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Expats: Learning English? But how?

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

"Hello, nice to meet you. My name is Karen, I just relocated to XYZ English speaking country, unfortunately I won't be able to work because I don't speak English... I don't know what to do, I never worked in English, I can't stay at home 24/7"

Do you recognise yourself in the above statement? Do you feel this has been/is you? Do you still wonder how you can improve your level of English? 

I will start with a short story. When I was 18 years old and fluent in English after living a year in California, I thought I was bilingual. One true thing is this statement was that, I spoke English better than 98% of the people around me in school and even the teachers. BUT let me tell you the hard truth I learnt in 2009, while I interned in New York for 3 months. I was NOT business-english fluent and this hit me hard. In the middle of the fashion week, one of my colleague gave me  2 important tasks in less than 3 minutes and I didn't know any of those words ahaha gosh...can you imagine this awkward moment when you know someone counts on you but actually you haven't learnt this vocabulary? I ran to one of my other colleague and said "OMG Amelia just gave me those tasks but I don't even know what it means, please help me". She explained those words to me and soon I was able to work faster... what a scare.... seriously!

Years later, in March 2014, after hearing for months "yes your profile is interesting but do you intend to come to the UK, so we could meet you in person? cheers". Well 1st: I didn't know what "cheers" meant so I called my cousin, married to an English man and asked him to explain to me what that meant. I then took my savings with me, 3 luggages and moved to the UK by myself...

I decided to look for a job from 8am - 6.30pm everyday with only 1 hour break for lunch. After a while, I started to get some positive feedback and people started to interview me. I realised that my English, my vocabulary, pronunciation had always been more American and I didn't know if anyone would be impressed or annoyed. I then decided to work on my accent to change it completely. I wasn't sure where to start and called a British friend who told me: "My boyfriend watched Downton Abbey and it helped him a lot, culture-wise, for the accent and vocabulary". Okay she spoke my language, another reason to "watch another show",so I did it. I stopped watching my American TV Series (goodbye Grey's anatomy, hello British world). It was tough. I did my best but truth be told, I only made great progress when I started working full time, surrounded by Brits. I learnt their jokes, their sense of humour, listened to them for months without saying anything, all to teach myself. A year into the job, one of my colleague told me "your accent changed hasn't it?". OOOH I was proud, someone noticed and gave me the best compliment!

My tips to you are the following:

- We all learn differently but you can use: duolinguo, babbel to practice. You can find a teachers online. To learn Portuguese and Polish, I have used: "Verbalplanet" and my teachers are GREAT.

- There are so many TV series on Netflix, you can train your ear! Are you a huge fan of friends? You know all the episodes by heart in your mother-tongue? Great, try to watch them in English and put English subtitles (I did that when I was 17 years-old and it worked).

- You can look-up some Facebook groups and ask if someone could teach you English and in return you can teach them your mother-tongue.

- Force yourself to go out and interact with the locals, in stores, the streets, ask directions, tell them you just arrived and need tips about your neighbourhood?

- Ask your partner to stop telling you, you have a horrible accident and help you correct it so you can improve.

- Go to job interviews, prepare yourself in advance, master your pitch and try. Even if you are stressed people are interested in your skills and to see if you can communicate, the rest will come later...

This applies to any country that you would be moving into, not just English.I hope this helped? Let me know and good luck.

NB: You will find a photo of me and my polish teacher, 2 weeks ago, during our skype class.

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