It’s Never Too Late

I practically learn to speak English in 4 months. Going from almost failing English 12 to scoring 94/120 on TOEFL iBT. While 94 doesn’t give me bragging rights (I’ve seen applicants with 100+ iBT), it does prove that if you want to, you can learn it fast. And if you’re already in Canada/US/UK, it only takes a bit more effort.

When I first came to Canada, I was hit with a massive culture shock (I didn’t know it back then. Now I do, after so many Orientations and seeing Culture Shock presentations :D). I was in grade 12, and had exactly 8 months to pass grade 12, get a decent grade in English 12 (so I can go to college), and hopefully get a scholarship (which I didn’t. But that’s beside the point.)

The first 4 months though, I spent playing online games with friends back in Vietnam. Because I’ve already learned all the topics (math 12, chemistry 12, calculus 12) back in Vietnam, homework was a breeze. I never actually brought homework… home. I would finish them all in class, during breaks. 4pm, I got home and off I went to the net to write emails in Vietnamese, play games with Vietnamese until 1am or 2am. I would be so sleepy in class the next day that sometimes I would fall asleep, yet because I had already learned the topics, I could still do the work. That wasn’t good for me though. I wasn’t interacting and making friends (because I was so fracking sleepy all the times!) I refused to be thoughtful about the fact that my host family had DIAL-UP internet! So from 4pm-2am everyday, their landline phone was busy (and they didn’t have cellphones.) At one point, their relatives were concerned about their well-being because they couldn’t reach anyone at home! And I wasn’t going to make it in English 12. My English teacher had to tell me: Win, if you don’t get better marks, you’re not going to pass English 12. And my school had to bring in a tutor and 2 or 3 times a week she would come in to give me exta help. Even better, I (rightfully and deservingly, Gisele) got kicked out of my host family. Can’t blame them. They signed up to get a kid from a different country to learn about my culture. They were kind enough to open up their home and feed me for free. Hell, all I did was playing games online and blocking their phones. I must have racked up their phone bill too. Poor Gisele and Ken. I’m sorry I should have known better then!

So January came around and I moved in with another host family. The fact that I couldn’t integrate with a welcoming and warm family, coupling with the fact that I was going to fail English 12 (even though I was the only guy who got to use the SIMPLIFIED version of Hamlet) I got the wakeup call. From January to April/May, I straightened up my acts. I made lots of friends (Kaitie, Dottie, Keegan, Mark, Betty you’re the best :), hung out with them a bunch (I was the only vietnamese kid there). I babysat all 3 kids for my host family.

Oh yeah, the best way to learn English fast is to babysit kids 7-15 years old my friends. Time to volunteer for Big Brothers, Big Sisters and/or get a second job!

Sometime in March or April, I wrote the TOEFL iBT.

So there, don’t complain that you’ve been here for 5 years and not speaking English well enough. If you really want (or have to) you can do it in 4 months. The question is, are you ready to give up a lot for it?

Help End Hunger And Learn English

www.freerice.com

For every answer you get right, Freerice.com will donate 10 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program. All you have to do is guess the meaning of a given English word.

To date, 59 billion grains have been donated from players like you.

What are you waiting for? Go to www.freerice.com, challenge your English vocabulary and help the world.

Every International Student Should Join Toastmasters

What is Toastmasters? It is a non-profit organization dedicated to public speaking. Now every body can benefit from public speaking but I think, and I know for a fact, that international students benefit the most. What can Toastmasters do for you? Each area has a club. Within these clubs, its members have a scheduled meeting time. For example, my club – RiseAndShine Toastmasters – meets once every Friday in the board room A225 at UFV. What we do:

  1. 1-3 Speakers: each speaker has his/her own toastmaster book to follow. The book has step-by-step guide to each speech and everyone follows their own pace
  2. Table Topics: a table topic master randomly selects people from the audience to talk about an unexpected topic for 2-3 minutes. Fun when you get used to it!
  3. Joker
  4. Evaluation for everything

Why International Students Should Join Toastmasters?

