Welcome to Bridget's website for English 101: Living Multilingualism !!!!
                                     Crossing the GAP
              “ Don’t be so nervous to study abroad. You will be fine! Your English grade is always the highest! Take care”  My friend said to me when she hugged me at the airport.  I nodded and said goodbye to those people I love and to the country  in which I grew  up and learned almost everything I knew.  When I stepped into the dorm room of Emory with tons of stuffs on my hand, I still had the confidence to speak English and had a faith that I can get involved in this new environment soon. 

            Things turn out to be on the opposite side. Starting from the orientation group, I found myself can never involve in a real conversation except saying “ Hi, nice to meet you. I am Bridget.”.  I can’t catch the joke, can’t discuss the movie or VMA. What’s more, just like what Sedaris says in his work “Regardless of their nationalities, everyone spoke in what sounded to me like excellent french. Some accents were better than others, but the students exhibited an ease and confidence I found intimidating.” It’s the first time I lost my confident in English and began to wonder if I can really involve in this different cultural and lingual environment.

          Most people think that if someone has learned a language for more than ten years, even though it may not be his or her mother language,  this person should master this language well and be confident using it. But for the rest of people including us who study a foreign language at our own country are not surprised by the fact that years of studying do not mean mastering a language and speaking the language like a native speaker because we do experience the gap between the same language spoken and used in different countries.

        I remembered on the second day  after we arrived in Atlanta, we went shopping in a nearest mall. When we waited for the bus, we noticed a sign with “Smoking free” on it. My friend’s father asked us “What’s that mean? Can I smoke here or not?” We hesitated answering. “ Does it means smoking freely here or smoking is banned here?”  If you walking into some cafes in China, you can see the sign with“禁止吸烟”and “No smoking” on it.  But we never saw “smoking free” before. We didn’t want to go to ask and told my friend’s father “ We are not sure, but you’d better not smoke here.” “If you don’t know, you should go to ask instead of staying unknown and being satisfied with your limited knowledge. “ He insisted that we should figure it out. Then we went to ask a person and got an answer “’Smoking free’ is just like ‘duty free’. ‘free’ there means ‘without’.” We learned a new terms by asking local people. This experience fires my curiousity about how different is the English spoken and used in China and America and my passion in learning real English.

          I started to encourage myself to going talk and asking  other students either in my hall or in my class. Not so long, I find that there are really many differences between what we learn in China and what people talk in America.  

         With the orientation guide on her hand, a friend asked if I want to go to the activity tonight on the McDonough Field. 

“ Ok, I will meet you at the playground opposite to the DUC.” 

“ Playground? You call “field ““playground” in China?” My friends seemed surprised.  

But I didn’t catch the point.  “ Yes, anything wrong with that?”  I recalled the “five-sentence essay” we often wrote in primary school. The most common sentence that almost appeared on everyone’s sheet is “ I always play soccer (or other sports) with my friend on the playground.”   

“What do you mean when you say ‘playground’?” I  asked.

“ Playground is the place where small kids play. Err.. just like the place in McDonalds!!! Field is just where we paly sports on.”

            The friends’ words open a brand new world for me. It seems that what I have learned and what I have always believed right can be a mistake or even a joke for the native speakers. 

            The gap between the  same language but taught in different countries makes me feel intimidating and upset. It’s  neither the school’s nor  the teacher’s fault.  Actually, from my point of view, the gap exists because the language environment and the purpose of learning the language are different.  In china, except the students who want to study abroad, other students study English because of the general requirement of the education system and  the entry exam for universities. So actually the textbooks are in different versions with almost same contents to teach us how to read, listen and write in English.  Because the purpose for test instead of for daily use, textbooks mainly focus on formal English, especially grammar.. However, the authors of the books are seldom native speakers and most of them are chinese.  So the editors actually always translate English into Chinese or look at the chinese meaning of English words. Just like what we learn in chinese class that words with almost the same meanings in the dictionary actually have slightly different way to use in different situation, English words’ meanings actually vary in different situations. But we can tell the slight difference between chinese words instead of between English words because we listen and speak in chinese all the time! Maybe that’s the way to cross the gap between language taught in different countries : Living with native speakers, listening and talking to Americans! 

          “ Table tennis club is not big on campus.” “ So "big" means "popular" there?” “Right.” Now I am learning how to say English like an Americans does. Maybe one day I can get rid of the accent and involve in this new language environment. But what can we do  if we can’t always have the chances to reach to native speakes when we  are in a different country with them?Why can’t we think more about the purpose to learn a foreign language? To use it in one day in the future or just to learn it for the test? Why can’t we correct the mistakes in the textbook and teach children in China the way that native speakers speak English?