Mastering English: 20 Brazilians share their English learning journey

By: Michael

Dec 2018

Mastering English: 20 Brazilians share their English learning journey

We recently posted in a facebook group aimed at Brazilians living in London in order to research the type of language learning tool Brazilian expats would like to use. There was an incredibly generous response (thank you!) and we ended up carrying out over 20 interviews with Brazilians who have lived in the UK for at least 6 months and reached an advanced level of English.

We learned a lot about each learner’s journey and heard many incredible success stories. Today, I’d like to share 3 common difficulties that Brazilian learners face with advanced English and their solutions to overcome them.

A fear of speaking

Although Brazilians have a reputation for being outgoing, it seems that like most learners, our interviewees had some hesitation speaking English, in particular with native speakers. Almost all of the interviewees said they went through a period of avoiding (and not seeking) English interaction in many situations. This phase seems to be particularly important because once they got past it, their English learning accelerated dramatically.

So, how can learners quickly get past this avoidance phase? Well, the answer doesn’t seem to be to dedicate even more time to studying English but instead practicing the ability of thinking and improvising more quickly in English.

“I became friends with someone who was also learning English but couldn’t speak Portuguese. Our conversations were entirely in English and we both made so many mistakes but it didn’t matter, we were discovering new ways to use what we already had. This increased my confidence so much.”

[Coming soon: a post on how to find language partners.]

Another way interviewees built confidence was to set daily challenges to force themselves to have at least one challenging social interaction in English per day. For example, the challenge could be to converse with the instructor before the start of a fitness class or to ask a question at a shop.

On the phone

“I used to think that being able to order pizza on the internet was the best invention ever. I just couldn’t do phone calls!”.

Trying to understand English without the help of gestures, facial expressions or subtitles is difficult. Here are some of the tips from our interviewees:

  • Listen to podcasts or radio for more audio-only practice and turn off the subtitles when watching TV.
  • Try to rehearse the call with someone beforehand, e.g. call a friend and get him/her to pretend to be the receptionist at the doctor’s. This will help you to be more relaxed on the call and therefore more able to understand everything.
  • Use whatsapp audio clips if appropriate because these can be replayed. One interviewee asked her boss to use audio clips instead of calls and since then, there have been no more scheduling mix-ups.

Feeling stuck

At more advanced stages, learners felt like they weren’t making progress but they still felt a need to improve. Some interviewees commented that it’s important to just keep learning and trust the process because sooner or later, you will get better.

Other interviewees pointed out that it’s essential to continually identify what you don’t know, work on those items and then feel the satisfaction afterwards that you have conquered another area of English. Here are some of the suggestions on how identify your blind spots:

  • Really encourage people to correct you and reward them when they do. Many native English speakers have never learned a foreign language beyond the basics, so it’s good to remind them that corrections are helpful and you won’t think it is rude. For example, at appropriate moments, you could say:

    • “It’s great when people correct me. It helps me to improve my English and I love getting better”

    • “Thank you so much for correcting me. That’s so helpful”.

  • When you are speaking English, have a note-taking app like Google Keep available in order to be able to quickly make a note of the situations where you were unable to fully express yourself. Afterwards, you can research how to communicate this better in the future.

  • Many learners said that at the advanced stages, learning through writing was particularly helpful because it allowed enough time to consider new and more complex structures and phrases. In addition to this, when reviewing old emails or messages, it provided a confidence boost because it was easy to see mistakes that now seem obvious.

That's it. Thanks again to our intervewees and we hope you found their tips helpful. If you are trying to improve your advanced level English, you can try out our new tool here.