  1. Increase confidence: public speaking is scary to everyone. However, overcoming this fear with support from the club members is rewarding and will increase confidence
  2. Improve communication skills: more than every one else, international students need to be understood. What’s worse than not having people to understand you? The only way to be understood is to speak up, and speak well. Toastmasters is all about that: from pronunciation to grammar and sentence structure
  3. Get evaluated: do you realize that nobody is correcting your English? I mean, honestly, we all know that international students – including me – don’t speak perfect English. Then how come nobody ever says anything about it? Everything is evaluated at Toastmasters – in a professional and appropriate way. They will tell you what you have done well and what can be improved. I only wish that I am evaluated for my English all the times.

You probably know that international students tend to be very good at grammars but not so much at speaking. That is because back in our home countries, we are only taught on how to write.

You have seen Canadians in your grammar class before. Why not join Toastmasters and learn how to speak with Canadians as well?

The Art of English As A Second Language

There is a problem! UFV International students are transferring to other schools, where the requirements into the degree programs are lower. And I think the root cause is this. Their classes get harder and harder while their English stays the same – the same level as when they got out of ESL. Having gone through the process of learning English and dare I say, with some success, I feel necessary that I pass on the 5 essentials of language learning to help international students in particular and anyone who’s learning a new language.

1. Listeningdictionary
2. Speaking
3. Reading
4. Writing
5. Immersing

Listening

Why is listening the most important? Dale Carnegie said in his book “How to win friends and influence people”, the best speaker is the best listener. The only way that you’re going to learn much from anything, including a new language, is to listen very well and pick up from the speakers the important pieces. I thought that international students don’t listen to English music often enough. We’ve all had those songs that just stick into our heads without us even liking them. That’s the best way to listen! I’ve abandoned Vietnamese music almost entirely, largely because of the low quality, but also because I realized that from pop to rap and rock, my listening and filtering (you know, those rap song words) skills continue to improve. My listening also goes up when I speak well.

Speaking

Listening and speaking go together because nobody can help you if they don’t understand you. International students stay in their group of friends and that’s the killer. On the other hand, I have countless moments when I’m conversing with a Canadian and I just ran out of word. Whatever I wanted to say just isn’t in my English vocabulary yet. My mind had to work really hard to figure out if I have come across the phrase before or I had to ask the guy how to say it. But that’s how I learn to speak. So speak more. Go to events, join a club, volunteer at community celebrations. Because if you can’t master listening and speaking, you are going to damage your reading and writing skills, when the level of study goes above your daily conversations. That’s why you also have to continuously improve your reading.

Reading

Thinking college textbooks are enough? Not even close. I found that most textbooks are technical and boring that the vocabulary don’t carry on. You might get away with a few common textbooks, but when you get into the upper classes, it’ll be much more difficult to digest the mountain of reading materials. The only solution is to build a solid basis of reading now. Get some books on whatever fields that you are interested in. Even 1 per month goes a long way. I also read blogs and newspapers regularly. Books improve my reading academically while blogs and newspapers deal with day to day events and are written more informally. My reading will be well-rounded. And then as a bonus, you will be surprised at how well you write.

 

Writing

Writing basically takes the vocabulary from your reading, and the smoothness of your speaking. But is it enough? Well maybe if you are in business. If you are in English, or Political Science etc, then you need to take your writing to the next level. Become a writer. My English tutor used to make me write diary of at least 1 page everyday. Then she went over and corrected it with me. That helped a lot because I know why I was wrong and how to do it right. Now you don’t need a tutor for that. The writing centre is very good at proof reading. Bug them at least once a week or ask your Canadian friends to help(see why I said you gotta join clubs and volunteer at events?). Can we go even further? Write a blog. There is something about publishing your writing to the whole world of the Internet that makes you very careful with what you write.

