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Making the Most of Living Abroad PDF Print E-mail

 by Takashi Kozasa

Crammin' Grammar
"My advice is don't worry about your English."
I've been living in Vancouver for 10 months. The reason I'm writing this is because I want to to tell those of you who are thinking of coming to Vancouver to study English how to live here.  First of all, most students attending ESL school pay a lot of money as a commission. I heard if a usually pay more than one thousand dollars to a student agency in Japan. I think that's a rip off. Fortunately, I didn't have to pay a lot because I'm a University student in Japan and my University has a co-op so I paid only three hundred dollars. If you don't want to waste a lot of money I guess the best way is to stay in Japan and sell lots of doughnuts! [Just kidding! I used to work at Mr. Donut's.] The best way is to come here on a visitor visa or working holiday visa without paying for school in advance. The reason I'm telling you this is because Vancouver has two famous student agencies. One is located on Robson Street between Thurlow and Bute Streets. The other look is located on Bute and Pender Streets. Both of them are on the fifth floor. Is this by coincidence? I usually go to the latter. I have been to both of them and both of them are really good for ESL students. If you're worrying about speaking English, don't. They have consultants who can speak Japanese very well. Both student agencies are run by Koreans though. You don't have to feel nervous to go there because they are very friendly. Let's say, you have to wait for a while to talk to a Japanese consultant but they would say "make yourself at home" or "have a seat." You can use the Internet for free or have a cup of coffee while you're waiting.

Shop Around
Basically, what they are doing is helping students find ESL schools that are are suitable for them and helping us extend our visas and organizing short, inexpensive trips such as going to the Rocky Mountains or to Whistler. It's just 10 bucks to go to Whistler. Maybe the part you'll be most interested in is about finding out about ESL schools. How much is the commission? Do you expect to pay three hundred dollars? Two hundred dollars? One hundred? Don't worry, it's free. It's free except for the tuition. Of course you have to pay tuition but there is no commission. Nothing at all. What I'm trying to say is you don't have to pay a commission at all! Moreover, you may get a discount, 20-30% off. I think if you take advantage of these schools you can save a lot of money. Also you can use the Internet for free. That's one reason I usually go there.
There are many student agencies in Vancouver. I don't know about them. I have heard from my friend at some of them you have to pay a commission. Compared to student agencies in Japan it still cheap though. I do know that the student agencies I mentioned are so nice.

If I can give you some more advice, I would say four hours are enough to go to school. The reason I tell you this is because I felt very tired and I didn't have enough time to see my friends when I took lessons six hours a day. When I was in Japan, I thought the full-time program, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., would be better than the part-time program because I would study English more. But I felt exhausted and I couldn't even go over what I studied. Therefore I decided to call off the full-time program. Now I think it was a good decision because after that I was able to have opportunities to get together with my friends from other countries and to go over what I had learned.

Great Expectations
Besides deciding what school you are going to attend, one of the most important things to consider is living. I guess most students will stay at a homestay. Fortunately, I had are really good homestay but I heard a lot of complaints about homestays from my friends and it's possible for you to get a bad homestay. I mean a homestay you can't fit into. The biggest complaint is about food. They say, "The food my host mother cooks is not good. It's greasy, etc." When I heard these complaints I sometimes wondered if it's true. The reason I thought this is because it's almost out of the question to expect the same food you ate in your country. As you know, the differences between Canada and your country are not only the culture but the food. So anyway, probably you have to try to get used to homestay food. I mean you need to make an effort to adapt yourself to your homestay. However, if the food really disagrees with you, I would say you should change your homestay because the food is the basis of your health and it's very important. After you realize you can't fit into your homestay it's better for you to change the homestay as soon as possible. I think Japanese students especially tend to put up with their homestay as much as they can. Then a few months later, finally their anger explodes. It's a typical case. So before you lose your cool I think you should change your homestay. You have a right to stay at an appropriate homestay because you paid a lot of money. Sometimes you might feel it's not easy to change your homestay especially in the summertime. In ESL schools, we usually have to talk to counselors who arrange homestays in order to change our homestay. I heard some stories from my friends who tried to change their homestay but they couldn't. They told me about it. One woman said, "My counselor told me you should see what's going to happen in one month or more because now we don't have many homestays." It's like her counselor to talked her into staying at her homestay. It's very easy for me to see why her counselor told her this. My guess is it's too much of a hassle for the counselor to arrange another homestay. However, the funny part is other students from Switzerland, Brazil, Korea and so on, except for Japanese students, could usually change their homestay. This seems to me that Japanese students are convinced very easily because they don't have confidence to express their feelings in English.

My advice is don't worry about your English. You have to just be a little smart to change your homestay. You should make up a good and exaggerated excuse. Let's take the food for example. It may be better to tell your counselor "I don't really disagree with the food my host mother cooks. I usually feel very sick since I stayed at my homestay. I've never had such a bad feeling. I stayed at a homestay in the U.S. [Sometimes you need to tell a lie] You don't know how hard it is to stay there. It's like jail. [LOL] If you were in my shoes, I'm a hundred percent sure you would change that homestay. If you knew how I was feeling... You should understand how I feel, you are my counselor."

Like this. A little bit exaggerated go but you need some reasons like this.

