I have been learning English since I was 6 years old in the kindergarten. My parents sent me to learn spoken English after school. Then back in my primary school in Shanghai, we started learning English in 3rd grade.
I was always one of the best English learners at in the class until graduation from university.
But I remember when I met my first foreign friend at work, I couldn’t express my feelings fully although I was the best student in the English training class at the company. I determined to learn English better because the reality told me my English level was worse than I had been led to believe. I also made a decision that I wanted to go to overseas to study for my Master’s degree, which was the greatest motivation to learn English.
After being a little bit depressed in 2006, I devoted most of my spare time to learning English, and I applied for school. But I didn’t have the best circumstances to immerse myself into English because opportunities were lacking. Lack of English media, environment and friends to chat with are the biggest barriers. On top of that, I had to work 10 hours a day and keep my mom company while she watched her favorite TV programme when I came back home.
Things changed when I came to Hong Kong, I had my own dorm room in a remote area where I didn’t have many friends to talk to, which was good, as I could choose who I wanted to make friends with. I listened to English radio every night and went to the university’s English center almost every day. I made a very detailed English learning plan which exposed me to speaking, listening, reading, and writing. I was quite determined, and at that time I called my American friend every week to practise English.
The only barrier back then was that I had to learn Cantonese at the same time. And I wanted to speak it like a native speaker because I know that Shanghainese have an advantage in learning Cantonese. Almost everyone can speak it well after one year in Hong Kong. I started to learn Cantonese half a year before I came to Hong Kong. It turned out that half a year later, I spoke it very well. I was quite harsh with myself then. While most of the students from the mainland were trying to make more friends in this new environment, I spent most of my time just studying my master’s programs, learning Cantonese and English.
Language learning needs a lot of patience. I felt frustrated because I was still not fluent enough in speaking to express my complicated ideas. I like communication very much; and I wanted to interact with people deeply. The environment at school was not good at that time because most of the students in our class were from mainland China. My reading and writing made progress though, because I had to read a lot of papers and write my own paper.
When I reflect, I plucked up courage to ask an American Professor in the early spring of 2009 if he wanted me to teach him Chinese for free and he accepted my offer. I thought in return I could ask him some English questions. That Chinese New Year, I didn’t go back home. Instead, I stayed in my dorm by myself avoiding speaking any Mandarin or Shanghainese.
The biggest change was in the summer of 2009. I was not in a hurry to find a job then since I was planning to have a European trip. I went to the English center everyday to practise English with the English tutors. My English skills rocketed.
In 2010, I was lucky enough to find a job in an online company quickly . Here I was able to speak English every day with colleagues since we had so many different nationalities at the office. Every one was in charge of his or her native area in the world. I was also lucky to have the support of my good friend Ip, who speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, English, and Japanese almost like a native because she lived each of those place for about 10 years. She taught me a lot of everyday language both in English and Chinese while we were at lunch.
A new chapter of my life started in Hong Kong, as I began to take part in various new activities. I met so many people of different nationalities. I was so fascinated by different cultures. One of my best friends said she thought I would make a good sociologist. She said I was good at observing people, that I adapted quickly to different cultures, and that I had my own insights about things such as culture differences or human behavior. I realized language really can help me with these kinds of things that I like.
Over the last six years, my spoken English has jumped to another level. One of my friends thought I had previously studied overseas, and she thinks that my English is international. However, I am still working very hard. I spend at least an hour every day watching English TV programs or news. I attend expat networking every week or two to practice speaking. Since my Cantonese is quite good now, I can spend most of the time on English. I spend at least half of my spare time concentrating exclusively on English. Most of my daily language now is Cantonese and English. I remember one of my old teachers said that if you want to learn a language well, you need to forget your native language.
This year I started to polish my English writing. I need to write reports at work and have been doing so for the last two years. But I was aware that the way I wrote sometimes still seems very Chinese even though I make a big effort. For example I write: “It is forecasted”, but for a native speaker, it should be” it is forecast”. I have some native speakers helping me to correct those tiny things I should bear in mind in writing. And I am sure I will make more progress.
To be an expert at languages is part of my dream to achieve my full potential. If I had been given the better opportunity, I would go to some English-speaking countries. But since I am in Hong Kong now, it is not bad to learn one more language- Cantonese – and to try harder to learn English better in order to enjoy such an international environment. However, I still wish I can speak very good English as if I went to overseas 8 years ago. I know I already made a great progression.
Meanwhile, I have just started to pick up my German again- a new challenge for me to conquer.
I am on my way now. I know there is still a long way to go.