My World in ESL

William Sun is a grade nine student at CPC. He has been at Crestwood since Grade 8 and he is originally from Tianjing, China. He wrote the following piece as part of his independent study project for Mr. DeFranco’s grade nine English class.


Three. I can’t say that easily. And sometimes, when I say words like “three,” people don’t understand, and when they don’t understand, they make fun of me. It’s only a word. But it can make me feel bad.

Hi everyone, thank you for being here. My name is William Sun and I am really happy to have the opportunity to speak with you, in English.

In Canada, it is seen as really cool and interesting to speak many different languages, and if you do, then people are really impressed and think that you’re cultured and well-travelled. We like to brag to Americans that we can speak both English and French, and like to think that this makes us extra-smart. However, if we think that speaking all these languages is amazing and exciting, then why don’t we have the exact same feelings of amazement and respect for all the ESL speakers in Canada? People who are English Language Learners already speak at least one other language, probably more, but we don’t give them the same respect we give those whose first language is English.

As most of you know, English isn’t my first language, either. My first language is Mandarin, and I’m really happy that I began learning English at a really young age and that I have a great ESL class here at school. Despite all these advantages, my ESL life isn’t easy. I could be having the best morning, having understood everything perfectly in my classes, and feeling pretty confident in myself.  Everything can be amazing, until someone makes a reference to an English saying, or to English slang I don’t know, and then I am reminded that I have a long way to go. I’m still learning how words are spelled and how they fit together, and, bit by bit, I’m acquiring more vocabulary: English really is the type of language that hangs out in dark alleys, waiting to shake down other languages for spare vocabulary. English has so many weird rules and exceptions. What language other than English would let flammable and inflammable mean the exact same thing? Teachers like to say that we need to learn the rules in order to break them, but sometimes English class can feel like a game in which everyone knows the rules except for me. This is also true in social situations. When I first came to Crestwood, I only knew one other kid–my mom’s friend’s kid. We spoke in Mandarin together. I was so shy to speak to the English-speaking kids. Would they like me? Would I say the right things? Would they make fun of my accent? Finding the right words to say is tough for everyone, but it’s way harder when you have to check the translator on your phone.

But, I’m happy to say, I didn’t have to beat my shyness all alone. The Crestwood school community was really good to me. My classmates were really friendly and talked to me first, I talked back, and that was that. I learned how important it is to be kind to people and to pass along the same opportunities to other people that I was given. I’m lucky, I hang out with a great group of people who are positive and who encourage me. I have tons of advantages in life.

Other ESL speakers aren’t so lucky. Our society really judges people who can’t speak English well, and we make the mistake in assuming that they can’t understand English. We fail to consider that maybe they don’t have the same opportunities to practice their English skills. Maybe they have to work all day, and only get to study at night. Maybe they’re judged unfairly at work and seen as less capable, even though they’re doing good work. Maybe they don’t get many job opportunities. Maybe people make fun of their accents. You know, it’s hard to lose an accent. And why does society want people to lose their accents? Accents are part of what makes us unique. How we talk is part of how we see the world.

I’ll never understand how someone can make fun of someone with an accent, and call him stupid. That person you’re calling “stupid” can speak more languages than you can! I’m proud to be an ESL student. These experiences have helped me to be funnier, kinder, more curious, and more patient. Speaking different languages has given me different ways of seeing the world, and I want to use my experiences to help other English Language Learners have the same gifts and opportunities as me.
I might mispronounce the word “three.” That’s okay.