Of course, if you don't have any problems, it's the best thing. I hope so but you never know what's going to happen to you. That's all my information about ESL schools to you. Oh-oh, one more thing. Please remember you can observe classes at most of the ESL schools if you call them and make an appointment. You'll probably get their phone numbers from the student agencies. Sometimes what they are saying and what they are doing is different. For example, how many students are there in a class? Or where are most of the students from? And so on. The best thing it is for you to observe some schools that you are interested in and after that you can decide on your school. Nothing will happen unless you act.

How To Study
I've been living in Vancouver for about 10 months and I'm going back to Japan tomorrow. This is about my way of studying English. I want to tell those of you who are wondering about how to study English here. What I'm trying to say is how you can develop your spoken English. First of all, as far as I'm concerned, I think there are three important things to develop your spoken English.

In my view, the most important thing is vocabulary. I think the bigger the vocabulary you have the better. The reason is because if you don't have many words you'll see it's very difficult to understand what people are saying. Before I came here I went over a vocabulary text book that I used when I studied English to enter University. That helped my speaking a lot as well as to understand what people were saying. I tried to pick up some words I thought were important from TV or books while I was living here.

Next I think listening is also important. As you know, if you don't know what people are saying it's very difficult to start speak. I guess it's difficult to develop listening skills in Japan but it's worth training your listening skills by listening to English radio programs and watching satellite TV. I recommend Eikaiwanumon because it's very easy to understand and they tell us a lot of useful words. In addition the teacher is very funny. My way of developing my listening skills is I've kept on listening to the radio and TV since I came here. Even though at first I couldn't understand what they were saying, I kept the radio or TV on as much as possible. I guess I watched TV at least one hour a day. Usually I watched the news.

I'm not really sure when I was able to catch what English speakers said but I'm sure I got used to listening to English little by little. Still now I don't understand everything they are saying but I can understand the general meaning. You'll probably need patience to do that because it's very difficult to tell how well you are doing. What I'm trying to say is it takes a long time to be rewarded. I can't say how long because I think it depends on the person. If you ask me, I would say it takes about three months to start to catch the meaning on TV.

By the way, the TV programs I usually watched were "Friends," a popular comedy here, and "Arthur," a cartoon for kids. I usually had a sheet of paper and pen while I was watching TV so that I could write down some words I didn't know or I thought were useful. I always had a sheet of paper so that I could write them down and I could ask about some words when I wondered how I can express something.

Finally of course, I think speaking is one of the most important things as well. I guess you can get used to speaking English if you stay here one month or more but I don't know if you can speak correct English. I think it's sometimes difficult to find your spoken mistakes by yourself. If you want to develop your spoken English fast, you'll need a person to correct your mistakes. That's why I joined this school after I finished studying at a big ESL school. I got a lot of benefits from this school. One reason this school was very good for me is because it has a very small class, at most five students, so it's very easy to ask questions. The other reason is because my teacher has a lot of experience to teaching students.

By the way, I want to you know some stuff that is very useful to study English. An electronic dictionary is handy. I bought the Seiko IC Dictionary TR-7700 in Japan because one of my friends who went to Canada to study English for about one year recommended I get it. It's a little bit expensive though. It helped develop my English a lot. Cheap once don't have example sentences or pronunciation symbols. They are totally useless. One more thing I would like to mention is about English-English dictionaries. The first time you start studying English I guess you won't need one. From my view an English to Japanese dictionary is more useful than English to English dictionary. You might need an English to English dictionary when you want to know the nuance.

I got this kind of advice from the friend I mentioned before. I'm glad I took his advice. It was successful for me. I'm really satisfied with my English. There is no regret. I think I really learned a lot in 10 months. Moreover I got 80 percent on the TOEIC without studying at a desk. I just studied at my own pace. If I can do it I'm sure you can do it. I don't think it's a good idea to study only for TOEIC or that kind of test. I hope you'll enjoy living in Canada.

Tackling the TOEIC
Recently I took the TOEIC to find out how much my English skills have developed, especially my listening skill. One week before the TOEIC took place I took a trial examination to prepare for the real test. I was a bit upset while taking the trial test because I thought it would be easier than it was and I thought I had to get used to this style of TOEIC. I didn't have a lot of time to prepare so I just checked what kind of test the TOEIC is.
The day I took the test I felt more nervous than I had felt for a long time. One reason I felt so tense is because I had to get kind of a good score to see how much English I had learned.

The score is important to get a job. They say if you get more than 750 a company will hire you based on your English skills and you might have an opportunity to use English in the workplace in the future. Fortunately I got kind of a good score and I was satisfied with it especially the listening section because my target is how much I can understand in the listening section. Actually I got 90 percent of the listening section. I'm happy about that because I have been listening to the radio and TV to develop my listening skill as much as possible since I came to Canada and that score reflected my effort. I thought my effort was rewarded.

The TOEIC is kind of a stupid test though. The problem is the TOEIC score doesn't show how well we can speak English. I mean people who get high scores on this test don't always speak English very well.

At first I was thinking I would try to study English hard to get a high score on the TOEIC but I realized it's not a good idea because I think I should practice speaking English while I'm staying here. I can study grammar in Japan as I did to enter my university. But it's very difficult to keep speaking English in my country. So I decided not to care for grammar very much. Of course grammar is important to speak English though. And I prefer speaking English to studying English at my desk. Studying English at a desk in Canada is the same as studying it at a desk in Japan. It's boring. I like living English more than dead English. And I will practice speaking English as much as I can.

I hope my advice will help your Canadian life. Thank you for reading my article.

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