This is a post I have been meaning to write for quite some time and now, as I find myself back in the writing game, I thought it would be relevant to share how I went from failure to full proficiency in English.
First things first; I’m a non-native English-speaker with a Bachelors’s Degree in English and Communication and a Master’s degree in Corporate Communications from AU BSS (former Aarhus School of Business, DK). It sounds shiny and promising, but it wasn’t always fun and games to be a language-student.
As long as I can remember I’ve been told that fluency in English was an extremely important skill when you’re from a small country like Denmark: “It will open doors for you, so you better study hard and even more.” I was told.
Although, I had a romantic idea of studying French at uni and later move to Southern France and live like a “bonne vivant” I decided to follow the “grown-ups” advice and started to study English at the Business School in Aarhus.
My first semester was horrible! My English was a disaster. I could barely string three words together and my pronunciation was a mess – I sounded so Danglish!
I felt like a major failure and full of despair to realize this because if there was one thing I knew already back then it was that I wanted to pursue a career abroad and travel the world.
But those dreams seemed far-fetched as I sad there at the library trying to wrap my head around Pragmatism, Semantics, and Phonetics and Grammar sentence-trees (please, don’t ask..). Communicating in English was just not my strongest asset.
My grades clearly showed my difficulties and a complete lack of understanding – my grades were as low as my motivation and confidence.
I knew I had to do something about this, otherwise, the dream about living abroad and an international career would slowly, but surely evaporate into a 9-5 job in Denmark – I could not let that happen. Not without at least trying to improve!
So, one day after my English class that yet again had left me with despair and frustration, I went up to my professor and asked for advice. She barely lifted her eyes from her paper, and said: “It’s not that bad, I didn’t fail you, did I?”
She was right, she didn’t fail me, but my grades would certainly not convince any future employer nor was I convinced myself (and that’s almost the worst part, isn’t it?)
I elaborated on my request and this time I caught her attention. I guess she could sense my growing desperation, but also a genuine willingness to learn. Really! No matter the cost!
I sat down in front of her and explained my challenges and what I wanted to improve.
She then came up with a list of suggestions, such as joining the exchange student community; The Buddy Program read a newspaper article a day, watch some English TV/movies and added: “every time you stumble upon words or sentences you don’t understand, write them down, translate them, and try to craft a short text with the new word or phrase.”
Honestly, it sounded like a lot of work to me. I don’t know what I had expected – I think I hoped that she would have suggested me to join some sort of quick crash course, but she was the old fashioned kind of professor. There was no other way than rolling up my sleeves and start practicing, persistently – every day! That was her words: Practice persistently!
I joined The Buddy Program, which quickly became my most preferred (and most recommended) way of learning as you get to meet native speakers and join in conversations with them.
I also started to read and watch more English-speaking content and looked up words if I didn’t understand and crafted short texts with these words included – I basically just followed the advice from my professor. And to my surprise, my English improved, day by day, month after month. It was hard work and it required a lot of dedication and focus, but I kept pushing myself and perceived everything as learning, regardless. Looking up words and learning idioms and phrases ending up becoming a bit of a sport to me, and I actually enjoyed it. I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve come so far and thankfully the hard work has paid off.
Today I’ve established an international career, been living abroad for almost 3 years total, and traveled the world – My point? Language skills are important, but they mean nothing if you’re not willing to put in the time and effort. Adopt a learner’s mindset, and stay focused on your goals – persistence makes perfect.
“So if failing means learning, I was always on the right track.”