How to Improve Your English: A Student’s Perspective

One  rainy Tuesday after class, I had the opportunity of interviewing Natalia Riquelme Correa from Chile. I found Natalia in her usual spot at that time of day, studying upstairs in our student lounge. I chose to interview Natalia because she has made tremendous progress with her English in only a few short months and I wanted to hear how she did it.

Hi Natalia. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m in my third year of university in Chile for civil engineering but now I’m here in Denver. I will finish my Bachelor’s degree in 2014. I decided to come here because English is very important for my career. After university I want to study a Master’s maybe here in the U.S. or in England. At home, I see my family almost every weekend. If they could come here it would be great because I love Denver.

Why is English important for your job?
In my country, if you are a civil engineer and you know English then you can make a lot of money. If you want to work in an international company you need to talk with people from other countries so you need to know English.

Why did you choose to study in the General English Program at BridgeEnglish?
Actually, I didn’t know too much English and I think it is easier to learn English by listening and speaking. For me speaking is more difficult.

How long have you been here and how long do you plan to stay?
Almost three months. Next week it will be three months. I will stay two more months. On July 25th, I will return to my country and start again with university in August.

Are you happy here at Bridge?
Yes, absolutely.

In your class at Bridge, where are the students from?
Korea, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Brazil, France and Mexico.

What do you like most about your classes here?
Oh, I can learn about different cultures because my classmates are from many different countries and I think that is very important. In class we talk about different cultures. If we have different opinions it’s wonderful to hear because it’s new for me and I can understand other cultures.

What are the teachers like?
There are very good teachers here. I love how you change (rotate) the teachers because I can learn different ways.

Do you have a lot of homework?
For me it’s okay. There is homework everyday but it just takes a couple of minutes.

What’s the best thing about your curriculum at Bridge?
I love the reading book. You read and then you can talk about the article.

Have you gone on any of the Bridge trips?
Oh, with a teacher? Yeah, I went with Jan downtown and she told us about the important buildings like the capital and old, beautiful streets. Oh and I went to the botanical gardens. I love to go out with my classmates and the teacher because the teacher is a good guide. They explain everything.

What do you think about the weather here?
I love the weather here.

How does it compare to weather in Chile?
I think it’s very similar. The difference here is that the weather changes. One day you can have four seasons, but it’s cool for me because it’s not too cold and not too hot.

You said you love Denver. What do you love about living here?
The neighborhoods are very quiet and clean and safe. It’s wonderful. Everyone takes care of their lawn so it’s very nice.

I like to walk to school because in my country it’s very dangerous but here I enjoy walking.

Have you traveled at all in Colorado?
Yeah, I went to Colorado Springs Garden of the Gods with some classmates and it was very, very beautiful. I also went to the art museums with my host family and to the zoo.

It seems like you’ve made a lot of friends here. Tell me about them.
They aren’t all my classmates, just people from Bridge because I have friends from other classes.

How do you make friends so easily?
I like to help people. When I came here, it was difficult for me to learn how to take the bus or go to King Soopers [grocery store] so I know it’s difficult. I like to help other students from my same country or other countries who speak Spanish. Then she has other friends who have other friends and I make friends with them.

So, you’re living with a host family. How has it been to live with an American family?
It’s good. I think this is very important to learn English because almost everyday I speak with my host family at dinner. After I finish my dinner, I try to stay with my host family and listen and speak with them. It’s wonderful.

Who lives with you?
It’s my host mother, host father, and host sister.

How old is your host sister?
She’s 18 years old so sometimes I go out with her, shopping.

What is the most surprising thing that you’ve learned about America or American culture?
In my country, usually when you meet somebody you kiss and hug. The first time I came here it was my host sister’s birthday so when I met her, my first reaction was a kiss and a hug. That day I learned no kissing or hugging Americans, just shake hands.

Also, the other difference is the dinner. In my country, we have a cup of tea and bread with maybe cheese or butter; just a few things not too much. But here, it’s like two lunches in one day because dinner is like lunch in my country.

What do you do in your free time?
Sometimes I go to the bookstore and I try to go out with my classmates. It doesn’t matter if you go shopping or get coffee. I like to go out because I can speak with my friends. Here I don’t like to stay in my bedroom alone at the computer because here there are many places you can go and enjoy. You can walk, be in nature, go downtown, or go window shopping. I like to go out with my friends.

What do you do outside of class to improve your English?
I have friends from my same country but I try to speak in English with them because my Bridge teachers advised me to only speak in English, think in English, do everything in English. It’s more difficult to learn English if you speak your native language. So, yeah, I try to speak a lot of English.

How do you feel about your English skills now?
Good. For me, it’s amazing that I can speak with Shin from Korea. Now he is my friend. One year ago, I thought I couldn’t do that. Now, I can chat with people from other countries like Saudi Arabia and Korea. It’s amazing! Now I have friends from every country.

I can understand almost everything now when I talk with my friends or listen to other people. For me, it’s difficult to speak because confidence is important. If you have confidence it’s easier to speak. Now, I don’t care. If I’m wrong, it’s okay because it’s the only way to learn.

What advice would you give other students to improve their English skills?
When I came here the first thing I bought was a DVD of my favorite series, Glee. Almost everyday I watched Glee with subtitles and I listened in English, so I think that is a good tip. Also, I listen to a lot of Anglo music and I try to translate the lyrics. I love to know what the song talks about so I try to translate.

Great! Do you have any other tips for students?
Yes, try to speak the most you can in English!

How do you think this experience will change your life in Chile?
I think when I go back to my country I’ll be another person because I’m more independent. Now, I try to learn English with passion. If you want to learn something its easier if you have passion. When I will go back to my country I’ll try to finish my career with passion.

This is the most wonderful experience of my life until now because I’ve made a lot of friends here and I enjoy every day, especially Friday when I can go out with my friends.

You should be really proud because you’ve made so much progress with your English. Congratulations, Natalia. I’m so glad we have the opportunity to continue working with such a serious and positive student for two more months.
Thank you!