In China, most people do not speak the English language. They use the official language, which is Chinese. While I was growing up, I envied those who could speak the English language. Although I learned the English alphabet in high school, I still could not properly communicate with people in English. I had been studying the English language for six months when I graduated from high school and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study abroad. As an Asian living in a country that does not speak the English language, learning was really difficult. There are numerous reasons for this difficulty and the number one would be the big cultural gap between China and the United States. Furthermore, the grammar, the shape of fonts, and the rules are completely different.
To prepare, I studied the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) in my home country. This is similar to the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) but, personally, the effect was not the same. I then arrived in the United States where I felt that knowledge of the English language was important for learning and communicating.
I studied reading, writing, speaking and listening in the English language in my home country. I thought that this was enough. However, when I came to the United States, I found that my English was far from enough to communicate with people in an effective manner. This was evident when I had to go to the Wells Fargo bank for the first time to deposit money where I needed to find a translator to be able to communicate. It was fortunate that my friend helped me translate Chinese to English. Every weekend when I needed to go to the supermarket to buy groceries, I felt nervous, especially at the checkout line, as the salesperson would have a hard time understanding me. Still, I knew that I needed to talk. I felt frustrated and helpless with low confidence level. This improved over time when I enrolled in a language school named ASPECT.
At first, I was placed in the primary classes. On the first day of classes, two Spanish-speaking students said hello to me and asked, “What’s up, dude?” I did not know how to respond. I felt ashamed, turned my head, and looked the other way. Initially, I had a hard time understanding the teacher’s lectures but I was not the only one, as many students did not understand his speech. Moreover, the students’ accents were too heavy, and I did not understand what they said, but I found that they had to listen to understand. After a few days, the teacher found that I could do exercises and then learn the simplest lines of grammar. Sometimes, the teacher asked me questions I did not understand. Sometimes, he let us perform the scene of a very simple word, but I did not watch and could not say it. The teacher wanted us to look at other people’s eyes; however, I did not know how to say a word properly. I was also afraid of opening my mouth, because I feared others would not understand me. After a while, the students got used to the activities with the occasional electronic dictionary to point out, and repeat the word. It was a very useful strategy to improve my English, as I was able to see the change on how I speak in English more frequently than before. I felt that I was changing. My English skills were developing and my understanding of the language was growing. However, one more challenge for me was that my roommate is also Chinese so I was not able to speak in English at home than I would like to. So, I found a strategy where in I talked to myself in front of the mirror in English. This was a really good idea to improve my speaking skills.
Aside from the internal factors, I found that the external factors are important as well. I practiced my oral skills while buying a car. I went to the Santa Barbara Nissan in order to buy a car. When I looked at the cars, the car salesman came out and said “hello” to me.
“Hello, how are you doing, buddy?”
“Hi, I am good, how are you?”
“Pretty good, pretty good. Did you find anything all right?”
“Oh… yeah. I’m looking for 350z.”
“Oh, it’s cool, let me show you on this way, come here!” I followed him and went to a new red 350z. He asked me, “How about this one? Is that what you were looking for?”
“I don’t like the red color,” I said.
“Which color do you like?”
“Do you have a blue one?”
“Oh man, you are so lucky, I have one. It’s parked over there, near the black ALTIMA. Do you see it? Let me show you.”
“Oh, cool.” And I followed him to a nice blue 350z.
“Come on, buddy, let’s go inside and have a look.”
After looking at the car, he found that I was very satisfied with it. He said, “Come on in, let’s talk about this car, I’ll give you more information.” When we talked about the car, I said, “I am an international student here, and I don’t have much money. I don’t have a job here, and all of my money come from my parents.” The salesman patted his chest three times and he told me that he would help me. He then ran into the manager’s office. This car is being sold for over $52,000 ($48,000+tax fee and license fee). After two days of bargaining, I was able to buy it for only $48,000. In my opinion, I not only saved the $4,000 but I also learned communicating in English better. In this case, I encountered more challenges and I studied a lot of words about cars. I also learned how to bargain in English, which was amazing.
I also often took part in some of the language school classmates’ parties. I can make more friends and create more opportunities to communicate in English. Taking advantage of the free time during the summer vacation, I studied the 3Ls (Look, Listen and Learn) English teaching materials. During the beginning of my self-learning, I used the dictionary. Everyday, I listened for at least one hour to tape texts and spoke out loud following reading. At the very beginning, I would recite each text, but at the end, I had to choose texts according to the preferences. Through the study, I found that to learn English, a person should first be interested in English. If you feel the book is boring or you are not interested in the book, reading it will definitely waste your time. It will undermine your enthusiasm for learning. Learning English is a long process. It may take three to four years to see the effect. In order not to rush in, it is recommended to look at some books first, but in the learning stage, each student should pick their own strategy.
I have been studying English for almost two years. During that time, I was able to find a number of ways to learn English and the secrets of success. I learned English though I was busy with school and my day-to-day affairs. Archimedes once said, “If you as long as work hard, success will certainly be able to you.” Based on my experienced, I can proudly say that this quote is very true.
In other words, I felt learning the English language is not as difficult as I imagined it would be. I have heard that there was an American who wanted to learn the Chinese language, but he knew that it was very difficult to learn. So, he came to China for settlement. After only one year, he spoke Chinese fluently. A reporter interviewed him and asked, “How did you learn Chinese so quickly?” He replied, “I found someone to quarrel in the bus every day.” This was funny but we have to remember that the biggest secret of success to learning English is speaking it frequently. Communication is very important. Ultimately, if you want to learn English you should really like English first. I have been to the United States for one year and half, and I feel that this is really a big step forward!