Many native English speakers hear “I will call you back” as a polite way to say goodbye.
But a student of Teresa X. Nguyen took the phrase literally, clutching a cell phone and waiting and waiting for a phone call for hours. The call never came.
Nguyen has taught English for six years to international students as a full-time and part-time lecturer at the Cal State Fullerton American Language Program. One of her objectives is for students to capture the intricate nuances of English and the American culture.
For instance, remembering to fold a napkin in half before placing it on one’s lap. Nguyen did not realize this was the proper technique until weeks ago.
“If I am having difficulty, imagine them and how much they don’t know,” she said, referring to her students.
Nguyen spent her young years near Little Saigon in Orange County after immigrating from Vietnam when she was 4. Her father had been translating French and Vietnamese for the U.S. Army as an interpreter in Vietnam. But what stuck with Nguyen was seeing her mother and cousins live for decades with just “survival English.”
Nguyen wanted to teach for people like them, who may know English but not its intricacies.
“We wanted them to go from surviving to thriving,” said Eric Roth, a USC lecturer who co-wrote the second edition of a book “Compelling Conversations – Vietnam” with Nguyen in 2016. (Roth worked with another author for the book’s first edition in 2011).
Nguyen’s book is peppered with quotations from prominent American figures like Martin Luther…