There are two kinds of students who come to our English school in Cape Town.
The first group generally has some knowledge of English; they are used to bigger cities, travelling and have no problem adjusting to Cape Town’s lifestyle, accent and culture.
Then we have another group of students who have little or no English whatsoever. They generally come from smaller cities or towns and find it very difficult to adjust to the culture, accent and weather!. These two groups have very different experiences after landing in the Mother City.
The first group is more involved in social activities at the school and they seem to make friends very easily because they are not afraid to communicate.
The second group prefers to work alone. They don’t often make friends outside their own nationality and with the result their development is much slower. It is not easy to feel safe and secure in a place where you cannot speak the language and, unfortunately, these students feel that they are not learning fast enough and their experience often seems negative.
At EC Cape Town, we offer a range of free classes every day of the week to encourage students of all levels to interact and learn together, even though they might only be starting their English journey. Speaking is the first obstacle. English is a very easy language (compared to other languages) if you take the time to understand the grammar and you are prepared to do the extra work required. This extra work involves learning new words every day and having a strategy of revising and using these words.
I had a Spanish student who would use a new word he learnt in class word every day just to see if it was in the right context. It worked because it forced him to speak. If you are scared to hear your voice coming out of your mouth you cannot learn a language. You might know the grammar but you will not be fluent. A good bilingual dictionary is a must as well as reading books every day. Start at a level below your own to get used to seeing the words in combination. At EC Cape Town we encourage our Beginners to use audio books so that pronunciation, reading and vocabulary can be done simultaneously.
The other obstacle is that some students only have two weeks available to study. Sometimes four weeks. Very rarely three months and thus we have to be realistic about what can be achieved. In two weeks, production skills cannot be improved that much unless you are consciously speaking the target language and not using your mother tongue that much. This is the student’s responsibility. But even in two weeks a student can gain confidence and this is what they need in order to continue. Luckily, South Africans are very friendly people and we love meeting new people.
What I would say to foreign students who intend learning English is this – be prepared! Get a dictionary, get a teacher for a month before to get your basics, be open to learning and know that you will face difficulties as we use a British system of pronunciation and spelling. There are going to be challenges if you are used to American pronunciation. But after the first week you will get used to it. In South Africa all of us have to speak at least two languages. We are used to it. In countries where there is only one language it is more difficult. Start watching movies in English, with subtitles. Your experience will be better and being in an English speaking country is the best way to learn if you are up to the challenge.