Your language skills

There are 2 official languages in Canada – English and French. You need to know one of them really well. English if you are moving to most provinces in Canada, French if you are moving to Quebec. If you know both, even better – bilingual people have a lot of opportunities in Canada.

So how good should your English/French language skills be? Language test will give you a good idea on your capabilities. But I find that the best test of your own language skills is

Can you think in English?

When I was in college, my friends and I decided to improve our English language skills. So one of us used to quiz the others on a couple of new words everyday so that we can increase our vocabulary. And we all decided that we will speak to each other only in English. This rigour forced us all to start thinking in English also. When we first started, we first formed our thoughts in another language, translated this in our head into English and then spoke. This was very difficult. Slowly, we started to think in English and then it was very easy.

The key to your success will be your language skills. While you are still there, improve your English / French. If you know English well, you don’t need to rush into a French language course right now to become bilingual.  And vice versa. The objective is to know 1 of the official languages really well. If you are interested in knowing the other, then make an attempt to learn it after you have settled. There are many other important things you need to take care of before you leave.

English is not the same everywhere in the world –  Words and phrases used are different all over the world. So be prepared to also learn Canadian English, even if you come from a place where English is the primary language or if you think your English language skills are very good. I considered my English skills to be very good – I thought only in English and my test score on IELTS was 8 out of 9. But I too had to understand and learn Canadian English. Because phrases, words,  accent and pronunciations are different here. These simple things may seem small, but may result in miscommunication. Let me give you a small example of a conversation with a colleague at office:

  • Colleague: Hey, do you have some Gum?
  • Me: Sorry, I don’t have any Gum. Would you like some sticking tape instead?
  • Colleague (with a disgusted look): Do you expect me to chew on sticking tape?
  • Me (realizing my error): Sorry! I did not realize you were asking for ‘chewing gum’. I though you were asking for ‘glue’. In my former country, “glue” is called often called “gum”

So be mentally prepared to actively learn Canadian English when you come.

Will I not be able to do anything if I don’t know proper English? – Canada is made up of immigrants. And there is a huge population of all communities from around the world. Business and the government in Canada have also realized language barrier newcomers face and provide services in many languages. Newspapers, TV channels and radio stations are also available in different languages. So don’t feel apprehensive about not knowing English well in the beginning. But learn fast if you want to succeed in Canada.

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