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Interview with Vinita Bhandari

Bhandari, Vinita
Turbyfill, Debbie
Date of Interview: 
overcoming obstacles; relationships with people and places
Vinita Bhandari talks about language assessment and her English proficiency.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Debbie Turbyfill interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
DT (Debbie Turbyfill): This is Debbie Turbyfill. This is February the 22nd, 2003, and I'm interviewing Vinita Bhandari and, um, I'm going to start by asking you, um, just to tell me your name and where you're from.
VB (Vinita Bhandari): My name is Vinita Bhandari and I'm from India.
DT: OK. Can you tell, first of all, I'm going to ask you some things about your language testing, your language education in your country, and also when you came to the United States, OK?
DT: So, um, first of all, um, you said you're from India. What, um, part of India are you from?
VB: I'm from Bhopal and that's the capital of Madhya Pradesh.
DT: OK. And what is your native language?
VB: My native language is Hindi.
DT: OK. Um, is that predominant in your country? In your state?
VB: It is dominated in my state.
DT: OK. So are there a lot of different languages all over India?
VB: Yeah. In each state they have different languages.
DT: OK, um, tell me a little bit about your language education in India, such as, um, when did you begin learning English?
VB: I began learning English when I was six years old because we have subject English there but we don't do our paperwork or answer in the English. We do only in Hindi.
DT: OK. So, OK, tell me that again. So you \\ began when you were six? \\
VB: \\ We had English. \\ Mm-hmm. But we had English as just a subject and we \\ don't \\ have to pass that exam for English.
DT: \\ OK. \\
DT: So you're, you're kind of just taking it as, just to learn it, but you're not \\ really \\ tested on it at that \\ time? \\
VB: \\ Mm-hmm, yes. \\ No, \\ not at that time.
DT: OK. So, in each grade, you started at six, so it was, it was just part of the curriculum?
VB: Yes, but we have to pass the English subject in high school.
DT: OK. So you started at age six-.
VB: Mm-hmm.
DT: -And each year you took, it was just a course in English?
VB: Yes. Mm-hmm.
DT: And there were no, there was no testing at all?
VB: No testing at all.
DT: And how, how did that work? How did your course work? Did they have you, um, speak in English? And how, how, what was, what was their process of having you learn English?
VB: We don't have to speak in English, but in English class they just, our teacher just teaches us in English but we don't have to answer in English, we have to just write down. When we have, they ask us questions, we have to write down on the piece of paper.
DT: OK. So the teacher, the, the teacher would speak to you in English?
VB: Yes.
DT: And you would have to, in your head, translate it and write the answer in English \\ you said? \\
VB: \\ Yes. \\ Mm-hmm.
DT: Hmm, so do all the teachers have to have an English background then?
VB: Yes, they have to have that.
DT: OK. So after you're, you're, you're six years old and you start learning your English, um, when does it become where you begin being tested and where, where it becomes, um, a, a requirement to speak it and to?
VB: In high school they give us option, either we can pass, we can take English as a subject to pass or we can take Hindi, our native language to pass.
DT: Mm-hmm.
VB: So we can choose either one of them, those languages.
DT: OK. So it's not a requirement to take it?
VB: It's not a requirement.
DT: Oh, OK. So how, what did you, choose to do?
VB: I, I did my English. I took English.
DT: OK, and how, um, how, did they go about teaching you English in that way? Was it kind of like here where you would do, you know, they would do a unit and then you would do, have a test on that, \\ or-? \\
VB: \\ OK, \\ in India, we have like textbooks and then we have to read that book and we have to answer like here you have multiple choice questions but we have to answer there in essay.
DT: Essay?
VB: \\ Mm-hmm. \\
DT: \\ You had, \\ you had to answer in English?
VB: In English, only for English subject, not for other subjects.
DT: Mm-hmm. And how, uh, you, so you were graded at this point in high school?
VB: \\ Yes, yes. \\
DT: \\ On your, on your language? \\
VB: Yes.
DT: And what did they use to grade? Did they use those essays to grade you \\ on \\ your English?
VB: \\ Yes, \\ Mm-hmm. And they have to, they have to see about the grammar also, that my grammar is correct and there is no spelling mistakes. If you have a spelling mistake, they will take off your marks.
DT: So, um, there was a question I was going to ask. Um, OK, so tell me a little bit about your, your, your essays that they used to assess you and your language. Did you, uh, have a certain topic you had to write about? Um, was it something that you were learning in class or did you have to do research?
