Keen on English

Hello everyone!

My name is Keen and I would like to write a little about myself for the first blog post. I have always wanted to start a blog since primary school but somehow never got to it. I will start off by answering the same questions as in the previous post. Diving straight into an opinionated post without any introduction would probably not work well!

When did you come to Canada? Where did you move from?

I am a foreign student from Malaysia and I have been here since 2011. Malaysia is that land mass in between Thailand and Singapore.

How did it feel to not be as fluent in the dominant language? Plus some backstory!

Back when I was a young’un, I was really into Hollywood movies and was fascinated with the portrayal of the Western way of life. I even felt that I was born on the wrong continent, and living in a Western land was one of my life goals. I devoted a lot of time improving my English but I could only get so far. I spent a lot of time reading blogs and forums for my interests at that time. I was able to read and write fairly well by the time I got to Canada.

My listening skills were fair thanks to the movies but I was absolutely horrified to speak, afraid that I would get laughed at or the other person would not be able to understand my broken English. The most embarrassing moments were in the first few days upon landing. When the cashier at the grocery store asked me how my day was, I thought she was genuinely interested in how it actually went. I then found out it is just a common greeting, and that buttermilk was not butter-flavoured milk.

What was a challenge that you faced in communication or learning English? Or becoming accustomed to the new culture?

 I am still unable to speak English fluently, constantly pausing to find words that make sense. Back home, grammar and pronunciation were not of importance. In order to make myself understood here, I have to constantly rearrange my sentences so that it is in the format that native speakers are familiar with. It is still a significant hurdle to me as I do not have enough practice in speaking. Even now if you were to speak to me, I would stutter quite a bit or be a little too quiet. I wish I had made more progress in the time I have been here, but I am glad I made some.

Culture is a matter I am sometimes uncomfortable talking about. People on the internet have strong opinions about how foreigners should assimilate into Canadian culture. I have tried to rid myself of my own culture so that I can fit in but I am not sure if it is working out well for me. Perhaps I could elaborate regarding this matter on another post if it is not too personal or offensive to publish. I would also like to say that getting used to poutine took no time at all.

What helped make learning English more fun or easier?

I love documentaries! Those related to space travel or sciences were something I was interested in learning about. I guess it is something like the quote that goes “If you find a job that you like, you’ll never work a single day” or something along those lines. It did not feel like I was forced to learn English for the sake of learning, it was great fun to listen about topics that interest me and the English was just a bonus. I also spent quite a bit of time watching cooking shows, it did not help me improve my English a whole lot but those dishes sure looked tasty!

Do you have any advice for current English learners?

Find something that interests you and you will find a way! I have made some great relationships through my hobbies, speaking about our common interests for hours on end.  You could also join groups that you are passionate about, being around like minded people should ease you through the process.

About the author: This post was contributed by one of our members, Keen, who responded to the questions previously posed to some of our exec team in Experience as an English Learner

Are you interested in blogging as well? Drop the MEL team an email if you are!



Learning on the Fly



This was snapped by Chloe as she flew over Fiji. So beautiful!

Chloe, our Direction of Promotions, kindly lent me some words on what it is like to travel where English is not the dominant language. While MEL is a club based around those who have come to Canada and are learning English, Chloe reminded me that everyone, depending on where they are, becomes a language learner at some point in their life. The struggles that come with communication are ubiquitous and take persistence and effort (and in Chloe’s case, some adventurous and goodnatured spirit) to overcome.

These questions only briefly touched on Chloe’s wide variety of experiences but she shared some very interesting anecdotes. I know that I would love to hear more, perhaps in a later blog post (hint hint Chloe, if you’re interested!).


Chloe and an enthusiastic crew of primary school children she taught (sports) while in Fiji.

Where have you travelled?

Chloe: I have travelled to several different locations, including Shanghai, China; Hong Kong,Turks and Caicos, the Caribbean, Spain, Malta, Mexico, France, Turkey, Italy, Greece, Egypt. I have also travelled across the US and Canada, and most recently, to Fiji.

How did it feel to not be as fluent in the dominant language?

Not knowing the native language makes it harder to communicate, even if it is reading road signs or asking locals for directions. People can automatically tell that you are a tourist, but in the majority of places that I’ve travelled to, locals are always willing to accommodate. As long as you make an effort to learn their culture and language such as saying “hi” in their native tongue, they will make an effort to speak English.

What was a challenge that you faced in communication or learning another language? Or becoming acclimatized to this new culture?

Chloe: A recent challenge that I experienced while volunteering  in Fiji was teaching kindergarteners. They hardly spoke any English besides “teacher! teacher!” and I only spoke ~5 words of Fijian. Also, the culture was quite different from ours, which further deteriorated our level of understanding. I learned the importance of body language and facial expressions. This is so universal, and children pick up on it immediately. If they did something bad and were going to get in trouble, they would know without me needing to say a word.

What helped make it easier, or more fun, to meet the challenges above? Do you have any advice for other travellers?

Chloe: In order to understand the language and culture, you have to submerse yourself in it. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but when you observe the culture and listen and try to speak the language, you will naturally adapt.

When I first got out of the taxi in Fiji, I almost got hit by a taxi because we were looking the wrong way when crossing the road. Keep your eyes open, observe, and enjoy 🙂