Learning a foreign language abroad
(From Canada, Thierry Dime Bolla)
Education Without Borders has done some research about learning a foreign language and more specifically about learning English. Over 700 million people speak English in the world today while it is the native language of only about half of them. English is considered the international language in business, science, politics and even the cultural world. It is the key to communication in several domains and learning English has become consequently a must nowadays.
English is usually the common language between people of different countries living abroad and is mistakenly considered easy to learn. Even if the grammar were simple, it is nevertheless not really mastered by a great number of people who have the impression that they “know English” while they can only master casual conversation. In order to find out more about it, we have met Jon Barrett who is the Canadian director of one of the world’s largest language schools.
Jon, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and first off, do you agree with the belief that English is easy to learn?
That’s a very good question. I, myself know several languages quite well-Russian, German, Spanish, Portuguese and a little French and I would say that all these languages have more complicated grammars than English. I think English is quite an easy language to learn on a basic level and it doesn’t take too long to learn how to communicate but like any language to know it well takes lots of study.
I also don’t believe that you can say any language is necessarily more difficult than another; it often depends on what your native language is. For example if you are Polish then Russian may be quite easy or if you are Italian, Spanish will not be too difficult or if you speak English, Dutch, German or Swedish may not be too tricky to pick up, etc.
I also think that English is quite a difficult language to pronounce like a native speaker but as we have so many different accents in English, native speakers are often very used to and open to hearing different foreign accents. It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak English like a native speaker; the most important things is to speak and communicate. Don’t be shy.
Let’s talk about your school. For a few years now, you have been responsible for EF (Education First) in Vancouver; can you present EF in a few words?
EF is the world’s largest private language teaching organization and we have many branches. The International Language school branch is only part of the organization. For example we also arrange tours for North Americans who would like to visit and get to know other parts of the world. We also teach Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese and Russian. EF Vancouver is one of the most international schools in the city.
According to you, what is the best way of learning a language and in particular English?
The best way to learn a language is to speak it and “live it” every opportunity you have. Yes, you do need to learn grammar but the most important thing is not to be shy and get out and use and practice what you have learnt. Don’t lose your precious opportunity while you are in Vancouver to speak and use English whenever you can even to your friends who speak the same language. You may never have such a great opportunity again!
Is EF using a different ways of teaching than other language schools?
Yes, we believe in a balanced way of teaching English so we offer a mix of classes-grammar and communication is the basis but we also offer on-line classes in the ilab and SPINS (Special Interest Classes) where students can focus on topic that interest them specifically.
How can students improve their English outside class time?
Speak, Speak, Speak and Speak some more! Also reading and watching movies and TV in English are other good ways to improve and learn more vocabulary.
What results do you expect from your courses?
Average students can expect to move up an EF level in about 3 months but even if you are only at the school for a few weeks you will see an improvement in your spoken and written English especially if you practice English outside the classroom.
Learning English is something very popular with young people in Europe. Time, effort and money investment are necessary to learn a new language.
What would you recommend to people who cannot afford to study English abroad, but who are nevertheless interested in learning and mastering the English language?
I would still recommend students to take English courses in their home countries and also read as much as possible in English and also watch English TV and movies.