We have already talked about how to learn a language on your own earlier in a previous post, but today I will share with you how I became fluent in English, right from the very beginning up until today.
Of course, with English being the main business, entertainment, and cultural language, I knew some words before I actually started learning it properly.
My mum taught me some basics like songs or numbers, but that was about it.
When I was around 11 in my first year of college (the equivalent of middle school) I had to decide if I would learn English or German. At that point I picked German. So for two years, while most of my classmates were learning English, I was learning German.
In the French school system, you start learning your first new language around 10 or 11 years of age, and you pick your second new language 2 years later. So during my 3rd year at middle school, I had to pick English.
So here starts my English language adventure!
For the two last years of middle school, I was learning the basics of English. I had always loved languages at school, but two hours a week in a 20 people classroom is not the best way to improve quickly. I did my two years, but don’t feel like I learned a whole lot.
Then I started at High School, where, no matter if you picked English or German as a language choice, your first language would become English.
So I found myself in a class with 35 other English students where, unlike myself, most of them had 4 to 5 years of English behind them.The high school years were hard in regards to the learning of language. During those years you are more interested by friends and girls than languages, right?
Furthermore, I was in a scientific section of the school, the section where you have the least languages. So let’s say that my English did not go far after the basics.
I still passed my final High School English exam with a quite high score. but, like I told you, in the scientific section, the English standard level is not very high.
Here starts a new period of my life, I am 18 now and I start university. I am still in a scientific section, studying environmental biology. I had two hours a week of English but it was very different. First, it was not as educational than in the past. Instead, it was focused on conversation and searching for information. Our group was much smaller as well, 15 student maximum. A great chance to talk as often as possible.
I think these university years were very good for my self-confidence, talking in front of people, presenting assignments… My English was still not excellent but at least now I enjoyed it, and I realized that talking English, even if you make lots of mistakes, is not as difficult as I’d thought
After university, I went six months without speaking a word of English. One day in May 2011, I found a job as an Au Pair with an Australian family, and just a few short weeks later I jumped on a plane to go and live with them! I was very confident. My thoughts were:”I’ve been learning English for almost 8 years now, it shouldn’t be that bad. I will talk easily”
Well, I was wrong. For two main reasons…
The first one is that I was simply not as good as I thought.
When you’ve only ever learned in a classroom, and never spoken to a native English speaker, you don’t know what it is like to understand them. Nor do you know how to say what you want. A normal conversation is a far stretch from what we learned at school.
The second reason was because of my location choice.
Australia… Got it? Yes, I am talking about the accent. I had never heard an Aussie accent before! And it was hard.
I was expecting a nice and slow “How are you?” instead I heard a rapid “How’ya doing mate?”
Seeing it written down doesn’t even begin to explain how it sounded at the time, or how little I understood.
Anyway, I was there, and I was determined to learn English.
Luckily I was taking care of 3 great kids. Kids do not speak as fast and with so much of an accent. And they were very helpful in correcting me.
Reading kids books, watching cartoons with them, listening to the radio, watching movies in English with English subtitles and most importantly, avoiding French as much as possible!
I spoke no French for 8 months (except to give news to my family).
Actually, I have a funny story about that.
I was walking in a mall, this girl (probably the same age as me) starting presenting me the Charity she was working for. I didn’t want to listen so I used the traditional “Sorry I am French, I can’t speak English” Which she answered in perfect French with “I am too! great, I’ll do it in French then…”
Well, after 8 months speaking English full time with very lovely, patient and understanding people, my English was finally on the right track.
We are used to hearing that you improve your new language a lot in the beginning. Then you reach this long plateau period where you feel like you are not improving at all, and it can take months to break through.
This is a very frustrating period. You see it in your everyday life, you wonder why after so long speaking and listening to people, you still cannot say exactly what you want, why people don’t understand what I am saying, why I still need subtitles (which I still put on even now, by the way).
And then it was time to leave.
My English was much better, but I was frustrated. It was still average. So I did the only thing that made sense to do – I went back to Australia 6 months later for another three-month visit Unfortunately, it took the full three months to get my level back. Because, if you do not practice afterward, and you go 6 months without speaking English, your level will decrease.
In saying that, my level was still much better than many French people. 11 months in an English speaking country certainly still counts for something!
I realized this when I started my first year of cooking school. I had 2 hours a month (yes… only 2 hours a month! Still better than nothing) of English and I was way ahead compared to all of my classmates
New Zealand time
Despite all of this, the incomplete feeling lingered, and I decided, after obtaining my degree, to go back to an English speaking country. This time I chose New Zealand and went there to work as a chef.
Living in English, working in English, having English speaking friends again helped. After a few months, I began to recover my level, and reached the stage where my language abilities skyrocketed again. The radio didn’t feel too fast anymore, I didn’t need all my attention to speak with someone, everything seemed easy.
After one year in New Zealand, I met my partner, a Kiwi. and since the end of 2016, my everyday language is English.
Why do I tell you this story?
Just to show you that learning a language doesn’t always go the way we expected. Frustration, proudness, difficulties are all a part of the process.
In my opinion, talking and listening to the right people is the best thing to do.
Remember that if you want to learn a language, there is not only one
way to approach it.
Everyone has their own methods and learning styles, and you should use
the one you feel the most confident about.
So to conclude, I learned English for 8 years at school, 13 months in Australia, 13 months in New Zealand and since the end of 2016 with my partner. So it’s a long time. But today I live in English.
And like I told you I still learn every day. Words, expressions, accents.
The hardest part is not to give up.