Confident with your English? 3 reasons why you need to continue learning

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Many newcomers come to Canada with a working knowledge of English. After all, language proficiency is one of the factors we are given points for when applying to immigrate. You would expect that most of us would be able to have sufficient language skills for everyday life.

I was one of those newcomers who did not think communication would be a problem. Actually, I felt extra confident that it would be easy because first, I worked in the communications industry and second, English was the official language for education and business in my home country. This was until my first interview for a volunteer position. The initial pleasantries went well, but as soon as the interviewer got into the interview proper, I began to panic. After every question, I had to say, “could you repeat that please?” The problem was, I wasn’t ready for the speed at which the interviewer spoke. At one point, she tried to speak slower and tried to explain some of the words she thought might be complicated for me. While I understood that she was being helpful, it left me feeling stupid. But then it was my fault. I did not prepare enough for Canadian English.

“The problem was, I wasn’t ready for the speed at which the interviewer spoke. At one point, she tried to speak slower and tried to explain some words in the question. While I understood that she was being helpful, it left me feeling stupid. But then it was my fault. I did not prepare enough for Canadian English.”

If you’re like me and think that you’re already proficient in English, here are a few reasons why you may need to learn more:

  1. Canadian English is different

    Canadian English is unique. Especially for those who are used to American English, let me tell you that it’s not same! A few weeks of living here will tell you that the pace, intonation, and expressions are different. You will also notice that some words are spelled differently. These reasons can make it hard for us to understand some words or phrases or writing some materials (to know more why and how Canadian English is different, read: Canadian English, Charles Boberg, The Canadian Encyclopedia).

  2. Canadian English accent (regional differences) from Jimiticus

  3. Language is culture

    Structural difference is one thing. Cultural nuances, another. There are a lot of cultural aspects that have shaped Canadian English making it distinct. Common everyday things, flora and fauna, even the weather have an impact on the language. You will see that these are interwoven into common expressions. For example, do you know what double-double means? How about eavestroughs or chesterfields? Words such as these (and many more) are uniquely Canadian. In order to know them, you have to consciously make an effort to learn about them.

    Another way culture influences language is in the manner of communicating. For example, Canadians have a reputation for being polite and apologetic to a fault. You may need to preface statements with “please”, “thank you,” “I’m sorry.” Also, communication is indirect. For example, your boss will never tell you to your face that you are wrong. But she will suggest that you do better, or to make improvements. In the same manner, you are expected to communicate indirectly as well. It is appropriate to be diplomatic and respectful at all times.

  4. There is a link between English proficiency and income

    For years, studies have been seeing a correlation between language proficiency (in English and French) to career and economic success among immigrants. It’s only logical that if you can understand the language and communicate your ideas better, the more you can contribute and participate (for more on language proficiency and the wage gap, read Closing the immigrant wage gap: Is speaking English important? by Arvind Magesan in The Conversation).

    It’s no wonder that the more you know Canadian English, the better your chances of moving up in your career. And this is true not only for newcomers but for native-born Canadians as well. Leadership roles across all fields require a high level of business communication skills. These can be developed with greater exposure to Canadian workplace culture and continuous language training.

How to continually improve your English language skills

The best way to start is to stay open to learning. Never assume that you know enough! Even native English speakers take courses to improve their business English. As you adjust to your new home and gradually assimilate, you can:

  1. Keep observing, listening and asking – Mingle and network. Look for opportunities where you can observe people interacting. Listen to people talk. Find a friend or mentor who can help you when you have questions. I find that when you ask politely, many Canadians will be happy to explain things that are not clear to you. Asking questions is also a great way to keep small talk moving along.
  2. Keep conversing with Canadians– Always practice. The more you use the language, the better you’ll be. You will also be picking up new words and phrases that are commonly used. And the more you practise them during conversations, the more comfortable you’ll be speaking the Canadian way. Read 5 big ideas for better small talk for more tips.
  3. Take advantage of free learning resources – there are many language learning tools that are openly available to newcomers. Examples are conversation circles, online lessons and materials, YouTube videos, and others. Here are some examples: Virtual Coffee Chats, Multi-Week Sessions, Intermediate Exercises.
  4. Take classes – As a newcomer, you have access to a plethora of language courses that will help you sharpen your skills. Taking advantage of them now will be wise since most of them won’t be free anymore once you become a citizen. Read Language training programs in Manitoba and choose which one is best for you.

Sources: Canadian English, Charles Boberg, The Canadian Encyclopedia; Why is Canadian English unique? James Harbeck, Accessed January 15, 2018.

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Community Resources

To learn more Canadianisms, read Can you Can-speak? (while you’re at it, read Can you Can-speak 2 and 3 as well).

Learn more idioms here: Canadian idioms

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