Being an international student, the greatest barrier that I had to overcome was using the second language in school. To be able to express my ideas and thoughts effectively could be extremely difficult. For me, speaking was not a big issue, as there were many solutions for pronunciation and accent. Writing, on the other hands, was extremely difficult. Grammar and punctuation were not the big issue. It was the difference between Vietnamese writing and English writing. In order to be able to write in English effectively, I had to forget about the Vietnamese writing and think as an English writer.
I started to learn English when I was six years old, and I continued to practice and study English throughout my childhood. Most of what I learnt in English was grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. Writing was not taught very effectively, as teachers primarily focused about grammar and punctuation in our writing. In other words, I would use the Vietnamese style of writing to write a paragraph, and then translated it into English without changing the format. Since I only needed to translate very few sentences, the task was not difficult at all. My translation skill was excellence, so I believed that my writing skill was very solid until college.
When I moved to a college in Virginia, I were required to take different writing courses. One of the classes was the highest level of ESL writing classes that were mandatory before I can take any others classes. The writing class proved that what I learnt about writing in the past was completely incorrect. First, Vietnamese writing was very different from English writing. English writing was prescriptive and logical, while Vietnamese writing was descriptive and figurative. Basically, English writing was about construction and organization ideas in a specific order to directly describe the topic, while Vietnamese writing is about the usage of descriptive words to indirectly describe the topic. Second, a good Vietnamese writing depended on the usage of words to vividly describe the topic and the student’s ability to choose the best words to describe it. In the end, I had to learn English writing from the beginning, because translating words to words was a wrong way to write, because the two languages had difference writing structures.
Taking many difference English writing classes in college really shaped me to become a better writer. One of the first classes, as mention above, was the ESL writing class. The biggest struggle for me in the class was forgetting about what I learnt in the past about writing. For more then ten years, my understanding of writing was translation my writing from Vietnamese to English. It took a lot of time to be able to change the old mindset, especially since I was not used to write using a specific structure and order. It was a struggle to be able to organize all of the ideas and arrange them in a logical way. Also, another challenge was to think as an English writer, not a Vietnamese writer. I had to practice organizing my ideas and putting them into a specific structure. In the ESL writing class, I wrote mostly about narrative because it was the easiest way to organize ideas. The first few assignments were quite difficult, as I ended up writing in Vietnamese style and translated it. After repeatedly rewrote these assignments, I was able to write directly in English style. Being able to write as an English writer definitely was more effective.
Although my writing skills were improving, I still struggled to express my ideas. I often found that my sentences did not clearly express my idea, and my reader had trouble understanding it. So I asked myself if there was there a way to improve my writing. Making an appointment with my writing teacher, I was able to get some useful tips of how to become a better writer. He recommended reading more novels, short stories and news articles. After reading a few books, I see a lot of improvement in my writing. Besides improving my vocabulary pool, reading helped me to think as an English writer by showing how he organized his ideas. Reading also help me visualized the English writing structure better. Being able to understand how writers apply the structure into their writing was better then plainly learning the concepts.
After two years of taking writing classes, I was able to write with a mindset of an English writer. I usually helped my Vietnamese friends in their writing. When I used to live in Virginia, there was one particular friend that I spent a lot of time with her writing. Her biggest struggle was similar to mine because she would write her paper using the Vietnamese writing style. That year was her first year in American, so she had not experienced with many English writings. She said she could write the essay in Vietnamese very effectively and translated it into English without much effort. Because the two writing structure was very different, her papers were completely false. To help her, I explained to her the different between Vietnamese writing and English writing. I also used her old papers and helped her rewrite it correctly. It was a difficult task, because I tried not to influence my writing into her papers. After the first few time, she was able to understand the basic of English writing and slowly forgot about Vietnamese writing. Throughout that semester, she was able to completely ignore the Vietnamese writing style and wrote her papers without any trouble.
The biggest struggle of being an international student was to be able to ignore their native country’s writing style and influences. For me, the process took a lot of time to completely ignore the Vietnamese writing and thinking. But with writing classes, reading and tutoring others writers, my writing skills improved significantly. Now I am able to think as an English writer, instead of being a Vietnamese writer.