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Dashew Center hosts Fall English Language Circle for international students

(Hao Tam Tran/Daily Bruin)

By Sam Mulick

Nov. 28, 2023 10:52 p.m.

The UCLA Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars hosts an English language circle to help international students practice speaking English.

The Fall English Language Circle is a weekly meeting where international students looking to practice their English can build fluency and language advancement with a native English speaker, according to an emailed statement from the Dashew Center. Rachelle Hamilton, a volunteer who has helped run the conversation circle since 2010, said the circle is an opportunity for students who did not grow up speaking English to practice their communication skills and learn more about common cultural practices in the United States.

“It’s just a place for students to test out their conversational English with a native speaker in a judgment-free zone,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said she got involved with the circle after noticing the lack of awareness about and accommodation for students moving to a new country and learning a new language. As someone with an international family, she has personally witnessed the difficulty of moving to a new country, she said.

Hee Jun Lim, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering from South Korea, said he feels the language circle provides an opportunity for international students to practice speaking English without fear and make mistakes with other students who are learning the language.

“Some international students don’t have a chance to speak English with others,” he said. “In the language circle, we can meet with other international students, and then they don’t judge us.”

During a Nov. 8 session, Hamilton led a conversation about common speaking conventions in America, such as how people use “ish” to describe imprecise ideas, including telling the time or describing colors.

The six students participating in the session, who come from countries including Turkey, China, South Korea and France, talked about what they did over the weekend, including one student’s recent trip to The Cheesecake Factory and the best hiking spots in Los Angeles. Others talked about visiting local events and popular tourist attractions.

Hua Zheng – a visiting graduate researcher from China – said he enjoyed going to the Getty Center, and Hanson Yang, a doctoral student in sociology, said he hiked to the Hollywood sign from the Griffith Observatory before going to a Halloween celebration in Culver City.

Hamilton offered suggestions of other museums in the LA area, including the LA County Museum of Art and the Japanese Culture House. When Damla Toul – a visiting graduate researcher from Turkey – said to the group that she wanted to bake cheesecake similar to the one she had over the weekend at The Cheesecake Factory, Hamilton suggested looking up copycat or dupe recipes online.

Yang said the circle’s focus on English terms specific to the U.S. has helped him communicate more with people who grew up speaking English.

“Rachelle also taught us some idioms and slang, (which) helped us to understand how to use these idioms and slang in daily life,” he said. “I think it’s very important.”

Zheng said the language circle provides a support group for international students who are experiencing similar challenges in learning and communicating in English and who have found it difficult to connect with people who grew up speaking English.

“It’s very cherished because we can meet new friends from the different countries in the world,” he said.

Some students recalled difficult experiences involving calling people in a new language after moving to the U.S. Yang said he spent hours on the phone to get the Internet running in his new apartment.

However, the circle is also a place to share positive moments. Hamilton said one of her proudest moments from teaching was when a student used the phrase, “Nailed it!” while watching a touchdown in the Super Bowl after they had learned the phrase earlier that day.

Multiple students said the Dashew Center was instrumental in their transition to UCLA because it gave them a community they could always turn to for help. Yang said he wishes the language circle could meet twice a week to make the adjustment even easier.

According to an emailed statement from the Dashew Center, in addition to the language circle, the center provides a variety of other programs tailored to assist international students in their transition to the U.S., including ongoing language development programs, leadership programs and social and cultural quarterly events.

Hamilton said she hopes students are able to walk away from the weekly meetings with the confidence to interact more outside the circle without fear of judgment. She said she hopes people can be excited about not knowing something rather than feeling ashamed about it.

Hamilton added that students who speak English as their first language can play a key part in helping international students learn the language and ease their transition to the U.S. by making the effort to invite international students over and integrate them into their social lives.

Ultimately, learning a new language is about perseverance and patience, Hamilton said.

“It’s never a failure when you make a mistake while you’re speaking,” she said. “It’s just a learning opportunity.”

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Sam Mulick
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