How To Overcome Language Barriers When Your Family Moves To The US

I talked with Shizuna, a Japanese citizen, about some of the problems her family faced due to lack of English fluency, and how she found the right solution for her family. Shizuna, her husband, and their two young children relocated to the United States in 2011 when a career opportunity opened for her husband.

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Imagine moving to a country where you don’t speak the language. A large population in the US is dealing with this everyday.

This problem can affect the entire family, both adults and children. Fortunately, there are many ways that families can get help.

I talked with Shizuna, a Japanese citizen, about some of the problems her family faced due to lack of English fluency, and how she found the right solution for her family. Shizuna, her husband, and their two young children relocated to the United States in 2011 when a career opportunity opened for her husband.

Yamini Pathak: When you found out you needed to move to the U.S., did you prepare for your move in any way? Did you take any English classes, for instance?

Shizuna: Kids in Japan study English from middle school onwards. Most Japanese can read and write English pretty well, so I didn’t think I needed to take English classes when I was in Japan. However, many people, including myself, have trouble with listening to and speaking English, which requires regular practice. I did some research and spoke to my husband’s co-workers before the move. They were able to guide me to our current school district in West Windsor, NJ. The schools in this district offer a great deal of support for Japanese language students.

YP: What were some of the difficulties you faced when you first moved to the U.S.?

S: Everything was difficult. My husband and I had to overcome our shyness about speaking English. I had trouble registering my kids in school, even though the administration was very helpful. I am unable to volunteer for events and class parties at school because of communication difficulties. Doctor’s appointments are still very stressful because doctors tend to use more complicated and unfamiliar words.

My husband had trouble communicating in the workplace at first, but after we hired a personal tutor, he is now able to communicate well. By and large, people have been very helpful and patient, but we have encountered some people who showed dislike when they realized we couldn’t speak English or when we asked them to repeat what they had said. One place where we had it easy was at the bank because they had translators to help us with our needs.

YP: What problems did the kids have when settling in?

S: Fortunately, my kids were very young — in preschool and first grade when we moved. They did not have a hard time because children at that age do not really need language to make friends. Also, they were not shy about trying to speak English even if they didn’t know many words.

YP: How did you improve your English?

S: My husband and I found a private tutor. My local tennis group has American friends who have helped me greatly in improving my conversation skills. We watch TV in English and lots of English movies to improve our listening skills.

YP: What kind of support did your kids receive at public school?

S: Up until last year, my kids’ elementary school had a teacher who was bilingual in Japanese and English. This was of great help to them. The bilingual teacher also acted as a translator during our initial parent-teacher conferences. The school has English language tutors who would come to our home to give kids a language lesson after school.

They have a very good ESL (English as a Second Language) program at school, where my kids were separated from the rest of the class and given a lesson every day for an hour. Both children have successfully exited the ESL classroom after two years and now study with the mainstream classroom. They can correct my English now!

YP: What suggestions do you have for others trying to learn English?

S: Find a good English language tutor. Local libraries, community colleges, and universities often offer free English conversation classes, as well as ESL classes that address grammar, writing, and other language skills.

You can check the website of your state’s department of education or the website of the local library. Try to make English-speaking friends. Being in social situations really helps to improve both listening and speaking skills.

YP: Thank you, Shizuna, for sharing your experience!

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