May 8, 2013

It's not just about language


---- — In my first class at SUNY Plattsburgh, I was the only international student in the room. 

The professor spoke very fast, and the other students didn’t seem to wonder what he was talking about. It took me about a month to finally be able to understand every word my teachers uttered. 

I must admit that, at first, I didn’t think I would do well in school.

Mauritius, an island off the east coast of Madagascar, is where I was born and lived for about 19 years. My first language is Mauritian Creole, my second is French and my third is English. 

After our independence from the British in 1968, English became our national language.

In school, we learn and write in English. However, other than in the parliament, Mauritians do not communicate with each other in that language.

My dad, however, is an English teacher and speaks the language very well; I always wanted to be able to speak as well as he did and have learned a lot from him.

Growing up, I watched every Disney film and many other American movies in French, but as my wish to study in the United States grew stronger, I began to watch them in English to get accustomed to the accent.

Having a British education system in Mauritius, the English I learned was very different. I decided to learn the American accent, and I practiced it while reading for about two years. When I came to the United States, I was told by a few people that my accent was “kind of American.”


I had an American boyfriend for about two years of my stay in the States, and he helped me improve my English and accent much faster.

He always corrected me if I pronounced a word wrong and taught me much about the United States. 

I was lucky, also, to experience American culture outside college life by being among his family and friends.

As a result, today, I can easily fool anyone and pass for an American during a short conversation; many, when I say I’m from Mauritius, think of Moriches, a hamlet on Long Island. 

However, passing as an American isn’t an advantage.

Too often, my American peers forget the fact that I am not from this country, and eyebrows are raised. 

“You have never heard of this?” is one question I am asked many times.


Moreover, being a journalism student in the United States, it is important to know a lot about American history, business and politics, which is often hard for me. 

Again, some of my peers get frustrated at having to explain things to me.

What I hate the most is when, sometimes, sources I interview give me the look that says, ‘You are pretty stupid for a journalist,’ when I ask questions about terms I do not understand.

I guess having an American accent is not good for an international student who has been speaking completely in English for only three years and who saw the “Wizard of Oz” for the first time only this year.

Nevertheless, I do feel lucky about being comfortable in expressing myself without struggling for words. 

As a journalism student, I cannot imagine how hard it would have been otherwise.

Darina Naidu graduates from SUNY Plattsburgh later this month with a journalism degree. She has completed work experience in the Press-Republican newsroom.