VB: No, they have to give us topic like they will give us three, four topics and we have to choose one topic to answer.
DT: OK. Like, give me an example of maybe a topic that you chose.
VB: Like, they will say that which one was your best vacation, or which one is your best place to go or which one is your best movie? So we can choose one topic to answer, but they used to give us certain time, they used to give us like three hours and we have to finish our paper in three hours only. They don't, they never give you, like you can be retested, or you have to have make-up test. We didn't have that there.
DT: So, that was it, that one essay. Could you take it home and do it or you had to do it right there?
VB: You had to do it right there in three hours.
DT: Were you able to use any sort of, uh, dictionaries or anything?
VB: We were not allowed to use any dictionary at test time.
DT: OK. So you were graded on your grammar, \\ and your? \\
VB: \\ On our grammar, \\ our spellings, and how long essays we can write.
DT: How long?
VB: How long.
DT: So, that must have been difficult. You're graded on, you know, one of the most difficult languages to learn.
VB: Yes.
DT: How, how did you feel about the assessments? I mean, how did you, as far as when you first started being tested, how was that for you?
VB: It was really hard for me because that was not my native language so it was hard for me.
DT: So when you get, like when you would get your essays back, were they, um, just kind, was it kind of bad at first as far as your, your grammar and your spelling and things like that?
VB: Yeah. It was little, uh, it little was bad but then slowly I learned. I picked up.
DT: OK. So it, sort of I guess, made you, you, you made a lot of mistakes in the beginning but it made you, um, want to study harder and do better-.
VB: Yes.
DT: -I guess.
VB: Mm-hmm.
DT: So is that, was that the only way that you were tested, was essays? Or did you have another?
VB: That was the only way we are tested.
DT: Just essay?
VB: Just essays or you have to give answers of some questions from your textbook, but we didn't have any multiple choice answers.
DT: Did, did you, um, speak in class to learn English or was it just essay?
VB: We didn't speak in class.
DT: Didn't speak?
VB: We didn't speak in English.
DT: Not even, even conversations? Just basic conversation?
VB: Yes.
DT: A little bit of basic conversation?
VB: Mm-hmm.
DT: OK. Um, how prevalent is English in your country? You said that it's a, not really a requirement \\ to take it? \\
VB: \\ Yes, \\ Mm-hmm.
DT: OK, I was under the impression that you had, to take it when you were, little, but I guess that, is that, how, does, how is that as far as across your country? Or does it differ, does it differ by state?
VB: Yeah, it is uh, different in different states because in Madhya Pradesh most of the people they speak in Hindi so the people they don't know English much as far as the Madhya Pradesh is concerned, but in other states, they speak English. In their schools also, like in my, in my state they also have some schools where they used to just speak English.
DT: OK, and I had read some information that English, uh, in, in, in some places, they feel that to, in order, to, end up having, I guess a good job or to be thought of highly in society that they would have to speak English.
VB: Yes, you're right. But uh, if someone is taking like professional courses like if they are going in medical or engineering, of course they have the books in English, they have to study in English.
DT: Um, OK now, when you, when you graduated from high school, how were you as far as your English proficiency? 'Cause you didn't have a chance to, to really talk to people, you just had, you just had your classes, right?
VB: Yes, but I was not good at that time as far as the speaking is concerned, but after that, what I did, I took some private classes.
DT: Oh.
VB: There was some person who used to teach English, like speaking English, so I joined those classes \\ to learn-. \\
DT: \\ Mm-hmm. \\
VB: -How to speak the correct grammar use. So I took some classes.
DT: OK, um, now, you, and then you went to college right?
VB: I did go to the college.
DT: And how was your, how, how was your English education in college? Did you continue that there?
VB: No, in college, I don't have to write my answers in English so I just took my native language Hindi.
DT: OK, so you didn't have any extra English courses or anything?
VB: No I didn't.
DT: OK. And then um, let's see, you graduated from college.
VB: Yes.
DT: Got a teaching degree.
VB: Yes.
DT: And um, then what did you do after you got your degree?
VB: After I got my degree, I taught as a sub in different schools for one year, and then I got my teaching job and I taught in India for ten years, and I taught from kindergarten through fifth grade, all subjects.
DT: Did you teach English?
VB: I did teach English.
DT: How did you feel about teaching English? I mean you probably didn't feel too, too confident in yourself, in your ability.
