Living and Learning English Down Under

Having lived and worked in several countries, I can relate to the difficulties commonly encountered by new arrivals to Australia. The need to learn a new language is perhaps the most daunting challenge that many foreigners have to face.

Allow me to share some of my own language learning trials and triumphs, which I hope may encourage you to persevere and embrace the adventure of living and learning English down under.

Speaking from personal experience, I believe that motivation and total immersion are vital factors which undergird successful language learning outcomes.

I recall having endured six excruciatingly boring years of French lessons at high school. It was a compulsory subject in which I had little interest and even less natural talent. I have since come to realise that effective language learning is invariably achieved through perspiration rather than inspiration. Polyglots and linguistic geniuses are rare. Furthermore, I did not consider that learning French would ultimately be of any future benefit. Needless to say, lacking motivation or purpose, I was doomed to fail the final exams, miserably.

Ironically, I am now a fluent French speaker and qualified to teach at senior high school level. I will explain in due course how this miraculous change occurred.

At seventeen I embarked on a career as a trainee hotel manager. I spent the first year of training in Mallorca as a front office receptionist. On arrival, I felt like a fish out of water. My command of Spanish was limited to a few words and phrases which I had frantically studied on the four-hour flight from Heathrow to Palma.

My accommodation in the hotel staff dormitory with twelve other non-English speaking employees proved to be a huge advantage. It was this immersive experience that was to significantly expedite my learning to master Spanish. I simply had to learn and, contrary to my previous experience at high school, the payoff was self-evident. Furthermore, I was actually enjoying learning. The inherent value of gaining a functional command of Spanish had dawned on me. I studied grammar on a daily basis and after one year in Mallorca, I had acquired a reasonable level of fluency.

Two years later I ended up working on the French Riviera, in Cannes. I loved the culture and lifestyle; everything was so exciting.  As the grammatical system of Romance languages is similar, having studied Spanish was a big advantage in learning French, which I was able to speak quite fluently within a year. Clearly, the motivation, previously lacking at high school had now become the major impetus to achieve proficiency. This key factor, combined with total immersion enabled me to make significant progress.

My year-long sojourn in Spain and the subsequent five years in France, marked the beginning of my future career. My passion for language studies had been awakened and I was very keen to become a French and Spanish teacher. However, after graduating from university, itchy feet got the better of me and I decided to teach English in Japan for a year. Fifteen years later I found myself still living in Tokyo, married and running my own language school.

Alas, considering the many years I lived in Tokyo, my Japanese should be proficient – but that is not the case.    I spent most of my time teaching English and consequently my exposure to the language was limited. Similarly, many migrants who come to Australia become isolated within their own ethnic communities and social circles, which inevitably compromises their learning experience. So, if you really want to learn English down under, take heed of the following tips:

Avoid using your native language as much as possible. Read books, magazines and websites in English. Keep a journal to record your experiences in Australia and have your teacher review your writing for grammar and punctuation. Watch English documentaries and current affairs programs – other shows often contain colloquialisms/slang and may promote poor language skills. Strike up conversations with your Uber driver, pizza delivery guy and restaurant/bar staff – seize every opportunity you get to practice speaking English.

Immerse yourself in the culture and realize the potential benefits of applying yourself to learning English and the satisfaction that comes with success. Don’t expect your teacher to inject you with English competencies, it’s all up to you. Try to think in English. Learn and use new vocabulary. Ask native speakers to correct you and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Stay focussed and remember the magic formula: PPPP. Practice speaking, practice reading, practice listening and practice writing. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.

You will be tempted to live, work and socialize with people from your home country. But if at all possible, resist the temptation and try to interact as much as possible with native speakers.

Above all, enjoy living and learning down under. Sunny Australia, has much to offer!


We welcome your comments and cordially invite you to contribute to Kingston’s blog. Drop us an email at: marketing@kingstoncollege.wa.edu.au

Tell us about the difficulties that you have experienced, or are currently experiencing while living and learning English down under.

Remember, a problem shared, is a problem halved.

Stephen Newton
Academic Manager - ELICOS