An update from Lisa, a junior studying elementary education:

During spring 2013 I spent a lot of time in SMU’s English as a Second Language class communicating with students whose first language is not English. I volunteered in two classes. One class was for learning pronunciation and one was for practicing communication skills. I met students from China, North Korea, Thailand, and Ukraine.

In the pronunciation class, I learned about the phonetic alphabet. This alphabet enables the teacher to show the students how to pronounce certain English words without knowing their native language. Because I am a native English speaker, I had taken for granted how easy pronunciation of the English language was for me. After watching the students who had not grown up using specific parts of the mouth for specific English sounds, I understood how difficult it is. I further understood when they taught me some words in their native language, or when I was trying to pronounce their names. It was hard for me to have the correct pronunciation, too!

I learned about the difficulties international students face when coming to America. For example, when they speak, they are not always understood and often have to repeat themselves. They also enter a different culture. I also learned about the countries the students came from. I learned the Chinese eat moon cakes on the day the moon is the fullest, which usually falls around September. I was exposed to new Chinese names and cities. I watched the Ukrainian version of “The Voice.”

Volunteering in the ESL classes confirmed my love of different cultures and of teaching, and showed me that even though we all grew up differently, we had many things in common. Being exposed to different cultures has allowed me to become an even more open-minded person.