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Priscilla: "I had thought my English was quite good!"

Before coming to Manchester, I thought that my English was quite good. But using English in everyday conversation is very different from speaking it occasionally.

I have been facing a lot of struggles with learning English over the years, especially since living in the UK. I believe that many international students and visitors share similar feelings and experiences. I hope you realise that you are not alone in this! 

My mother tongue is Cantonese, and English is my second language. I started to learn English in Hong Kong when I was 4 or 5 years old. Throughout my upbringing, I read English books and watched Hollywood films. I thought I had mastered English quite well and I came to Manchester with confidence.

However, the first time I heard a bus driver say, “Morning love!” I couldn't believe my ears. I was only a stranger to him and he called me “love”?! When I got off the bus, I heard passengers saying “Cheers”. It was not a time for toasting, was it? I only found out later that “cheers” means “thank you”. Apparently, not only the choices of phrases made my head spin, but also some of the daily applications of vocabulary seemed unexpected.

When I was studying for my master's degree in Manchester, one of my classmates, from Sheffield, liked using words like “brilliant” and “awesome” in our conversations. For instance, I once told him about my weekend to the Peak District. He replied, “Oh, that’s brilliant! It sounds awesome, mate!” At first, I was pleased to know that my trip sounded so exciting. But after hearing those words being repeated in almost every reply, I was convinced that the excitement was not as much as expressed.

There were many more examples that challenged my understanding of English. What frustrated me most were the different accents! People from Manchester, Birmingham, Scotland and Liverpool all sound so different! I even doubted my language ability because of my poor understanding of these accents.

Some months ago, my American friends and I wanted to buy train tickets at the train station. We were ready to buy our tickets when a station staff member came towards my American friend and said something. Our friend could not understand him but still smiled and nodded out of politeness. After checking the information displays he found out that all the trains were out of service because of construction work that day. When he came to tell us, the staff member turned to us and said, “That’s what I was telling ya!” We all laughed about it afterwards.

I felt very much relieved to realise that I was not the only one who made mistakes or got stuck with English in the UK. Sometimes even the native speakers have a hard time understanding each other!

So, don’t be discouraged! Keep trying no matter what level of English you are at!

Priscilla :-)


Q. What struggles have you had in learning English?  Leave your comment below.


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