How this Colombian Mastered his English in Australia

Living in Australia, I meet a lot of foreigners who come here to study. The one thing I noticed is that although everyone wants to learn, many people struggle to completely immerse themselves in English once they arrive.

In fact, a good proportion of them stayed in their Spanish speaking comfort zone and either didn’t improve or didn’t experience Australia as much as they wanted. Except one guy, my friend Jean Paul from Colombia. Jean Paul stayed in Australia for several months and returned to Bogota in February 2017 with wonderful memories of the culture, people and an impressive knowledge of the English language that he could take home and use on his resume.

This guest post from my friend JP details his experiences in Melbourne, Australia, and what techniques he used to get the most out of his stay.


ADVICE TO LEARN ENGLISH IN AUSTRALIA

By Jean-Paul Castillo

I don’t like to speak in ‘Spanglish’, but for the purpose of my story, I’m going to use some phrases that will be useful to explain some of my advice and experiences in my great adventure to get to know the sixth biggest country in the world. It will include some fun examples in order for you to re-live this adventure with me that has finished no longer than a month ago as I sit and write this. If you are already living this experience, surely these tips will be useful to help you focus a little bit more on your goal to be bilingual.

Once you have finished all the relevant paperwork and account adjustments and in general a travesty of hours of planning and visiting travel agencies, you finally get the long-awaited Australian visa. Now the real adventure starts and fear cannot stop you from the excitement of completing the eternal process to get the approval to go into the country.

 

AUSTRALIANS SPEAK SPANISH AS WELL!

Australia counts upon a high migration percentage of Colombian people and other Spanish speakers too. Based on research from 2011, according to Australian Migration Services 11,318 Colombians were living and studying there. Just by reviewing groups on social networks like ‘Colombianos en Melbourne’ and ‘Colombianos en Sydney’ amongst others, you will see that every time this experience gets easier, because the Colombian population grows more every single day.

However, if your plans are for immersion in the language, this could be one of the stones in your shoe. Moreover if you were thinking of going to an inexpensive college or institution, as I did in my situation, be assured that you will find yourself in a spot full of Spanish speakers and especially Colombians, speaking your Spanish. There you will feel the first little frustration: not being able to practice the language just like you were planning.

 

ATTITUDE CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING

People often suffer from the condition I like to call ‘Eternally Intermediate’ where they see the months pass and they are studying and working. It means that they have real contact, but they do not feel a significant progress in their language because their English level does not allow them to get a better job than as a cleaner or dishwasher. Every single day they feel tired because their savings are running out or they have already spent the Colombian pesitos that were so hard to collect and bring it with them. Others are obligated to take a loan from corporations like Icetex that have a reputation of sending Colombian families bankrupt. It is more real than you think, but in these cases when you feel like your energy have run out, it is really important that you are conscious that you are already there, after a great transatlantic travesty. So don´t give up, enjoy your trip because this kind of experience will never be repeated in the same way and in the same conditions.

Here is my second piece of advice, because I lived it in person. Take action to have linguistic contact with natives. Here there are a hundred ways to do it, but the big issue is the fear or being shy that used to be part of the Colombian who wants to be an English speaker. I think especially overseas, as a typical Colombian, we carry a sort of destructive criticism; we usually look to show off who is the best.

Of course, not everybody is like this, so perhaps 10% of the migrants realise that surely it’s better to help people from their home country, maybe by helping with work or teaching the language, at least do not criticising or making fun of them.

I was one of the lucky ones who knew that 10% but also I suffered with the rest of them. Over ten long months, I tried to figure out the best way to learn. I asked each one of my school buddies almost every day about their learning experience, so I have made a list of tips for you to take note.

1- ‘ME, THE CONSUMER’

Sign up for advertising with Australian internet sites, but without give your bank details. Look especially for those that say ‘win prize’, write your Australian cell phone number, and just wait for the results to show. You could start your search with the terms ‘market research’ or ‘paid surveys’; immediately your cell phone will ring, you will get calls from natives or immigrants with really good English trying to sell products that you cannot imagine. They have to communicate with you to sell, this is a great opportunity to sharpen your listening comprehension; in fact you can ask them to repeat themselves hundreds of times and they won´t hesitate to do it, nor will they be upset in case they don´t get the sale. With this little strategy you will start to understand English over the phone, which is not easy.

