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ESL - English as a Second Language

Updated on April 25, 2010

I don't speak your language!

How hard can it be to learn English?

If you’re an English speaking person and you don’t travel to other countries then you probably have no idea what it is really like to be in a foreign land where you do not know the language and trying to learn while you start a new life. Intense!  and not easy!

What is it like to find a job, an apartment, buy the things you need without knowing what people are saying? So many people learn English as a second language, we who speak it from childhood have a pretty easy time of it because we can go just about everywhere on earth and find people speaking our language. Other languages are automatically translated for us everywhere we go.

So I am posting a link so you can find out (below) This funny little music video was made up by an Italian who wanted us to know what its like to hear English without understanding it. For me, not understanding another language is sometimes a lot of fun! I actually go to foreign movies and ignore the subtitles so I can get this feeling of being a little child. I know it sounds crazy, but I like to hear people speaking and not understand what they‘re saying, it makes me feel kind of free. Of course, I wouldn’t want this to be happening all the time.

I have some friends from South America who came to the United States knowing very little English. When they first got here it was very understandable that they would stay together and venture into the English speaking world slowly. But as time went by, and I visited their home I discovered that the women there were learning English very, very slowly while the men who worked and played with English speakers were becoming fluent very quickly. So my friend Anna and I made a plan to teach each other our native languages. She would learn English from me and I would learn Spanish from her. I already had studied Spanish and was at an intermediate level.

We had a great time teaching each other words and learning about each other’s cultures. I would highly recommend this method of learning. We really liked each other, laughed a lot and spent time cooking and shopping together and I learned a great deal from her. I loved the food she taught me to make and hearing about the places and people in her country. She also learned some English from me but refused to speak it! It was not an equal exchange of language. Finally, I asked “Anna, why don’t you speak English today, and we won’t speak any Spanish at all unless to tell you a word or two?” But she replied “I don’t want to appear foolish! Someone might hear my mistakes!”

After many years of our friendship she was still not confident enough to speak English because she was embarrassed. She said that I often sounded very funny when I made mistakes speaking Spanish to her and she didn’t want people to laugh at her the way she laughed at me! I told her I didn’t mind, because I knew that I would seem funny for awhile and that I had a strange American accent, but that was the only way to learn. Practice makes perfect!

She now speaks English all the time and speaks very well but it took her 30 years!  She worked for her husband and they spoke Spanish together most of the time. I am sure if she had formal classes and learned with other Spanish speakers she would have taken on the English language quickly.  But it is so easy just to stay with your family and friends, speaking your native language. 

It is critical that if you come to live in the U.S. you learn English as fast as possible in order to get better jobs that match the skills you have. Otherwise, like some of my friends from South America, you will be stuck in janitorial, maid, and low-paying kitchen work jobs until you are able to communicate. People I know who actually study the language in junior college courses have great results.

I would like to suggest that you look into ESL (English as Second Language) courses that are offered in every town and city either at the high school or at the junior colleges. You will find other people learning at your level and it will be much easier to make the transition into this foreign world. Just look for the high school or junior college closest to you and find out about evening classes - they are called ESL classes for adults.

And for the people who are natives to English speaking countries - HAVE SOME PATIENCE! Often you will be served by those whose accents are strong and it may be hard to understand them. Just put yourself in their place for a minute and remember listening to foreign languages you do not understand. At least they are making the effort to communicate in English - while many of us English speaking people never even try to master another language!


Submit a Comment
  • mega1 profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago

    belated thank you to gramarye

    and thanks so much Brett for finding this hub and commneting - I appreciate it and will follow you back.

  • Brett.Tesol profile image

    Brett C 

    9 years ago from Asia

    Voted up and useful .. it is so true, a reasonable command of English can open many new doors!

  • gramarye profile image


    10 years ago from Adelaide - Australia

    You have a wonderful spirit, and are a true friend. The advice you offer is also very valid. Great hub. Gramarye is pleased to follow you, and enjoyed this visit to your hub.