VB: I was very comfortable because uh, compared to other teachers in my school, I knew English better than them, so then I have to teach English, like if I have to teach fourth grade, I have to teach all the fourth grade classes, in English.
DT: Wow. That was a challenge for you, and did, did do you feel like it helped you, the more you taught it?
VB: It really helped me but, couple of times I used to have problem but I didn't hesitate to ask my, who, the teachers who used to teach high school because, our schools are there from first grade till twelfth grade, so I didn't hesitate to ask something to my other teachers who are more experienced, and who knew English better than me.
DT: Now did your family speak English when you were growing up \\ and did you practice? \\
VB: \\ My whole family, \\ my whole family speaks English.
DT: And so, so growing up, like if you, um, you went home you spoke Hindi but you might speak a little English, \\ too? \\
VB: \\ Yes. \\ Yes.
DT: That's good. That was real good. And then after you, you taught in India you got married?
VB: Mm-hmm.
DT: And then you came to the United States.
VB: Yes.
DT: OK, and [clears throat] tell me about coming to the United States, and your English then when you first came.
VB: When I first came to United States uh, I was about 34 years old and um, only problem I had with English is that, um, in India we have British accent, so it was hard for me to adopt American accent.
DT: \\ I didn't even \\ know that.
VB: \\ And, \\ and like in India we say, "zed" to "z," so it was little bit hard for me to learn all those things, learn that accent.
DT: OK and so what, what, did you do as far as, um, perfecting your English when you came here? Was it um, just, living here and being, you know, just, just being here and, speaking to people here, or did you go to classes?
VB: Yeah, I took some classes at UNCC also, English classes, English literature classes, and at the same time I used to learn English uh, watching TV, talking to different people and I even, I learned some English from my son too.
DT: Because your son actually was born in the United States. No he.
VB: He was born in India but when we came here he was just 6 months old, so from the beginning he had American accent so he used to correct me.
DT: Oh, so that was a big, that was a huge help to you.
VB: Yes, and still he corrects me.
DT: [Laugh] I bet he does. Uh, but you do so great with your English.
VB: \\ Thank you. \\
DT: \\ I, I'm \\ really impressed. Especially coming here even though you learned it when you were younger you, you, um, probably learned the majority of, of just fluency, your fluency when you got here-.
VB: Mm-hmm.
DT: -When you came here and began speaking it all the time and it became necessary.
VB: Yeah, I was lucky because, uh, the people who I was involved with, they were very helpful to me, and they helped me a lot learning English.
DT: And tell me about your, your testing at UNCC. Like when you, when you took your English classes, how, how was your, your assessment or your testing there?
VB: When I took English class, I made B+ in English class and in, my first class was in health class and I made A+ in that.
DT: So what kind of, did, did they have essays there too, or-?
VB: They didn't have essay there. They had multiple choice questions but um, I liked the part like if you cannot do good in the English like at other things then you can just watch video uh, for extra credit. And I \\ liked that part. \\
DT: \\ OK, so they \\ modified-.
VB: Mm-hmm.
DT: -Things for you.
VB: Yes.
DT: Now to get into UNCC to take your classes, you have to take a, a language test to get, to get in there?
VB: No. What I have to do, I have to just give them credentials I had from India, and then on that basis I have to take classes. They told me what classes I have to take.
DT: OK. And, um, now you, you went to, get your citizenship right?
VB: Yes.
DT: And where did all of your um, language education and learning English fall in, in, in doing that?
VB: I think it was very easy for me because they just gave me simple sentence to write and as far as the interview is concerned they didn't ask me much. But couple of times they tried to trick me, like "When the last time you voted?" And \\ I have to answer that. \\
DT: \\ They tried to trick you. \\
VB: Yes, so I have to answer them that I'm not citizen yet so I cannot vote.
DT: Well, I hate they tried to trick you Mrs. B.
VB: It's all right.
DT: OK. [Laughs] OK, um, so what do you think about the importance of language assessment as far as, language education and learning another language, and testing as far as uh, I guess testing your proficiency level, um, testing where you are in that language and learning that new language.
