Imagine this! You’ve only just arrived in the country to further improve your English skills that you had learnt back home at school. You step up to the immigration officer and, after a few simple questions, he asks you something that sounds like “Yearunbiznuserolday?”* Suddenly, the panic sets in and you don’t know what to do. Fortunately, a fellow traveller steps in and translates it into your own language and now you feel relaxed, continuing to talk with the passenger in your home language. Welcome to the comfort zone!
Feels good, eh? But, hold on! You’re not in your home country. Still, it’s easier than having to struggle for the correct English even if you paid a lot of money to be able to do that same thing. Or is it? Well, like they say, “no pain, no gain!” So, here are a few tips.
Location! Location! Location!
Just like in real estate, you need to take advantage of the location. Try to communicate with local people every chance you get whether it is at breakfast with your homestay family, the local shopkeeper or someone you meet on a night on the town. Even if the person you are talking to is not a native speaker, you can still chat in English successfully. One memorable conversation I had was with a Turkish guy in a bar in Tokyo. We spent hours chatting to each other in the only common language we had, which was Japanese, so it is possible.
Cross My Heart, Hope to Die!
Of course, it’s very easy to fall into the comfort zone when your fellow students are from the same country, isn’t it? This is where you need to come to agreement with your friends. If you socialise with them, agree only to use English when you are out. If you share, either in an apartment or a homestay, make an agreement whereby you use your own language for a certain time period of the day or in a particular room, say, your bedroom. It’s hard but it’s worth it in the long run.
Different Strokes for Different Blokes!
How many times have you heard when asking what you could do to improve your listening and the answer is “watch TV” or “watch the news”? Watching the news is a good way to improve your listening as you have the pictures to help with the context of words you might not know and the speech is more formal and, dare I say, official. But the problem is that the topics don’t interest you. Let’s face it, who cares if the unemployment rate has risen sharply? Still, you could learn some vocabulary that you could use in your speaking if you’re doing a Cambridge speaking test. But if you want to be able to understand everyday English, then you should choose some programme or movie that you are interested in. If you like comedy, watch a programme like “The Big Bang Theory” or, if it’s music you’re into, then watch “X Factor”. Apart from the lyrics to the songs, you have the opportunity to listen to the judges’ opinions to see if you agree with them. And we can’t forget DVD’s. The good thing about these is that you can replay what you have just heard to either confirm it or to do a simple “Listen and Repeat” exercise. So, switch on the “tube” and find something to entertain you and, at the same time, educate you!
The Fun Is in the Journey…
Last, but not least, do not be afraid to make mistakes, which is just as important as to learn from your mistakes. Whenever you answer a teacher’s question, the teacher can see what may be your weaknesses and can help you overcome the problem. If you are trying to buy something from a shopkeeper, they won’t wait until you’ve repeated it correctly because you used the wrong preposition or dropped an article. As long as you get your message across, they couldn’t care less. Besides, they probably wouldn’t even know what you did wrong in the first place.
So, the bottom line is be a risk-taker, get out of that comfort zone and be adventurous. After all, it’s just like rock climbing. It’s a hard struggle on the way up but, once you get to the top, it’s a hell of a feeling!
* By the way, “Yearunbiznuserolday” is, in clear English, “Are you here (Y-ear) on (un) business (biznus) er (or) holiday (ol-day)
(Blog written by Bryan Brennan – teacher at Langports’ Gold Coast campus)