Updated: Apr 27
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Undoubtedly one of the main struggles, when you want to move to Canada, is learning the language, which in this case can be English or French, depending on the province you are moving to.
One of the best tools that will help make your process of migrating to Canada smoother will be your language skills.
In this post, I will focus on giving you six tips that I have personally used and that have helped me learn and improve my English and that today have allowed me to work in an English-speaking environment.
All these recommendations are based on my personal experience and to give you alternatives so that you can choose the best option.
I will leave my story here (disclaimer: long story) to show that it doesn't matter if you have never had English in your life; with dedication and perseverance, you can progress.
Of course, you can jump directly to the content that follows the next table of contents.
Table of contents
I was born and raised until I was 11 years old on a rural island in southern Chile, the island is called Butachauques, and there were no more than 300 families there.
I attended the first seven grades at the island school (at that time, we only had those courses available) and there, I had no English.
Then, when I turned 12, I left the island to attend a boarding school to complete the 8th year of primary education.
I remember the teacher did a diagnostic test, and I knew nothing. You may laugh, but I remember the teacher did a dictation, so we had to write down what we heard. She mentioned the verb "To be," and I wrote "To by" in case there was any doubt that I didn't know anything. It had to be a traumatic experience because I still remember this after more than 20 years of my life, and the teacher was terrifying.
Well, I think my journey with English started there, we had a couple of hours of English a week, and I began to learn little things, but I never connected any sentences. Then I moved to another boarding school and finished high school, English was a mandatory subject, and I studied a lot so I got good results in the exams. Still, in reality, I was unable to understand the listening exercises, articulate a sentence or speak. I remember that all the presentations I had to do were memorized word for word.
Then I went to university and never had a subject related to English. Still, we had to read a lot of scientific publications and books in English, so I started to understand the technical information of my career: pharmacist.
When I finished university, I was 22 years old, and I had to do an internship, so I moved to the capital, Santiago, and coincidentally the room I rented was in the apartment of a lady who worked doing English classes (destiny, I think).
That's how I started taking classes with her every week. We began with the verb "to be," and it was the first time in my life that I could understand and articulate short sentences; it was amazing. I don't know if it was the way she explained it or the dedication I put into it because I decided to learn it, and I didn't have to take any exams or a combination of both but it was one of the best things I did at that time.
I spent about a year in classes with her, keeping it consistent every week, and then I decided that I was going to take a course abroad to improve my English and immerse myself in real life.
I saved money for three years, which allowed me to travel to Canada for three months to do a full-time course. It is something I highly recommend. Then I returned, my fluency improved, time passed, and I stopped practicing and having classes. After some time, I noticed that I was losing what I had learned, and I panicked, so I decided to look for courses in my country.
Those who live in Chile will know these places, but I did two courses, one with KOE and another with Tronwell. I completed 100% of the courses, kept the constancy, and went every week to the classes; in short, I got benefits from both.
Once I finished these courses, I realized that I knew the grammar but I still did not feel confident speaking English.
Finally, long story short... I discovered the Italki platform and started practicing my English with Canadian tutors since I was planning our trip to Canada from Chile. Then I moved to Canada, and I was still training in Italki until last year.
To give you an idea, today I am working 100% in English; my pronunciation is not the best because I finally speak English with the Spanish rules that I have spoken all my life; I have a Spanish accent, but people understand me when I speak and that is the important thing.
I am going to summarize the steps I have taken to learn English, and I hope they can guide you in the next steps you can take.
1) Taking personalized classes
By this, I mean finding a private teacher who will dedicate the time exclusively to you; I would say that this has many advantages, such as the following:
The teacher can accommodate their strategy to your particular case.
If you have classes with the same person all the time, you will gain the confidence to talk and make mistakes.
Since the time is dedicated to you, you don't have problems with your classmates advancing faster and getting lost in the content.
Personally, I started with this; as I mentioned in my story, my landlord, just out of university, gave me English classes, so I took lessons with her. That was only ten years ago; I would say that I started learning English when I was already an adult.
I highly recommend that if you don't have any foundation in English, you start with something like this. Find someone who will be patient and help you build a solid foundation for your learning.
I didn't know if I would use it at the time, but I was curious and started.
