Amanj Noori speaks Kurdish and Tony Lehew only English, yet they communicate.
Lehew is Noori’s conversation partner at TCU who meets with him every week outside class to help him improve his speaking skills.
Noori is a student from the Institute of Engineering and Drafting in Shaqlawa, a town in northern Iraq, who is now in the Intensive English Program at TCU, a program for non-native English speakers to improve their writing and communication skills.
When Noori and Lehew first met, they talked about each other and tried to understand the other, Lehew said.
“English isn’t his first language and he struggled with some words,” Lehew said of their first conversation. “He understood what I said but took a little time to get his words out; he did a good job in communicating and getting his words across.”
Noori, 24, the third of six siblings, isn’t learning English for fun, but instead to help his family business. His sister, Susan Noori, who was visiting her siblings in Fort Worth when interviewed, said he needs to take responsibilities and learning English can help him effectively communicate with foreign clients in their construction business.
“We were pushing him to learn English,” Susan Noori said.
The young aspirant made his way to the U.S. to fulfill his family’s dream and also his – to pursue a law degree in the U.S. after learning the language. Noori said he came to America because “English is taught in English in the U.S.,” unlike in Irbil, his hometown in the Kurdish area of Iraq, where his teachers only taught English words but explained their meanings in Kurdish.
Although English is a foreign tongue for Noori, it wasn’t an unheard language. He had his first taste of English in fifth grade when he learned the alphabet, words and grammar, he said.
“(My) first word was ‘winter,'” he said with frequent pauses between words. “My teacher taught me winter with spelling. It was a rainy day and I never forget the weather and the word.”
But it wasn’t only school where Noori was exposed to the language he wanted to learn. He became familiar with English by watching popular American movies and TV series, such as “Friends,” on satellite networks and trying to imitate the TV stars and how they spoke.
“‘How you doin?'” Noori said laughing, recalling what he learned from Joey, a character on “Friends.” He also listens to artists like Bryan Adams, Usher and 50 Cent, which he said he understands partly and repeats the words as he sings along.
He sat in the end row – quiet but attentive – in his second-level oral communication class, listening to his peers and trying to comprehend the speech topic for the week: Why I like/dislike tests.
Noori battled with words trying to express himself with flair in a compact class of students with different accents trying to learn English; he noted the words new to him and entered them in his electronic translator dictionary as his teacher spelled.
“It’s important to know how can I learn this program and improve my English,” Noori said, making an effort to speak correctly.
For Noori, learning English and being able to talk like his teachers is a dream he is living; with each class and conversation with people surrounding him, Noori is naturalizing to the language he wants to learn.
“If someone is talking 10 words, I can (now) understand six out of 10,” he said. “I am reading the book Harry Potter,” Noori said, showing J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
Betty Trueblood, his speaking teacher for the first level of oral communication, said she remembers giving an audio lesson on the second day of class and Noori showed her the next day how he was learning by putting the lesson on his mp3 player – listening and practicing.
Lehew also sees Noori improving.
“He has only been here for two months and I think he speaks great,” he said. “If I were to go to Iraq and had only been there two months, I can only imagine speaking one-tenth of the words he says in English now.”
Tom Crowell, his high intermediate speaking instructor, said his general fluency in English has improved since he started in February.
“His English is not polished, but wants to learn, willing to listen and mimic,” he said. “He is a good language learner.”
However, for Noori, the game of learning English is not easy.
One of the problems Noori faces is his pronunciation, Trueblood said. Some of the intonation and certain sounds are difficult for him to pronounce, but his effort to learn overshadows his flaws.
Neinan Crowe, who lives in Fort Worth with her husband, said she feels proud of her brother and the initiative he is taking to learn the language. She remembered Noori telling her, one day after school, how one of his classmates who speaks Arabic tried to talk to him since he speaks the language, but Noori refused to talk.
“Let’s speak English; I am here for English,” Crowe said, recalling her brother’s determination.
Speaking English at home with his brother-in-law also helps, Crowe said. Noori practices a lot with his brother-in-law because he is a native English speaker, she said.
But Noori said there are problems in communicating with his brother-in-law, and he often seeks help from his sister.
“I want to tell him a lot of things but can’t express,” he said.
However, Noori is positive and passionate to overcome the barriers and master the foreign language, Crowell said.
“His main advantage is that he has such a good attitude,” he said. “He really wants to learn and is willing to work to learn; it’s an unbeatable combination. Anybody who really wants to learn and is willing to do so is going to learn.”
In a foreign land trying to learn the native language of the place, a foreigner is discovering his moments of trials and triumphs; Noori said he loves the experience.
“I fling (felt) afraid and strang (strange) and sadness at the biggining (beginning) but at the moment I love my class,” Noori expressed his sentiments on paper- a revelation of his journey of learning English so far.