11: Cultural Differences

Speaking and Understanding English

Even if you speak English very well, you might not understand the local accent right away. Even though people in Hawai’i speak English, some of the words and expressions are unique to Hawai’i. You may be unfamiliar with American slang or the local expressions. Humor, wit, and sarcasm are an integral part of American English. At first some international students have trouble adapting to this informal style of conversation or understanding whether the person they are speaking with is being serious or not. You might also not know all of the abbreviations and technical terms used at UH Hilo. Give yourself time to adapt to the language, and ask people to repeat what they have said, speak slowly, or explain what they mean. You may also wish to carry a small dictionary with you or download a dictionary app on your smartphone in case of emergency.

If English is not your first language, practice English before you come to Hilo. Try to speak English as much as possible with native English speakers. Your current school may have resources available to help you improve your English. Also, check out online and smartphone resources, such as LiveMocha, My Language Exchange, and Tongr app.

After you arrive at UH Hilo, you will gain English language practice both inside and outside of your classes. Going on trips and getting involved in activities will not only allow you to practice English in a more relaxed setting, but you will also learn more about American culture and possibly other cultures. Though learning another language may be frustrating at times, we encourage you to try your best and have fun with it! You will be amazed at how much your English improves after only a few months in Hilo!