 

2- AMAZING GUMTREE

There is a really famous page in Australia called Gumtree. Basically it is a page where everyone can offer stuff, from house cleaning services, up to desperate Australians looking for cheaper love by offering good money to clean their house in exchange for a massage (Services that I never did!) Here, there are ads written by people really interested in learning Spanish because is trending to look really fancy to learn some expressions. So there you can publish an ad that could say ‘Swap language’ or ‘Language Exchange’. Of course you have to say you are a Spanish speaker, especially Colombian or Latin, because in their eyes our culture is usually interesting. Also if you know how to dance, you could offer yourself as a dancing instructor. It’s not necessary to have been part of a dancing show like dancing for a dream because if you are Latin, you probably have the rhythm inside your veins. It is worth saying that the average Australian is not a good dancer, remember: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is a King!”

 

3- BECAUSE I’M HAPPY!

Start to enjoy English music, and even though probably at the beginning you may not understand, it does not matter, start to familiarise yourself with the music and different pronunciation: American, British and Australian.

Have a look the lyrics and remember them, and you will realise in short time you will understand and, more importantly, enjoy it. The clue to learning is in the enjoyment.

Make this a habit everywhere: on the tram, on the train, on the bus. Be obsessive with music morning and night, remember you can use Spotify, TuneIn or iHeartRadio. You do not have to pay much, if anything, besides you could switch it up with Podcasts and you can sign up with topics that you are passionate about; in this way your brain will make more effort but it won´t do so out of obligation, it will do so out of motivation.

 

4- NETFLIX

The best thing that you can do is to watch movies in English, initially with subtitles. Netflix will be your best partner because it’s the best way to search, organise and control the movies. You can stop the dialogues in order to pick up new words, expressions, and slang.

 

5- BYE BYE COLOMBIANS

This is the most difficult part of being overseas, but if you have invested a lot of money paying for a course in Australian dollars- it could be around 2.200 pesitos-, and you have travelled to the other side of the world, it’s not worth it not take advantage of your time with the stuff that you already know. So, once you get work through Colombians or Spanish speaking acquaintances, for whom you will surely feel affection, make an effort to push them away gently and don’t keep in touch. Start to focus your leisure time with school or uni partners. The most important thing is that they are of different nationalities, like Thai, Japanese, Korean or Italian. They are the most accessible and they should be your primary objective because your partners want to know about others cultures as well so they are the doorway to meeting natives. But beware: do not spend too much time with them, because like you they are on the same learning curve but what you need is to learn from an expert.

Even though you may not believe it, it’s really difficult for them, because they have a totally different language system in comparison to English. In fact, in comparison to Asians, we share a lot of similar expressions with English speakers, therefore you should feel lucky. You only have to look at their phonetic system, seldom have I heard an Oriental person say ‘Restaurant’ properly (they always they said ‘Lestaulant’).

 

6- CHILL OUT PAL

Another thing: your brain will overheat from so much English. For sure, you are going to have days where you can’t even say “Hello”, because you are fed up with language.

Don’t worry, this is normal, allow yourself one day per week to have a rest from languages. It can be a ‘day off’; forget it and return to your beloved Spanish for a day, watch movies in Spanish, listen to music in Spanish, talk with your family and rest.

 

7- DREAM IN ENGLISH!

For sure at the moment this may sound crazy, but a moment will arrive where your mind will immerse itself in the language in such a way that it will start to dream in English.

Some dreams you will understand, and others you will not. It doesn’t matter, it’s a good symptom of your level of immersion: this indicates that you are doing a great job, but that happens with time and spontaneously, since each person has different relationship and experience with the language.

 

8- A UNIQUE RELATIONSHIP

Like you just read, each person has a unique relationship with languages, and this is due to each person’s personality, the way they learn and their current objectives.

