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


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.


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.


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 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.



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!

2 Replies to “The Art of English As A Second Language”

  1. The language problem that international students have at UFV is great. Last semester I had a 2nd year business course where the international students did not understand the material. Almost all of then failed the midterm because they were not aloud translators. Then I ended up being in a group with the students and I convinced the teacher to let them use the translators for the finals. You can say I was their hero :)

  2. Good for you Kam. Ya it would have been a disaster if the translator wasn’t allowed. But that worries me though. As the students get higher with classes, they would be at disadvantage – it takes so long to translate!

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