VB: I think as far as the language is concerned, language plays an important role in everything. Whether you are reading or writing, it plays an important role in there. And um, as far as the language is concerned here, I think it's easier here because in India we have to answer everything in essay type questions but, but here you have different options like you can watch video or you can, answer in multiple choice questions, or if they know that you have little bit problem, they just give you different options and um, I was lucky because the people were very helpful to me, and um, as far as the spelling is concerned I used to make lot of spelling mistakes but, uh, I worked with Ms. Turbyfill for six years, so she was very helpful to me because I learned how to spell every word correct from her.
DT: Well, you used to proof, proofread my work and I was always impressed with your language ability in that you came in your 30s to the United States but yet here you were proofreading, you know, in, in, in English and I was, was very impressed with that.
VB: \\ Thank you. \\
DT: \\ How, \\ how you learned, um, English. What do you think was primarily the best thing in your learning English? Was it just your, your early education? Was it that your, your parents spoke it or was it that when you came here just being around everybody that speaks English?
VB: I think I learned when I came here around people because if I'll go to the grocery store, go to the library, I have to talk in English so that's the way I learned English. But you know I have to improve my accent, American accent and uh, talking to my son and talking to different people, talking to my co-workers at school, I picked up the American accent little bit.
DT: You're doing great.
VB: Thank you.
DT: Now, how, how about your reading and your writing? Did that kind of, was that kind of at the same time you were learning? It, it sounds like they made you do essays so they made you write.
VB: Mm-hmm.
DT: Do you, did you feel, uh, comfortable in reading English, too, in addition to speaking it-.
VB: Yes, \\ Mm-hmm.\\
DT: \\ -When you came \\ here?
VB: Yes, because you know I have to read lot of books to learn the spelling because in India, we spell color as c-o-l-o-u-r and here in America uh, the spelling of color is c-o-l-o-r so I have to learn lot of things and I can learn only by reading or talking to people, watching them how they are doing.
DT: Well, I think you have really done great and, um, you're an inspiration to people 'cause, um, you have done so well, and you know achieved your citizenship and that certainly shows how, you know, smart you are and how well you've done in this country and um, and what a good teacher you are.
VB: Thank you.
DT: And, um, I, um, want to thank you for, um, letting me interview you about your, your uh, language education and, and learning English and how you feel about um, language testing and language education. Do you by chance know any other languages at all?
VB: I know Punjabi because that's my other language. Actually I speak Punjabi at home, too. And because Hindi is just my um, language, native language, but Punjabi is my other language we speak because I'm Punjabi, and um, while I was growing up in school we have learned Sanskrit also. \\ So. \\
DT: \\ I. \\
VB: Yes, Sanskrit. The, the Sanskrit, the Hindi came from Sanskrit.
DT: I read a little bit about Sanskrit. Um, I can't, it says, um, that the um, let's see, um, that, um, that, well, I found some information that um, a student will normally learn three languages, uh, two of which are Hindi. Is that your Punjabi, that's part of Hindi?
VB: Yes. Mm-hmm.
DT: And then, a classical language, language such as Sanskrit.
VB: Yes, yeah, I used to have Sanskrit, too. When I was studying, I was, I was having Sanskrit, too. I had Sanskrit up to eighth grade and um, believe me I used to make highest marks in my whole class because that was my favorite subject, even though it was very hard but that was my favorite subject. It's like when they used to grade that, it's grading like math.
DT: Wow.
VB: Yes, so I used to get highest marks in my whole class.
DT: Well, you'll have to show me a little bit of that, that sounds very interesting.
VB: I will.
DT: Do you still feel confident in your lang-? Do, do you, uh, have you lost some of your Hindi language or, \\ Punjabi? \\
VB: \\ I didn't \\ because, uh, because my son uh, is growing up here so, I talk to him in Hindi and we watch some Indian mov, Indian movies \\ too-. \\
DT: \\ Oh, that's good. \\
VB: -So we can be in touch with Hindi, and, uh.
DT: Because you want him to learn \\ his native. \\
VB: \\ Yes, I \\ want him to learn too. Mm-hmm.
DT: Does he speak it well?
VB: Yeah, he does, he does.
DT: Well, that's great and with your son, um, soon to be graduating from high school and going to medical school, and going to college he will, um, he'll be teaching you more and more won't he?
VB: Yes.
DT: OK. Um, I made a mistake at the beginning. It is not February 22nd. It is January the 22nd. [Laughs] And um, I want to thank um, Ms. Bhandari for, for interviewing me, and for letting me interview her, excuse me. And um, this'll be the end of the interview and um, I appreciate it very much.
VB: Thank you Ms. Turbyfill.