How I Learn English in Non-English-Speaking Country

I live in a non-English-speaking country. Due to Covid, I cannot dive into an English environment naturally — like to live in England or the USA for several months. So I started thinking about creating an English-speaking environment to learn English without moving to another country.

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Creating an English-speaking environment

I wanted to divide a week into two parts: my native language speaking days and English-speaking days. The plan was simple: three days a week I live and work as usual in my native language (I write and edit articles, record videos and courses for my project about freelancing), and other four days I speak, write, read and learn only using English. I live with my friend so we can talk to each other — she is also learning English now. And yes, I have the ability to work only three days a week because I am a freelancer and have some part-passive income.

Soon I realized that it’s challenging to live a day fully in English in a non-English-speaking country. You still read news and posts from friends, receive emails and texts, and speak with other people using your native language. Even if you switch all of your social and news sources to English ones, you can’t avoid interactions with other people in your real life for these four days.

Then I decided to simplify the task and just turned the maximum of my sources into English ones. For example, I have some books to read, so I found English versions; many of them were originally written in English. If I want to read an article about what I am interested in — I google it. It will take some time to rebuild my habits and find new sources of information — but I am going in this direction.

My friend and I love some shows which we watch in our native language now — so we want to rewatch them in English with English subs (subs will help us in case we don’t understand what people talk about in a show). The same with the new shows we watch. It helps us know what language constructions and phrases native speakers usually use in life.

I tried to study English as usual: you have a book, you have tasks, and you have no gain to read and do them because it’s too dull and you feel no sense in it except just learning the language.

So I realized that I need to combine business with pleasure: I read and watch what I need for work and creativity and, in parallel, learn English. But reading and listening are not the only skills I need to train, so I decided to write about my path and just some thoughts about life somewhere I can get feedback. Not much but the knowledge that someone will probably read it helps me move on. And to upgrade my writing skill.

So, I practice reading and listening with books, articles, podcasts, shows, and videos; writing — with posting something on Medium; speaking — with talking to my friend and a bit later–with a native on Italki (affiliate link). The main goal is to speak and write fast and feel comfortable when talking to a native. It means I’m not sweating and stumbling during the conversation, and I know how to express my thoughts and understand what they say. A measurable goal is to receive 7 or 8 on the IELTS exam in 2022–2023. A dream goal is to work with US clients to produce and create content and scripts in English.

Changing my language habits

The second step is to change the way I construct sentences in my head.

At first, I thought I should build a sentence in my native language and then translate it into English. Of course, I knew from the beginning that it’s not a good strategy — but I didn’t know how to act differently. You do it automatically — because you built sentences one way all of your life and now you must do it the other way. It’s challenging, and your brain tries to do it the one (and the best for it) way it knows for now.

Recently I realized that I don’t need to think in Russian ever more if I want to speak English fluently. I really comprehended that these languages are different, and we have other constructions and ways to express our thoughts. I don’t need to think the same way — I need to think the way native English speakers do. With their phrases, sentences, and ways to talk to each other. Sometimes I won’t find a suitable phrase or word in Russian to express what I want to say — and vice versa, there will be (and there are already) times I won’t find a proper sentence in English.

It is an essential thought for me because I was really frustrated that I will NEVER learn all the words, phrases, and constructions in English that I use in Russian. Imagine living your whole life with only one way of thinking, and at 29 you realize that you must learn a new one. It’s like working the entire life as a developer and then trying to become an artist. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard the first time to get used to new tools, terms, and rules in your new life. And if you apply the old rules to a new environment, it will be much harder to master them than if you just accept the new rules at once and act according to them. You can draw a picture by coding now, of course — but if you want to be a true artist, you should use your hand and soul to create art.

What will help me? As I said, I watch, listen and read everything I can in English. Not all, unfortunately, because I still have some jobs and study in my native language, but most of it. So I find new constructions, new phrases, and ways to answer or express my thoughts and feelings right the way native speakers do it. Then I use them in talking with my friend (I also plan to find a native to speak to several hours a week on Italki) and in my posts to memorize and practice. And it helps already — because now I mostly don’t think, “how does it sound in Russian?” but try to build the correct sentence or expression in English.

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