  • mega1 profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago

    that is really wonderful to hear, avangend - I know that learning even just a little of a new language really broadens your world. I used to think that when one became enlightened one would instantly know all the languages of the world, so maybe that's not so, I'm sure that even enlightened individuals need to do some work to get other languages. But KNOWING that it is really worth it is where the enlightenment part comes in! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • avangend profile image


    10 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    I used to work with ESL kids in my old elementary school, and it was very rewarding to see them make progress. It was not so much about teaching the kids grammar and vocabulary, but about speaking with them. Not just TO them, but WITH them. You make that very clear in this article, and I enjoyed it.

    Also, I now know bits and pieces of Arabic, Farsi, and German to accompany the Spanish I took my own classes in. My kids taught me more than I "taught" them, I think.

  • mega1 profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago

    Hi Izzy - yeh - that video really got to me! I have this thing I do when I am tired or feeling low where I kind of zone out and listen to the tv or people talking and I have disconnected so I don't understand the english - I'm not trying to -- sometimes it sounds kind of musical, other times it sounds really terrible - but it is relaxing for me to just not understand. However, if I needed to understand and yet couldn't - I have a lot of sympathy for people who are new to english! thanks for your comment and for reading!

    cheaptrick - thanks for stopping by and commenting - it is great that people are for some reason catching hold of this complicated language-learning - We who have english as a first language are very lucky really!

  • cheaptrick profile image


    10 years ago from the bridge of sighs

    Hi mega.This Hub is SO Important.

    I have a friend from India who tutors me in Physics(cant wrap my head around it)which is easy for her.

    I asked her what the most difficult subject she ever took was.

    You guessed it,she said learning to speak English.go figure lol.

  • IzzyM profile image


    10 years ago from UK

    I liked this hub and just dropped in to say so:)

    I'm an English speaker with a non-English speaking partner. I especially liked the video link! How weird was that??

  • mega1 profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago

    Hi Shaz - great that you liked this hub. Thanks for the comment - wouldn't it be neat to have an internal translator so you would instantly know every language? I'll work on it! hehehe

  • shazwellyn profile image


    10 years ago from Great Britain

    Body language can help lots when you know little of a language. My husband and I made friends with some Spanish people when we visited Prague, neither of us knew what we were talking about, but we managed to communicate through our body language. It was fun, actually!

    Thanks for a good read x

  • mega1 profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago

    kateperez - You're right, I've had that happen and I speak spanish pretty well! but when I talk to some people in spanish they act like they don't understand - sometimes I think they're surprised to hear it and other times maybe I accent the wrong syllable or something. But its all kinda funny - the different languages and humans trying to communicate is great material for a comedy movie! thanks for your comment!

    Hi Gus! Thank you for stopping by and commenting - I have noticed this - whenever we get nervous our hands look like they're trying to fly away - but I've also noticed how lacking in expression some people get when they don't understand you and they don't want to appear stupid - me, I know I'm stupid, doesn't bother me a bit!

  • GusTheRedneck profile image

    Gustave Kilthau 

    10 years ago from USA

    Mega1 - Have you ever noticed how people new to some language use their hands and facial expressions a lot when trying to speak it?

    Gus :-)))

  • kateperez profile image


    10 years ago from pasadena, tx

    I have been angry at those who don't wish to try to understand me when I actually TRY to speak Spanish to them. I mean how hard is it to say dos tacos con fajita, sin lechua, con agucate e tomate? Sorry, can't spell. But if someone cannot figure that out, when they ONLY speak Spanish I am going to be frustrated.

    However I try to communicate with understanding. And I really only speak English.

  • mega1 profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago

    Motricio! so you know what I'm talking about! I know english speaking people can be very very impatient, even mean, when they can't understand the people they talk to, even though the people in other countries I've spoken to are very patient with us! thanks for your comment

  • motricio profile image

    Mauricio Rodriguez 

    10 years ago from Bogota DC, Colombia

    I'm an ESL speaker,

    Worked 1 year for Tracfone customer service support and I needed to prove my English skills to deal with native american people often really mad 'cause a crappy cellphone was not working.

    It was a great experience to me and also toke me to a higher level in communication skills.

    Thnx for this hub.


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