Ursula has been in London since May 2013. She is a Brazilian Psychologist, currently working at The Children's Centre as a family support worker and her dream is to start a Master's degree at the end of this year to study Education, Health Promotion and International Development, at The Institute of Education.
As part of the Big Fish English writing project, Ursula has written this article:
Don’t get stuck in a rut
By Ursula Maschette
Before coming to live abroad, I had the naive idea that just a couple of months would be necessary to learn a second language and within a year I would be speaking fluently. Well, I know I was a bit ambitious with that thought, but I was not completely wrong.
Besides the obvious advantages of learning a second language living in the country where the language is spoken, the scenario can be completely different if you are there as a student or an immigrant. London, for instance, is a diverse and exciting city but if you are here to work and your knowledge of English is poor, London can be pretty tough.
Simple sentences only.
I first came to London two years ago, looking for better opportunities for my career and with a dream to start a Master’s course in the near future. However, my main problem was my low level of English and my very limited budget. Therefore, like the majority of immigrants in London, I started working as a waitress, but as my English skills were really poor, I got stuck with the hard work – cleaning up the restaurant and preparing the drinks behind the bar (far away from the customers). My vocabulary was limited and I only knew how to make simple sentences (present, past and future) and of course, just related to my work.
Surprisingly after a couple of months I realized that some of my foreign friends that had been living here for years (some of them for 3, 5 and even 10 years) were still struggling with their English skills. Despite the fact that they have been living in an English speaking country, the community around them was still from their own country. While avoiding loneliness and craving security and belonging is understandable, it also made some them comfortable enough not to progress in terms of cultural integration.
I raised a red flag.
When I realized that, I raised the red flag, I was determined to learn English as quickly as I could.
Hardly ever has someone corrected my English mistakes at work, to be honest most of my friends faced the same difficulties as me. That’s why, I thought I had to try a different job, where I could hear a better level of English and where I could be in contact with British people. At that point, I started working as a nanny, and of course, I had some problems there too, especially because some kids were too little and their English was also pretty limited.
Building a friendship network can be another difficult task, finding new friends beside those who speak your mother tongue can be a nightmare (especially if you are not confident with your English yet). The Meetup website was a great tool that has helped me to socialize more and meet people just like me (interested in learning English and to having fun together). I found the London English Conversation Group, that has had a really positive impact on my English progress and has helped me to gain confidence, which is crucial to me.
In the end, I decided that in my free time I would get involved in some volunteer work. That was a really important choice in terms of cultural integration, better job opportunities and of course I could finally be in contact with an excellent level of English in my daily routine. After all, although my English is far from perfect, I can see huge improvements. However, it took me a “long” two years to get where initially I thought would be months.