Don’t stress, because you see that some people speak more fluently than you, or because you are one of the fluent speakers, but you don’t have good grammar: each person has a different process and that is seen as time goes by.

Many people find it easier to speak and they do it extremely well, but at exam time those who are dedicated to books and grammatical structure stand out.

However, we discover that there are people that exist who understand every audio almost perfectly in a listening exam, but they neither speak nor have good grammar.

 

9- ENGLISH IS ALSO LEARNT WHILST WORKING

This doesn’t mean that when you finish your study time, you stop learning; on the contrary, it’s the time to learn more: try to find a job that requires speaking, although at first you will not do it much.

Also, try to be friendly with your workmates, above all with the locals, with a mind to strike up conversations, and although not everyone will be open and get to know you, as the saying goes “he who seeks, shall find”.

I assure you that someone will be interested in your life story and for sure you will speak every day and until you will be able to cultivate a great friendship and, best of all, in English!

There are job offers in Australia with cleaning companies that don’t pay badly at all, you will find them up to $25 dollar per hour, and on public holidays up to $50 per hour, but the least important thing is the money and a job if your objective is English.

As a cleaner doesn’t require much English, try to have a different job, but don’t give up the job search for jobs that will surely allow the improvement of your quality of life in the near future and not sacrifice your body without improving your English.

For women, jobs like an au pair, nanny or babysitter are a very good option. Also, jobs in construction or restaurants (like a ‘runner’ or ‘busboy’, which is basically a waiter that clears the waste from the table), will allow you to improve your English.

 

10- TO GIVE IS TO RECEIVE

There are a lot of volunteer positions throughout Australia that even pay travel expenses for missions in extremely beautiful places (with all expenses paid!)

And the best thing, you must speak only English. If you are interested in this option, you can visit: https://www.volunteeringaustralia.org/

OR

https://au.indeed.com/Volunteer-jobs

In fact, you can see the option to do an internship or practise your professional career, with which you can improve your resume with professional experience in another language.

This is an option to take advantage of dead time waiting the start work or commuting, or maybe a lazy Sunday. There are applications like HelloTalk, Duolingo and even Tinder o Happn, and whilst the last two are not exactly for this end, they do allow you to meet many people that look to practise their English. But don’t worry, you don’t have to give anything in exchange!

 

12- OTHER WAYS TO LEARN

There are a lot of tourist spots in Australia. Just as a reference, find Federation Square in Melbourne, which is a crowded place because there is always a cultural activity, or the Opera House in Sydney, which due to its character and fame is always visited by people from all over the world who are open to talking about anything to make friends.

You can also take advantage of your native speaking teachers in the break or in your lunch hour. Always make a daily list of doubts that arise and resolve these doubts with them. In fact, resolve them with any native speaker; surely every day there will be fewer doubts that you have about things and so it will prepare you day by day to take on a new challenge without academic gaps that only will give you insecurity to express yourself.

If you travel with a partner or friends, try to make English a daily experience: a fun way is to speak only in English and enforce penalties for speaking in Spanish. You will see that you will improve incredibly fast. Lastly, if you are a believer and like to pray, you can go to churches, whether they are Christian, Catholic, Buddhist temples or a of religion that you come up with or want to experiment with, pray in English and you will also see “how a miracle is made”!

 

FINAL WORDS

I am sure that these tips will serve you already, and have them on hand so they don’t wear you out trying to decipher them during your stay.

Enjoy the experience of living in a developed country with unimaginable technology, without queues, almost no insecurity. Furthermore, the most important thing: I know that you will discover the concept that we are citizens of the world, so you will acquire global thinking, a world culture, and above all the pride and joy of knowing that you achieved your dreams; that everything really can be achieved, especially when we have committed love and security for what we want.

If each person inspires others with any aspect of their life, I am sure that this world would be a better place.

Jean Paul Castillo


READ JEAN PAUL’S ORIGINAL POST IN SPANISH: http://inglesenaustralia.blogspot.com.au/2017/04/consejos-para-aprender-ingles-en.html

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