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Why study in Canada: Improving your language skills

Written by Erin Pehlivan, York University

     In a world where English is increasingly becoming the international language of communication, more and more students are learning English for better jobs and a more secure future.

     Most students first learn English in their local schools, but nothing helps to improve language skills more than language immersion. Studying abroad is a perfect way to improve your language skills and immerse yourself in a new culture, whether it’s English, French, Spanish or Chinese.

     In Canada, students are required to learn French from grades 4 or earlier. French is mandatory up until grade 9. Interestingly enough, many Anglo-Canadians admit that they cannot speak French, despite the bilingual nature of our road signs and commercial packages.

     The point is that many Canadians are not immersed in the French province of Quebec, and as a result, we forget the French that we learned in middle school and high school. As we age, we find out that learning French can advance our job prospects in Canada and abroad.

     Learning a language does not come naturally or easily to everyone, but it is always possible to develop our skills. Being immersed in a language implies being immersed in a specific culture. The culture shock can feel very strange at first, but there are ways to cope with the shock of entering a new place with a foreign language.

     Taking a language class in a country where your mother tongue is not the official language is important to sharpening up the language you want to learn. It can be a good way to meet new people who are in the same shoes as you. There are many levels for English including beginners, conversational, business, intermediate, and advanced. These classes can be taken at your host university or at a local language institute.

     Making friends that are native speakers is crucial to improving your English. Not only do you pick up on slang or local dialect, but it’s a great way to meet new people in your classes, in school clubs, or at the coffee shop. Maybe you could choose to stay with a host family during your time abroad. Even a little interaction can make a big difference and can help boost your confidence.

     Joining a school club or team is a great way to meet fellow students and is very much a natural interest for many students abroad. Colleges and universities have international student clubs where you can meet new students to converse with. The dominant language to speak is of course English, as it is understood by all of the international students. It is normal to make mistakes and practice with international students who are your shoes.

     It is important to move away from the textbook-centric method of learning a language. Talking with locals and international students will definitely upgrade your speaking skills. Finding a tutor or tandem partner is another way to practice your English. In your host college or university, many local students may volunteer to offer this service, but you can find other locals through classified ads, language centres or Craigslist for a fee.

     Learning a language abroad is the best way to learn and practice at the same time. Daily practice, immersion, and conversational approaches are crucial to improving your English. Much like a musical instrument, a choreographed dance, or a theatrical play, there can be no improvement unless you practice.

     Living in a culture where English dominates the landscape may be frightening at first, but this type of learning will benefit you in the end. Plus, it makes studying abroad a much more fun and exciting affair! You may be surprised by how much you learn about yourself.