How I became bilingual in English (Misha)
English is the first foreign language I was exposed to, the language that introduced me to my passion for learning foreign languages and today I am going to tell you the story of how I am became bilingual in English !
Only, it will be more than a story, rather a discussion: I will try to answer at the same time the questions you can ask yourself to become bilingual in English by giving you my advice, tips and methods!
How I got here
I have already mentioned in other articles, my mother tongue is Bulgarian, and it is the mother tongue of only a few million people. However, the amount of content (films, music , books ) and resources (studies and information in general) available in a language directly depends on the number of its speakers. In short, the more people who speak a language who speak a language, the more resources one finds in it .
So there weren’t many things I could watch, listen to or read in Bulgarian when I was a kid. Paradoxically, this lack was very useful to me, because it made me understand the importance of constantly improving my English. I was exposed to English all the time . This has been an essential element in my learning because if my native language had been a more common language, I would not have realized the importance of learning English so early. So I was quite young when I realized that I absolutely had to learn English .
Become bilingual in English from home
How to improve your understanding of English?
The way I approach foreign languages (and this is probably due to my learning English) is that I work a lot on my passive knowledge (i.e. oral and written comprehension) before I tackle conversation or written production. I prefer to do this:
- listen to the language ,
- read it ,
- learn as much as possible
- talk to myself,
- repeat after recordings to work on my pronunciation and my accent ,
…before you start speaking with a native speaker. I actually need to completely soak up the language first. Here is a good way to learn English from home: in immersion ! It’s far from the only way, of course, but I’ve found it works best for me!
Focus on natural content
If you already have a good foundation, a good level of understanding, the best resources you can spend your time and energy on are those made by English speakers for English speakers.
Personally, I learned English with films , television , series , sitcoms , books , comics , YouTube videos , music , podcasts , poetry and all written and oral resources. imaginable! This allows you to learn common vocabulary and phrases, slang , filler words (speech tics), or intonation as native speakers use them.
By starting with this, you will understand English much better and you will express yourself better too. In other words, if you only use books to learn English, you will end up… only being able to understand books!
How to understand English better?
How to learn English grammar?
Do not try to have perfect grammar , especially at the beginning. Inevitably, you will make mistakes, but it is necessary to progress .
I’ve often imagined that learning a language (or anything, for that matter) comes with a big bag full of mistakes . Every time we make a mistake, we take one out of the bag. Once the bag is empty, you’ve gotten good at what you’re learning! I use this metaphor to show you that the sooner you make all your mistakes, the better . Don’t stop speaking English because of your fear of making mistakes!
More specifically, the technique I used to learn grammar was above all to observe : I analyzed everything I read, and tried to identify everything that I did not know or everything that seemed strange. It could range from the order of certain words to a verb ending. I then wondered why it was like this. Then I tried to find the answer on the Internet or in a book. I was therefore trying to understand the basics of grammar, so that I no longer had to worry about the details!
How to learn vocabulary in English?
For me, learning vocabulary has always been the most boring part of learning a language. I don’t like sitting down and reading endless lists of vocabulary. I’ve made the mistake before of spending an inordinate amount of time and energy learning every word I came across. This led me to know very specific, rarely used words, while lacking essential day-to-day vocabulary.
Be smart when learning new vocabulary!
Learning even a single word requires mental energy, so you might as well devote it to the vocabulary that will serve you. One rule I didn’t realize when I was actively learning English is that 20% of the vocabulary is used 80% of the time . So the risk is to focus on the 80% less used words; sure, they will end up being useful to you in the long run, but not so long as you still have holes in the top 20%! One of the most common reasons why people have trouble understanding spoken English is solely their incorrect approach to vocabulary learning.
One technique that is very useful to me is to learn in context . There are tons of dictionaries online that offer example sentences. This is extremely useful since it not only shows you how to use a word or phrase (you often have to pay attention to what tenses should be used, what preposition is required, maybe a change in word order) and c It’s much easier to remember them after reading them like this. I often had trouble remembering how to say a word, and all I had to do was think of the sentence I heard to remember it immediately!
Identify what you know/already know .
One advantage that French speakers can take advantage of is the impressive amount of vocabulary common to both languages ! Take the time to understand how English has adopted these French words and you will have an edge over the others! In my case, I actually did the opposite: since English was the first language I learned, I spent time finding out what words I already knew in French thanks to English. . I learned how to “convert” words from one language to another. But beware: sometimes a word of French origin can have such a different pronunciation in English that it becomes almost unrecognizable! And other times…
Oral production, pronunciation and accent
These three aspects go together: when you practice one, you practice all three! During my English learning, I first started with a lot of oral comprehension : I got used to the way people speak and I had already acquired quite a lot of vocabulary and phrases in a passive. All I had to do was turn them on. For it…
Talk to yourself!
