Updated: Nov 4
Moving to a new country can be daunting for anyone. Sometimes, the culture is different. The people act differently than what you are used to. When you must learn a new language in a new place that can be even more confusing. Sometimes, it’s difficult to learn a new place even when you do know the language!
The process of learning a new language becomes even more difficult if you didn’t have access to education in your own country. For example, learning how to study can be a challenge if you never had to. Or, if you didn’t learn certain things in your native language, how can you learn them in English? This can make the path to learning even rockier.
If this describes you, don’t worry. If you’ve made it this far, to even be here, you can make it the rest of the way. Start with what you do know (and believe me, you know more than you think). However much or little you know in your own language, think about how you learned it.
What helped you learn? Was it hearing someone else speak? Was it speaking yourself? Did it help you to write things down? Did you have to see what was in front of you? You can do all of those things when learning English.
Here are 10 Strategies to Get You Started:
1. Watch as much American television and listen to as much American music as you can.
Many times, when you’re watching a tv show or movie, you may understand most of what is happening, even if you don’t understand every single word. Make note of words that you hear a lot. Do the same with music.
2. Keep language flash cards.
Write down a new word and its meaning every day. Try to use that word either in
conversation or write it in a sentence.
3. Keep a language journal.
Practice language in written form. Every day, write down thoughts that you have related to things that you’ve seen, heard, or how you feel about something. If it’s more comfortable for you when you start out, write in your own language.
Draw, even, if you like to draw. Start simple, and don’t think about how much you should be writing. Write what feels comfortable for you. Over time, you will find that you can write more and more.
4. Get a language buddy.
Find someone you’re comfortable with and practice English with them. Ask them questions. Talk about objects you are looking at. Ask them what a word is if you don’t know it. The more you speak, the better you will get at it.
5. Get a dictionary, and keep it with you.
I know Google makes everything easier but looking through a dictionary will help you learn English. It will help you with letters and pronouncing words. You can use it to help fill your language journal, to
6. Read books in English.
Start from where you are. If you can read a little bit in English, that’s fine. If you can’t read at all, that’s okay, too. You can start off with graphic novels. (I will have recommendations and other resources at the end of this blog). These books have less words and some have no words. They have a lot of pictures but are not children’s books. You can read an interesting story but be able to easily understand it.
7. Find a Newcomer Program or Immigrant Resource Center near you.
These programs and centers have resources to help you learn English. You may find free adult education classes. They may be able to connect you with members of the community willing to help.
8. Find someone from your home country to talk to who has been here awhile.
I know it would be very easy to just speak in your language with this other person, but when you’re learning, it’s important to feel like someone understands what you’re going through. It’s important to have someone to assist you in what you need to do, especially when you’re new to the country. They may even give you some tips to learn English better.
9. Be comfortable with making mistakes.
No matter what you try to learn, you will never do it perfectly the first time you try it. You might not to do it perfectly the first 50 times you try it. That’s not important. What is important is speaking in English as much as you can. Don’t judge yourself. You will get better.
10. Believe in yourself.
It doesn’t matter where you have been. It matters where you are now. Anything can be learned. You just have to find the way you learn best.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
Other resources for Spanish speakers:
Bilingual resource about English /Spanish cognates:
About Sameena K. Mughal:
Sameena K. Mughal is a former ESL educator, author, and freelance writer. Rediscovering her passion for literature after many years of teaching, she introduced her debut novel, Shaherazade's Daughters as a feminist homage to the classic 1001 Arabian Nights. Her second book, The Siddiqui Brothers in Cairo follows the adventures of eccentric scientists who, ironically, are too forward- thinking in The Golden Age of Islam, a time that is known for its progressive ideas.
The daughter of immigrants who came to the United States from Uganda in 1972, Sameena developed a distinct voice as a first generation American and cultural hybrid. This perspective weaves itself into her fiction and other writing.
She currently lives in Marietta, Georgia with her rescue dog, Edison. Sameena also writes fiction and motivational and inspirational articles on her Behind and Beyond the Veil blog at www.sameenakmughal.com.
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