Navigating a new language

I remember the collection of language records stowed away on my mother’s living room shelf. Through her vinyl record subscription, she learned to speak English in the 60s.

Millions of people from all over the world have chosen Canada as their new home. According to Statistics Canada, in 2021 almost one-quarter of Canada’s population were landed immigrants or permanent residents*.

I often think about the number of people starting a new life in a new country, learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture. (My mother didn’t move from another country, but she did move from la belle province — a French-speaking province in Eastern Canada.)

Adjusting to a new country can be a big challenge. There are new laws, different cultures and new languages. Although English is one of the most widely spoken languages around the world, it’s not always the easiest to learn, even when it’s your native language!

You say what?

Think about it.

  • Many words sound the same but mean different things — watch (something that keeps time) and watch (to observe), for example.
  • Words are spelled differently and used differently but sound the same — your and you’re, for example.
  • Rules don’t always apply — “i” before “e” except after “c” unless it sounds like “a” as in neighbour and weigh! But wait… what about weird, leisure, science, species … ?

Adding to this confusion is keeping up with the number of new words added to the dictionary each year, as well as, slang words like zaddy or cheugy. And, don’t forget those loveable idioms we’ve adapted as part of our culture.

Many countries invest in English education some making it a mandatory subject. I spoke recently to a newcomer to Canada from South Korea. She said, ‘There’s a big difference between ‘learning English and actually communicating and speaking’.”

Pronunciation of words can be the biggest challenge in English especially when it’s not your mother tongue. Like anything, practice makes perfect and that’s particularly true when you’re learning a new language.

The best support of all?

Newcomers will tell you that one of the most helpful ways to learn a new language is by talking with native speakers. You can learn from their expressions and vocal inflection. We naturally copy the speech patterns of our native dialect, so participating in conversation is a big help.

Unlike my mother and her vinyl records, there’s now an abundance of resources to help you learn. These range from YouTube videos and apps like Duolingo and Babbel, to books and numerous English learning classes both online and in person.

Learning from a young age is always an advantage. As I watch my grandchildren learn French, I see what little sponges their minds can be. In countries where education is a priority, focusing on studying reading, listening and grammar in school can sometimes take over class participation and practice. Fitting in time to also practice writing and speaking is important. It’s also one of the best ways to retain information and build confidence.

English is a global language. Next time you’re with someone who’s practicing their English, take the time to strike up a conversation. Through practiced listening and speaking, you’ll help open the door to endless opportunities.

*https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/221026/dq221026a-eng.htm

Published by hdiane2

Quietly practicing something that brings me enjoyment.

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