 

Immersing

I’ve talked about improving your listening, speaking, reading and writing. That’s the regular 4. Doing these 4 and you’ll be good at English. But if you want to be great, you gotta immerse yourself with it. Think in English. Do everything in English, including talking to your “from-the-same-country” friends. Many people complain that it’s hard, but hey, I live with my uncle and we do all things English. It takes effort and hard work. However, one day, when you feel that you have just gotta do with this English thing, do this last one and you’ll be well on your way.

Thank you very much and don’t leave UFV!

The Art of English As A Second Language

There is a problem! UFV International students are transferring to other schools, where the requirements into the degree programs are lower. And I think the root cause is this. Their classes get harder and harder while their English stays the same – the same level as when they got out of ESL. Having gone through the process of learning English and dare I say, with some success, I feel necessary that I pass on the 5 essentials of language learning to help international students in particular and anyone who’s learning a new language.

1. Listeningdictionary
2. Speaking
3. Reading
4. Writing
5. Immersing

Listening

Why is listening the most important? Dale Carnegie said in his book “How to win friends and influence people”, the best speaker is the best listener. The only way that you’re going to learn much from anything, including a new language, is to listen very well and pick up from the speakers the important pieces. I thought that international students don’t listen to English music often enough. We’ve all had those songs that just stick into our heads without us even liking them. That’s the best way to listen! I’ve abandoned Vietnamese music almost entirely, largely because of the low quality, but also because I realized that from pop to rap and rock, my listening and filtering (you know, those rap song words) skills continue to improve. My listening also goes up when I speak well.

Speaking

Listening and speaking go together because nobody can help you if they don’t understand you. International students stay in their group of friends and that’s the killer. On the other hand, I have countless moments when I’m conversing with a Canadian and I just ran out of word. Whatever I wanted to say just isn’t in my English vocabulary yet. My mind had to work really hard to figure out if I have come across the phrase before or I had to ask the guy how to say it. But that’s how I learn to speak. So speak more. Go to events, join a club, volunteer at community celebrations. Because if you can’t master listening and speaking, you are going to damage your reading and writing skills, when the level of study goes above your daily conversations. That’s why you also have to continuously improve your reading.

Reading

Thinking college textbooks are enough? Not even close. I found that most textbooks are technical and boring that the vocabulary don’t carry on. You might get away with a few common textbooks, but when you get into the upper classes, it’ll be much more difficult to digest the mountain of reading materials. The only solution is to build a solid basis of reading now. Get some books on whatever fields that you are interested in. Even 1 per month goes a long way. I also read blogs and newspapers regularly. Books improve my reading academically while blogs and newspapers deal with day to day events and are written more informally. My reading will be well-rounded. And then as a bonus, you will be surprised at how well you write.

 

Writing

Writing basically takes the vocabulary from your reading, and the smoothness of your speaking. But is it enough? Well maybe if you are in business. If you are in English, or Political Science etc, then you need to take your writing to the next level. Become a writer. My English tutor used to make me write diary of at least 1 page everyday. Then she went over and corrected it with me. That helped a lot because I know why I was wrong and how to do it right. Now you don’t need a tutor for that. The writing centre is very good at proof reading. Bug them at least once a week or ask your Canadian friends to help(see why I said you gotta join clubs and volunteer at events?). Can we go even further? Write a blog. There is something about publishing your writing to the whole world of the Internet that makes you very careful with what you write.

 

Immersing

I’ve talked about improving your listening, speaking, reading and writing. That’s the regular 4. Doing these 4 and you’ll be good at English. But if you want to be great, you gotta immerse yourself with it. Think in English. Do everything in English, including talking to your “from-the-same-country” friends. Many people complain that it’s hard, but hey, I live with my uncle and we do all things English. It takes effort and hard work. However, one day, when you feel that you have just gotta do with this English thing, do this last one and you’ll be well on your way.

Thank you very much and don’t leave UFV!