In 1996, I lived in the USA for six months. I stayed with a host family, went to high school and was the only Brazilian in my neighbourhood. At the time I found it very hard to come to a new country and to have to deal with everyday situations, because my English background was not as good as I thought it was. Being immersed in an environment and being surrounded by people who are only speaking a foreign language, makes you improve your skills, whether you like it or not. It’s a matter of survival. So, when you least expect it, you are not only speaking the language, but also thinking in that language. People often say, once you are fluent, you can even dream, have conversations or interact in English. Although it is hard not to be able to speak your native language with anyone around you, it can be a very helpful situation.
This time around, I came to Canada with my husband and even though sometimes, we speak English to each other to improve ourselves, I find it much more difficult to be eloquent in the language. When we are tired, just not “in the mood” or want a sense of private talk, we tend to speak Portuguese with each other. It is comfortable, comes naturally, and it is easier to express yourself. As well, it is incredibly hard to be around a person that speaks your native language without doing so. Although having the company of someone from your country can be very comforting, it also can delay the process of enhancing your language skills. We see it happen all the time, families or friends that come together to a different country and keep the household with the original language. It can be even worse if one of the members isn’t working or studying at the time. Mostly the only people they interact with all day long are their spouse, or their friends from their home country. It is a much harder process to learn under these conditions.
Taking a class in English, any kind of class, can be helpful. Not only because you practice your speaking skills, but also because you mostly have to think in English. As you are taught the lessons and the procedures, you eventually absorb more than you realize from the language. Working in an environment where your colleagues are talking to each other and you have to do your share and explain yourself, gradually helps you to take your skills to another level. Part of the process of adapting to a different language is being able to understand the social aspects and conduct input in a conversation as well as the use of words in context that you could never be aware of if you don’t interact with people from that culture. So, get out, participate in as many activities as you can, try a hobby, or join a group. These are all effective ways to improve yourself. In summary, I’m trying to say that it is much easier to learn a new language if you can interact with others, especially native speakers.
I have been learning English for more than 3 years. At first, I just knew some vocabulary and grammar that was learned in middle school and high school but I had lots of difficulty in speaking and writing English. So, I thought that I needed to set a goal to improve my English. At that time, I just decided to immigrate to Canada for many good reasons. To apply for Canadian permanent residency, a good result on an English proficiency test was mandatory. It became my short-term goal. I think this was really effective for improving my English. In order to get the required score in the English test, I studied very hard. Despite all of the difficulties such as spending only a little time with my family, I was able to focus on studying English. Then, after about 1 year, I made it! It was hard and sometimes stressful, however, there was no doubt that my English skill improved significantly. So, I would say that you must find a strong reason why you need to learn English.
I was so happy that I could get the P. R. (Permanent Residency) permit, but I felt like learning English was too boring back then. I just put away all of my English books and did nothing relating to English until I came to Canada. Then, I was shocked for some time as I could not speak and understand English well!
So, I started to study English again, but I wanted to do it for fun at that time. Meanwhile, I purchased the Netflix program on my smart TV application for my daughter, as there are various kids’ cartoons.
But, after I logged in, I was really into those programs. There were new and old movies, dramas, documentaries and cartoons with English subtitles. By just pushing buttons on my remote control, I could study English for fun. I followed the story, listened to the dramas or movies and watched the subtitles at the same time. Sometimes I took notes when I read some new words and I read aloud along with the scripts. Now, it is my favourite way to enjoy learning English.
I know it is a long way to go for mastering English. However, I believe I can enjoy the long journey if I keep learning English with a strong goal and easy and fun methods.
How I upgraded my listening comprehension in a very pleasant way
The biggest problem with the English language that I ever had was the understanding of the spoken word. For me it sounded like a sequence of rrr-tones and often I couldn’t recognize where a word started or ended. Most of the time at school, we practiced English by studying texts, reading books or practising grammar. If we had to talk about a subject we could only learn from ourselves, which meant using very simple sentences with a strong accent. Although I was able to read texts or whole books, I had real problems understanding native speaking people. So I could better understand people who had the same strange accent as me.
Our teacher suggested that we watch BBC or CNN news, but in the beginning, this was a very frustrating method. The fast-spoken script, with lots of specialized terminology about special topics in these countries wasn’t the right method for me. But afterwards I discovered the perfect practise for me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been really addicted to American TV-series or shows with a long storyline such as Breaking Bad, Lost, Friends, or Dexter. In Germany, I had to wait a really long time for the next season or episode. That’s because in Germany – in contrast to the most other European countries – all films and TV-shows are first synchronized. So while I’ve loved to spend my time with TV-shows and since I’m always waiting a long time for the next episode, I could just as well watch these shows in English. In contrast to the English news on TV, I could get these shows also with subtitles and stop the scene when it is necessary. This was the best possibility for me to practise understanding spoken English while having fun and reducing tension with this activity. I can really recommend this way of learning English.
Today I am going to write about my experience in learning English as a second language.
To continue my career in Canada, the requirement is an IELTS exam with a 7 score in all four disciplines. When I first took this exam, my score was 5.5, and this improved to 6.5. However jumping from 6.5 to 7 is a challenge for me, especially in writing. The question is why is it so challenging for me? The first reason is that I started out by writing an essay, not by learning about the different parts of essays and their purposes. The second reason is because I was trying on my own to improve, without taking any classes or getting help from a teacher.
My suggestion to people who have a weak language background is to attend classes from the beginning, to learn the different patterns of writing before starting to write anything. This will help significantly to improve your writing. To illustrate, in organized classes you will learn the meaning of writing and the purpose of writing. In my case, when I failed to understand on my own how to write an effective essay, it was a red flag for me. Then I started to take language classes, in which I learned what the purpose of writing is, and how to write various forms of writing for different audiences. In class I learned about writing step- by-step. That means writing is a process of several stages such as introduction, thesis statement, topic sentence, examples and conclusion. To understand all of this took me so long. It is my advice that you join proper classes to decrease the frustration of failure and to build your confidence.