How to learn a foreign language…

How to learn a foreign language…

Learning a foreign language is a long process, I do not want to disappoint you but before becoming bilingual it’s probably gonna take a few years… Yes I know, I had the same reaction as you the first time I heard this.

I recently realised by talking with a French woman who just arrived in Brisbane that many of us make the same mistakes when we move to a country where we do not speak the local language. Her goal is to speak English well by the end of her year in Australia. Whilst this is not impossible, it however requires a lot of work! After asking her a few questions, I quickly realised that she was on the same path as me when I arrived and her chances of speaking English well by the end of the year are close to zero.

I think that during my first year overseas I made all the mistakes one can make if you don’t want to improve your English even though it was in fact one of my main goals when I left France.

Here is my advice if you really want to progress and one day become bilingual:

  • Avoid French people. When I arrived in Brisbane more than three years ago now I did not speak a word of English. I had neglected this subject at school for many years, but after a while I realised the importance of speaking a foreign language. That was one of the many reasons that led me to leave in 2015. The first few months are the hardest because it is really challenging and difficult to admit that we cannot talk properly, and also people cannot understand us. I remember I had a feeling to speak like a little girl. So, when I arrived in Australia I chose the easy path instead of the challenging one, and I spent too much time with the French community. My best friends were French, so I used to speak French 90% of the time. Yes I know you could ask me what was the point of going so far to do the same thing as in France… I still wonder to be honest with you. If you really want to progress I highly recommend you to speak French only with your family on Skype, especially the first six months. So your mission for the first six months is to meet foreigners as well as locals. The goal is to immerse yourself in the local culture and as such mingle with nationals from your new country.
  • Take classes: English classes are usually organised by levels. Therefore it is a great way to speak without being afraid of what others are going to think about you or the way you talk, because everyone is on the same level with only one idea in mind which is to PROGRESS. Taking classes is also a great way to meet people and make friends all around the world.
  • Watch the news: Believe me this is not the most exciting tip I can give you but it works. I was a serious student for six months … I watched the local news every night, it allowed me to get acquainted with the Australian accent but also to learn new words every day on various topics, from the weather, the economy, politics, but also topics of everyday life.
  • Listen to podcasts: This is a great way to familiarise your hearing to different accents but especially to learn new expressions and new words on topics that interest you. This can be a great way to quickly gain new vocabulary in your professional field too. Personally, I started listening to short podcasts on positive psychology, and now I can listen to and understand podcasts of over an hour without difficulty.
  • Read: start with simple books, and do not be ashamed if you have to start with books you have already read in French or if you have to read children’s books (That’s what I did at first …). Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to speak the local language as quickly as possible. If you really want to see a difference in your vocabulary, my advice is to write the words you do not know in a notebook and every time to look them up in a dictionary and learn them. You can spend 15 minutes each day reviewing the words you have discovered the previous days. I already picture your face, and you are probably telling yourself that you do not have 15 minutes to devote to your vocabulary every day … I can assure you that if you really want it you will find the time. You could for instance spend less time  scrolling on social media and instead learn and review your words.
  • Speak: I remember my first year I had this feeling of shame when I had to speak English. I did not like my accent, I was always afraid that the person I was talking to would not understand what I meant, and especially I was afraid not to understand what the person in front of me was going to tell me. In Australian, and I think it’s the same in the United States and in the United Kingdom, people are quite tolerant with foreigners. If they can understand the idea you are trying to convey, they will talk to you. So, do not hesitate! This is the best way to meet locals, and to familiarise yourself with the local accent. A great way to combine the two is to volunteer for a charity.
  • Speak the local language even with your partner: for all of you guys who do not know me yet, my partner Julien is French, he has been living in Brisbane for 10 years now so he is more Australian than French. His english is perfect so he has been able to help me with mine. At the beginning of our relationship we spoke French because I found it strange to speak English with him. I used to find excuses after excuses to not talk in English with him. I eventually decided to do it, and I can now tell you this is what really helped me to reach a good level. So yes it was not easy every day, but I always kept in mind my ultimate goal of speaking English well.

My best advice and probably the most effective one is to speak the local language with your partner. If s/he is from the same country as you for instance like Julien and I, make sure you only speak English to each other and even at home. If your partner speaks better English than you, s/he will be able to correct you and you will learn a lot in a short period of time. It’s a bit like having your own teacher at home.

Many of us think that we have a decent English when we leave France but it is shocking when we arrive in an Anglo-Saxon country. The English we learn at school is not the one we use in everyday life in an Anglo-Saxon country. The English we learn at school teaches us the basics of the language, the grammar as well as the structure of a sentence.

I previously shared an article about the Australian accent, you will find the link below, as well as a video that perfectly illustrates what I’m trying to explain to you. The video of these two Australians summarises what I’m talking about, and made me laugh a lot. It is this kind of English that we should learn at school and not: « Where is Bryan? » « Bryan is in the kitchen » …

Blog Post: Australians do not speak English but they speak Aussie

Video illustrator of the Australian accent:

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