One English Language Learner's Story

Master of Social Work Student, Kitchener 

The story of my learning advanced English is the story of strongly wanting to be a professional social worker. For many years, before leaving Pakistan, I was determined to obtain a Canadian Masters of Social Work, as this is the work I loved to do. I knew my fluencies were limited for a person who wished to have a post-graduate degree in a field where communication is so important. I had always studied back home in Urdu, not in English.

On arriving here, I immediately had my English assessed. My writing was 6+, speaking was 8, and listening was 7. I wanted to move forward from these benchmarks! I was told I could start TOEFL preparation anytime, but did not feel quite ready. Also, I was checking into various pre-requisites I needed for the Masters level program, and there was much complexity in figuring this all out.

A step I took in 2007 that really increased my confidence and skill was Advanced English classes at Conestoga College. There were about 12 units of instruction, and the teacher shared strategies and tips for the testing process of both TOEFL and IELTS. Yet, I needed to practice to really gain mastery, and this was tough – I had a survivor job and a busy family of four children. So, as much as I could, I listened to radio in English, watched the news in English, and borrowed library books to advance my reading level. I was also lucky to meet an ESL teacher at my night shift in RIM, and she and I exchanged words and meanings.

After my survivor job ended, The Working Centre set me up with a placement at the Kitchener Multi-Cultural Centre to help me bridge over into my profession step by step. Again, my spoken and listening English levels improved – I had to get used to funny expressions like “it’s pouring” and “it’s raining cats and dogs!” I did not always hear the “full meaning” of what was said in these idioms, so I took time to explore with co-workers the specific meanings of words and expressions in the workplace – there were so many. This was a great experience in my overall workplace and language learning.

Finally, I made steps to increase writing skills further. I got a job at The Working Centre, and worked hard there to strengthen the craft of professional emails in daily communication. I learned how important this “art of emailing” was to professional team work. I took another course at Conestoga College, this time working with advanced writing technique so I could stay true to my goal of working toward the Master’s degree. We practiced styles of essay writing, sentence structure, and some grammar in these classroom experiences. I am still using these workbooks for reference purposes today.

My journey of advanced English language learning is not over. I am now fortunate to be, 3 years after coming to Canada, in a Master’s program at Laurier, so have accomplished some important gains in my journey. Although things have been hard many times, I have learned that all of us New Canadians must challenge ourselves, that it’s really not so bad to learn from scratch. We must carry forward the attitude that we are on a path, that we are not perfect, that new culture learning is exciting and challenge ourselves constantly with sophisticated fluency goals. I have learned that here in the community we are competing with local people and also strong contributors from all over the world. I am prepared to continue to stretch myself so my contribution is strong in my field.

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