You’re already reading this blog post: YEY! Reading might be the easiest step in training in a foreign language. You’ve noticed it: all the interesting literature on your favourite research subject is written in English anyway. So go ahead. You do not need to stop at every word you do not understand: keep on and maybe things will get clearer. If they don’t, check that translation and enrich your specific vocabulary. Read anything and everything BUT in English. Grab that smartphone of yours, and check the latest gossip, BUT in English. Read that actor/actress’s biography on Wikipedia, BUT in English. The more you surround yourself in the language, the better. That’s what they call immersion – of course you could travel, but you’re a busy YI. So let the language come to you!
Listen. Oh well – the English language is already here. You basically have no excuses not to listen to English on a daily basis. Songs, TV series, movies – always get the original version and use the subtitles, and even trickier – use the English subtitles. You may get a little tired by the end of the movie, but your brain will associate written AND spoken words, and you will improve much faster. You could also take the serious route and listen to scientific podcasts, such as the ones from Nature or to the radio – then BBC’s your friend. Please note that I am OK with any spoken accent, RNZ will work just as well.
Write. Did you notice that sometimes it’s even easier to write in English on your favourite field than in your own language? That’s because you’ve learned the specific vocabulary – it doesn’t even exist in your native language, everybody’s using it in English anyway. But then, of course, you don’t want your article to be rejected because of poor English grammar or syntax. One day, you’ll be so good that you’ll proofread your colleagues’ articles for English. In the meantime, get help! From Google Translate, your PI, other co-writers, professional medical writers or translators – you should find a way. You could also get good training from writing e-mails to English native speakers – see how they write, what formal and informal expressions they use. A language is different written than spoken, so keep in mind that you will need to master both to be considered fluent.
Speak. This is the hardest part. The one where you get those words out in a stumble. Please remember that no one cares about your accent, and most native speakers will find it cuuuute.
Should I remind you again that I’m French? People will love that you’re trying, they’ll be okay with you asking them to repeat or to talk more slowly – and maybe no one else around is speaking your language anyway (hey there Icelandic friend!).
Go talk with that foreign PhD student who’s in your lab. Take care of the English-speaking family whose child is treated in your department. Skype with your SIOP mentor who’s on the other side of the world. Apply to be a YI committee member and spend some time with us on the phone! I could of course tell you about those oral presentations in congresses in which you speak for five minutes – after not having slept for three days. You will rehearse. You will anticipate possible questions and you’ll know what to say: you’re the world specialist in your topic, no need for brilliant English there!
I will be moving to Canada this summer so maybe other things will come to mind as I will be properly immersed, in snow and in English. Cheers (… and listen to CBC/Radio Canada, you guys).