My story: Learning English as a Second Language after Russian

Note: I’ve published Veronica’s article almost unedited, as I want the article to reflect the accomplishment of all the hard work she put into learning English. Therefore, some parts of it may not quite sound natural (I, however, find this article to be interesting and completely comprehensible).

I learned English as a second language at young age, but after already being Russian-speaking. I grew up in Russia and after graduating school, I moved to Canada to enter the university and continue studying. There I have met more English speakers than you can commonly meet just going abroad… and this caused an interesting thing: two languages competed in my head for primacy! For instance, there were some Russian words that haunted my mind, since I didn’t know how to say the same thing in English. This included a lot of domestic things and I have realized it only when moving in with a girl from the US. I found myself in a loss, forgetting English equivalents to things like “pillow”, “pan”, “napkin”, etc. I just remembered some meanings but the words didn’t come to my mind. Instead, some complicated terms like “industrial process automation engineering” were always in my head, because I used them for studying.

I’ve faced even more problems except silly vocabulary obsession. They included dealing with accent, slang, and scientific expressions. I wish this never happens to other people, so I have gathered a list of websites and apps that helped me overcome my English problems. Hopefully, you will find them useful, too.

Getting rid of an accent

You know, some people believe that an accent gives a person some special charm. Well, maybe French or Japanese, but not Russian. I realized that one day, when I listened a message left in my desk phone at the apartment I rented. The message was left by a female with an awful accent, it was so awful that I felt shame for her. In a while, I realized that it was my own voice and a message I left for my roommate. Oops.

As I was grimly determined to get rid of this accent, I started to look for an application or program to train myself. I focused on American Accent Complete Guide, a Google app that helps you reduce accent and learn how to sound as a real English-speaker. I used it for 15 minutes per day a couple of months, and one day my roommate said: “Hey, now I’m starting to understand what you’re saying…” Success!

A second piece of advice on how to make your voice sound the way you want when speaking foreign language is listening. I’ve read a good expression somewhere: “You can’t send a Morse Code, if you won’t learn to listen. Once you have learned how to listen and imitate the message, it will take you a day to learn how to send”. Watch TV-shows and movies, listen to the radio and soon you will be able to understand the rhythm and the sounds. Languages sound different, because muscles are employed differently – when you speak Russian, your tongue, cheeks, and nose do not act the same as you speak English. Pay attention to these details and soon you will be able to control them, as I did. But there is still a giant mystery for me: I have no idea about the ability to say “ship” and not to make it sound like “sheep”!

Scientific and academic expressions

As you already know, I was Russian learning English as a second language. After moving to a foreign country, I realized that my English teachers in Russia were in the same condition as I – English was their second language after Russian. And when I met my university professors in Canada I realized that the time has come to learn English almost from the start.

The academic setting has its own rules and language. Especially, the written language. Since my essays and papers were always the best in class when I was living in my native country, just imagine my face when a tutor for the first time distributed papers to the class and I saw my work all red. I’ve received a poor grade and a couple of comments like “Passive voice usage!”, “And so what?”, “Poor academic voice”, etc.

First, I took this in evil part. But then I said to myself: okay, challenge accepted and I will fight.

To learn scientific language usage, I started reading scientific theme-based articles and journals. It was a real pain for me, since the sentence structures and unknown terms used by smart guys drove me totally crazy. Well, I was a student and they were masters of sciences, so what else could happen? It was not an option. I decided that I need to find works composed by people I was on a par with. Students!

I’ve looked over at least a thousand of websites that allow you to download grotty college papers or to read them online. These papers were awful, far worse than my own writings, and there was nothing to be done with them. But one fine day I found a resource called Student Share and it was the first time when my eyes didn’t started to bleed when I opened a document. I even became engrossed in reading! The papers located on this website are sorted by administrators and all of them are well-done and logically-structured. From that time I started using these papers as samples for my own writings and in a couple of months I have learned most academic expressions and structures by heart.

How to communicate with peers and not to sound like a moron, or How I learned slang

There was this guy in my class and I was head over heels for him. One day, I worked up the nerve and decided to treat him to a cinema. So we were having a dinner in the cafeteria together and I said:

– Hey, I have booked two best seats at the cinema, this weekend. It’s “The Social Network” by David Fincher, wanna go with me?
– Oh, what a wicked idea!

I thought that he washed me out and felt myself aggrieved. I gave the tickets to my roommate and she took her significant other to the cinema. They enjoyed the movie. Next Monday, I’ve met the guy and he looked bumped. He asked why I had stood him up. Actually, I thought I was a victim and that was confusing. But things got even worse: he said that what kind of a girl I am, inviting someone to the cinema and then not showing up… Was it something like a “feminine mystique”?

For God’s sake, I thought that it was a candid camera show or something. I explained that I didn’t come because he said “wicked idea”, which means “bad” or even “evil” idea, so what’s wrong? He started to laugh and then explained that “wicked” actually means “awesome” as a slang term. Holy Jesus! It’s hard to have English as a second language.

You can never guess what a slang expression or a word could mean. So learning English and planning to live in English-speaking country, don’t forget to read as much modern slang dictionaries like Slang Vocabulary, Dictionary of American Regional Language, or Dave’s ESL Cafe as you can. I used these ones and started to speak with my peers like a teenager, not like an idiot. By the way, me and that guy saw that “Social Network” movie together in a short while!

As you can see from my funny stories, you never know what exactly to pay attention to, until something weird or unpleasant happens. I thought I was good at English until I have faced the “real” English in the US. I have learned from my own mistakes, but I offer you to take care of your second English learning before the common situations happen to you! Good luck!

(postscript about requesting readers for their English learning stories)