2) Take an English course abroad
Taking private lessons every week, I began to understand and connect the words, and so was born the desire to take a course abroad, to practice and immerse myself better in an English-speaking environment.
That's how I started planning to go to Canada to take a course. I saved money for three years, enough to pay for three months in Canada.
This trip was huge for me because it was my first time out of the country. This happened when I was 26 years old (2015), and it made me accelerate the learning process.
Since you are in an English environment, you have to speak, and you are forced to do so to communicate with your classmates and your host family.
The school where I took the course is ILAC (International Language Academy of Canada), located in Toronto and Vancouver. I highly recommend this school because I had an excellent experience, and it is also where Aldo completed a 9-month course last year and had a great experience.
3) Take an English course in your country
If you can find an English course in the country where you live, I recommend you to take it, primarily because they help a lot with understanding grammar and vocabulary.
In my case, years went by after I came back from Canada, and I stopped practicing until I noticed that I was losing what I had learned.
So I took action and looked for courses in Santiago, Chile.
There are different institutions; take what fits your budget, but do it. I took two courses after returning from Canada.
First, I took a course at KOE, which helped me a lot to practice speaking and when I completed that one, I went to Tronwell, which has a different structure and helped to reinforce more grammar.
I know that taking yearly courses is expensive, but the key is to commit to your learning and not miss any English classes because your future self will thank you for it.
Taking English courses is an investment for yourself; it will never be something you will lose. So if you are on the fence about investing in a course, please do it.
4) Take online classes with native people
This is one of the tactics I wish I had discovered earlier.
Once I finished the above courses after two whole years, I still felt I was not confident enough to speak. Also, I was working and living in a Spanish-speaking environment, so I never practiced English.
I don't quite remember how, but I discovered the Italki platform, but this is a no-brainer.
Italki is a platform where you can find teachers or tutors, take classes in English or other languages in a pretty varied price range and filter by the tutor's country of origin if you are interested in speaking with native speakers.
In my case, I looked for a tutor from Canada and took several classes a week, and it helped me in three ways:
1) Making sure someone native understood me and corrected me.
2) Gain confidence because someone could understand me.
3) Keeping my dream of Canada alive because, in every conversation, we discussed life in Canada.
I highly recommend this platform. Besides, you can try different teachers or tutors until you feel confident because you can buy an individual class and if you don't feel comfortable, look for another one.
I kept having classes until a couple of months in Canada, which helped me a lot.
If you want to know more details about how to improve your conversation skills, make sure you check the post How to practice English Conversation: Tips for newcomers.
5) Surround yourself with English
These little things help you immerse yourself in an English environment, especially if you are still in your home country.
Do you like watching YouTube videos?
Use that to your advantage. Look for content you like but in English. Nowadays, you can add subtitles (closed captions), and it doesn't matter if you can't understand everything, but at least you will use that time to practice listening.
Do you like to binge-watch Netflix?
No problem, but do it in English and use English subtitles.
Do you spend hours scrolling Instagram, Tik Tok, Facebook or others?
Use that time to your advantage and follow social media in English, not necessarily people who teach English, but look for topics you like (I did it with minimalism, veganism, zero waste, cats, etc.) so that at least when you are consuming content, you are practicing a bit of listening and reading.
Set your cell phone language to English, you probably spend a lot of time on your mobile, so you start to get familiar with English words.
Use Apps that teach you English, the one I used was Duolingo to learn the basics, you don't need to pay, and you can keep track of your progress and set a daily time to practice. You can find 30 minutes during your day to practice English.
6) Additional tips
If it is in your plans to come to work with a working holiday or other, I recommend that you do not worry about English certifications. You do not have to prove that you have an English certificate. What is essential when you are looking for a job is that you can speak in an interview.
Surround yourself with people who have the same goals as you. If possible, meet people who speak other languages, but if you meet people only from your country, try to speak in English too, to practice.
Finally, don't worry about your accent; as I always say, the only thing your accent shows is that you speak at least two languages and that's admirable.
I once read from a content creator who answered: How to learn English in 3 months? and the answer was How long did it take you to understand your native language? so don't expect quick ways to learn English, but please start today; your future self will thank you.
I hope this clarifies that there is no easy way to learn English, and you have to practice practice and practice.
Whichever way you decide, start today and do something to start learning it.
If you know another tip that has helped you, let me know in the comments