It’s the perfect way to practice English if you’re a bit shy and/or don’t often get the chance to practice speaking English. You can also think in English ! It’s a very powerful method that I’ve used a lot: your thought process accurately reflects the topics and things that are important to you. In other words, if you think about it, chances are you will have to talk about it too at some point! Thus, you will identify the words you are missing on a specific subject, simply look them up in the dictionary and you will be good to go. By doing this, you are sure to focus on the right vocabulary, the ones you will need in a conversation.
Unfortunately, English is not a phonetic language. Spelling and pronunciation don’t have much to do with each other. But if you listen to the language a lot, you won’t have any problems reading it afterwards.
Schizophrenic or English learner? This is how I learned to speak English!
Focus on the aspects of English that don’t exist in French!
Naturally, they are the ones who will give you the most problems because they are new to you. Some examples: the difference between short and long vowels or English sounds that do not exist in French .
Although we rarely tell the difference, pronunciation and accent are not the same thing . Pronunciation is how a word should be articulated, while accent is the variant of English spoken by a country, region, or even an individual, in terms of the music of the language ( prosody ) AND of the pronunciation.
We can have a correct pronunciation, but a strong French accent, for example. This, of course, is not a bad thing, but what if you want to remove the foreign accent and acquire a native-like accent (either British, American, Australian)?
What has helped me the most and will be my main advice is don’t be afraid to imitate! Imitate native speakers! Imitate their pronunciation, their intonation, their melody, even the way they stutter, the way they search for their words, the interjections they use in a specific situation. For example, observe how Americans react when surprised, happy, angry, frustrated, etc.
I advise you to be attentive to these little things, because these are the details that will allow you to achieve an (almost) perfect accent! At first you will be uncomfortable. I had a lot of trouble pronouncing the TH sound : there was frustration, sputters… but now I don’t even think about it! It was the same for the French R, called R uvulaire [produced in the back of the throat, Ed]: it didn’t come naturally to me at first, but I got used to it.
If this sounds a little weird and you’re not used to it, you’re definitely on the right track! It is by trying new things that we progress. If you just talk the same way over and over again, without having to make the slightest effort, how can you expect to make a difference? Even less, progress!
How to learn to speak English
Translate to progress in English
I find the translation exercises very useful. I think they are a great mental exercise, not just a linguistic one. They stimulate your brain, help you understand how English works, how it differs from French, and I find they save time learning how to construct English sentences.
So translate a lot! I translated the lyrics of my favorite songs; I compared what the actors were saying in the films with the subtitles in my mother tongue, or sometimes I did the opposite: I watched Bulgarian series or films with English subtitles and I learned how people said what they were talking. I also used bilingual books and compared the original texts with their translations.
However, translation can be a double-edged sword, especially if you are translating word-for-word! A lot of times it won’t make sense in English or it will sound pretty weird. You have to take the sentences as a whole to understand how the language works.
Become bilingual in English…
Becoming bilingual in English does not happen overnight. It may take many years, but it is one of the most rewarding things in the world! There will be days when you feel like you’ve finally mastered English , and then there will be days when you have trouble ordering a coffee, but in the end…
Celebrate every little victory!
You must be proud of yourself when you finally understand the lyrics to your favorite song or ask for directions in English!
A big whole is made of little nothings.
Don’t look for a short-term solution! All the methods that say you will be able to master English in a month are a waste of time, energy and do not put you in a good state of mind. I would recommend that you be rather persistent and work on your English regularly and progress will come!
Learning English is a lifetime investment
Everything you put into learning English will be absolutely worth it. You will be able to meet and bond with more people, you will have better job opportunities and even higher self-esteem!
So what are you waiting for?
And now ?
I hope the tips and tricks shared today have inspired and motivated you to take the next step on your journey to learning English! But if you are not sure how to continue, I will tell you about a method that combines all the techniques that I have used and that will help you progress in English whatever your current level: Click & Speak® . It is a method that allows you to master natural vocabulary and grammar to know, to improve your oral comprehension in English, with a correct accent thanks to English phonetics. I am convinced that with this method, I would have learned English in just a few months or a year rather than