Learn English in 9 Days

That was the product I wished it existed when I moved to Canada 14 years ago. I could read and write in English but I couldn’t speak it properly. Yes I can speak a word or two like a caveman but if I was to put a sentence together, I blank out. And so when someone starts a conversation with me in English I had to either nod or smile (like an idiot) while I’m beating myself up in the head for being too slow at crafting what I want to say — in ENGLISH.

Below shows how I process things in my head whenever I talk to someone in English:

1- Listen CAREFULLY to what was said.

2- Translate what was said in English to Tagalog.

3- Come up with a response in Tagalog.

4- Translate my response from Tagalog to English.

5- Double-check my response to make sure I don’t sound stupid.

6- Speak and hope the person understood what I just said.

The whole process takes about 2–3 seconds. In most cases, I mumble due to my lack of confidence in English or worse, I respond with something that is totally unrelated because I misunderstood what was said in the first place. It wasn’t easy.

One of the biggest issues I had to face was the fear of being made fun of by my peers. Back from my home country, it seems like your ability to speak in English is a sign of high intelligence. My mind was scarred with beliefs such as “If you can’t speak in English then you’re not well educated” and “If you’re not well educated, you have a low chance of succeeding in North America”. These were the self-limiting beliefs that slowed down my progress of learning English. I was too scared to sound funny and look ‘stupid’ to others.

So how did I breakthrough my fear and self-limiting beliefs? I started by being brutally honest to myself: I’m a NEW immigrant. I just moved to Canada and barely spoke English back home.

Is it fair to expect myself to be magically fluent in English right away?

Masters have failed a gazillion times before they became masters. It doesn’t make sense to consider myself a ‘master’ (in the context of speaking in English) when I haven’t even started failing yet.

Ok so it’s normal to be poor at speaking in English because I’m a new immigrant. Does that mean I would freely talk my mouth off regardless if I’m making sense or not? Well the answer is also ‘NO’. I don’t want to sound stupid or annoying either. There is that fine line between failing intelligently and failing on purpose. The point I was trying to make was: It’s perfectly OK to have a funny accent because I am new to this country. I need time to practice and learn how to speak the language properly.

However there were times when my best option was to just talk in Tagalog because I did not want to go through the struggle of switching between two languages in my head. That may be ok when I’m talking to a fellow immigrant who’s also struggling to learn English, otherwise we would both talk funny and not understand each other. But in a case when other people are around who couldn’t understand Tagalog, I try my very best to speak in English to avoid the thought I’m being rude.

Now that I live here in Canada, pretty much everything around me provides a learning opportunity to become better in English. Going back years ago, I would watch the news and shows on television to observe how people talk. That strategy helped me assess and improve my accent. A better way to learn was to listen carefully to conversations between people who are fluent in English (because that’s how people talk normally). But the best way to learn was by simply talking to other people who are every fluent in English (preferably people who grew up in Canada who are not afraid to point out your mistakes). Learning from a fellow immigrant who is decent in English is a start but I figured I’d learn a lot faster if I talk to people whose first language is English.

I’m blessed to have a mixture of friends who grew up here in Canada and immigrants who are still fluent in Tagalog. My friends would always make fun of me whenever I make a mistake in my grammar or accent (they still do). But those conversations and playful teasing became the foundation of my accelerated learning to speak better in English.

Now just so we’re clear, I don’t have anything against my friends. In fact, I preferred to be treated that way. They were comfortable enough to point the flaws in my grammar and accent. And so I learned faster.

There is also the set of people who would rather be nice and polite instead of pointing out my mistakes. They prefer to stay quiet, so acquiring feedback is impossible. I don’t have anything against those people either. Pointing out the mistakes in my grammar is not really a big concern for them. After all, if they understood what I was trying to say, it is pointless to put emphasis on my screwed up grammar/accent when there are other more important issues in the world that needs to be dealt with. In this case, I learn from them by observing how they say things and use the exact same phrase when the opportunity comes up in the future.

I was able to improve my English over the years and I’m still learning. The learning never stops. It would take me a very long time to consider myself fluent in English (because I still speak other languages regularly). But my confidence (in terms of speaking in English) has grown; confident enough to correct my fellow immigrants when I hear them say something that doesn’t sound right. I hope they realize I don’t do that because I think I’m smarter than them but because I care enough to at least share what I’ve learned over the years. Again I’m not an expert but I know enough to teach a word or two.

If you consider yourself to be fluent in English and don’t require any improvement in that area, then PLEASE help us learn better.

If you’re like me who wishes to make more improvements in their English, don’t be afraid to open your mouth and SPEAK your mind. You’re keeping valuable information to yourself that could potentially help others.

If you can relate to this topic, share, leave a comment, send me a private message or a text message. Your feedback will help me become better at writing.