you go to a restaurant and those kinds of basic things,” Uchida said.

Uchida is part of INTO, an international program that Marshall has teamed with to bring more international students to campus. But with more international students comes a larger need to help them better understand the English language. So a partnership was struck this year with the Marshall University Speech and Hearing Center to offer an elective class to INTO students. As part of the INTO program students take pathways courses upon arriving to campus. They’re aimed at helping them adjust to the United States academic system. Mollie McOwen is coordinator for the Learning Resource Center at INTO Marshall.

“Our students need more focused instruction, not only on pronunciation, but it’s intonation, it’s the stress of our language, not only sentence stress, but word stress can change the meaning of a sentence of the word completely just because the second syllable is stressed and not the first,” McOwen said.

McOwen said it’s one thing to teach the international students English in a way that allows them to read a textbook, it’s another to understand conversation in a way that allows them to understand lectures or what other English students are saying to them when they are hanging out over the weekend.

“Also if they’re in a social setting and people are using a lot more idiomatic expressions and just talking in a comfortable non-academic way, a lot of that goes way over everybody’s head, because we use metaphors and idioms and those often don’t have a direct translation with the words being used,” McOwen said.

Akira Uchida speaks the English language well. As someone who lived in the United States from the age of 4 to 10 in New Jersey and a year later in life as an exchange student in San Diego, he had a basis for the language before returning to the United States for INTO Marshall Program last fall. He said though it was still important to him to take dialect lessons because it’s still a tough language to grasp.

“For international students like myself, we want people to be patient, because we get stuck sometimes and it’s going to be completely different and the people that are patient, they, in order to communicate they need to be patient for us because it’s not like we’re native speakers cannot communicate back and forth that often,” Uchida said.

Loukia Dixon is an assistant professor in the Marshall Department of Communication Disorders. Dixon is the supervisor of the elective course. She said the dialect modification sessions consist of four clinical groups of INTO Marshall students, who meet with clinicians for 50 minutes once a week for the entire semester. Dixon says it’s important to remember, that international students aren’t dealing with a speech disorder. Rather they’re trying to learn a language that has nuances that aren’t present in other languages.

“If a person from a various country didn’t have a particular speech sound that existed in their language such as a “th”, then we needed to teach that sound and give them some feedback and give them some practice with that,” Dixon said.

Akira Uchida said his message to his fellow INTO students is always, you have to speak the language as much as possible.

“In order to improve your English you need to talk, you need to keep talking, keep talking, keep talking, even when you’re struggling, just keep talking,” Uchida said.

McOwen said they hope to continue offering the elective to students each fall and spring semester.