International student Hāna Kusano, a native Japanese speaker, reviews her notes for Speech 151 class. (Photo by Juri Dagio)

By Juri Dagio | Staff Writer

Born in the Philippines, I moved to Japan at the age of 15 before settling in Hawai’i a year ago. On O’ahu, Kapi’olani Community College is regarded as one of the most diverse colleges. Since many students recognize English as a second language, it is quite comfortable to be on campus at all times.  My goal, even before I had the dream of attending a university in the U.S., had been to learn English from a very young age and to learn Japanese so that I could live comfortably in there.

After being embarrassed so many times, I have become wholly immune to embarrassment talking to native speakers. Having been used to speaking Tagalog, we don’t distinguish the gender of who we are referring through the pronoun. Oftentimes, I would use pronouns incorrectly. Whenever I refer to a girl as “he,” I usually receive a squinch followed by the question, “who are you talking about?” It would then be an awkward silence while I deliberated over what to say.

Prior to now, when I was nervous and fearful, I would often cut myself off. Most of the time, this happens when I don’t know how to say what I want to say. I would end it in “yeah” or with a shrug. I really think that this makes whoever I’m talking to very uncomfortable, though that isn’t my intention at all.

So, who do you think cares about how you speak? Whether you are using the wrong tense, or you have a very strong accent that makes you sound different from what you think a normal English should sound like, it takes time to learn how to communicate in a language that you have just learned or are still learning. It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, it’s better to make mistakes as much as you can.

Learning a language is often centered on grammar instruction. I have observed in my Filipino elementary school and in my Japanese high school English classes that many students still have difficulty speaking fluent or conversational English despite learning proper grammar. Most of the time, the cause of the struggle is thinking that learning rules of grammar is an essential requirement for speaking the basic level of a language.

After having learned English, Japanese, and French in addition to my native language of Tagalog, I realized that grammar is not the first step to being able to communicate effectively. I’ve learned to use “kinda” and “gonna” from watching movies, which I’ve never seen in an English book. Normally, movies use common language that the viewers also use. It is what you see in contemporary films, so you become familiar with speech norms.

Sometimes, whenever I’m having a hard time comprehending what the characters are saying in a movie, I always guess through their facial expressions and gestures. It has helped me become more conversant not only with English slang words, but also with English idioms. I believe it also made me an active listener.

The easy-to-read writing of “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” one of my favorite modern romance novels, helped me learn English as well. The dialogue and vocabulary are primarily suitable for everyday usage since it is a coming-of-age novel. I found a way to put my standard English book aside and had fun learning through books I’m actually interested in. If you think novels are outdated, you can read travel books, cookbooks, or comics.

It has been a long time since anyone asked me about what my accent is or corrected me with the appropriate word to use when I’m speaking in certain situations. I have gotten over the stigma about foreigners not being able to speak English in a specific manner. Just right after the first week of fall semester started, one of my classmates said, “I didn’t notice you have an accent the first time I talked to you.” When I heard that, I laughed, then I answered.

“Really? It’s because I can turn it on and off.”