Learning English and Making Foreign Friends in Canada

Before I start off, I need to clarify two things. First, this article might be favored by those who want to integrate into the Canadian society as a whole, or, to put it simple, would like to make more foreign friends. However, for those who simply don't care, you may stop reading it now. Life is just a choice and I definitely respect different choices. Second, I purposely write in English, not because I want to show off, but in the opposite, my English writing is so terribly inadequate that I simply need more practice. So for those who hate reading English, please excuse me again.

How can we make more foreign friends? This is a question we always come across when we are still "new" in Canada. However, when you are getting more familiar with the Canadian context (maybe after a year since you landed), you can make a choice of whether you need more foreign friends or not. Again, this is absolutely up to you. I remember when I went to a workshop for ESL students at YorkU half a year ago, all of us were Chinese international students and we started talking about why it is difficult for us to improve our English and make more foreign friends. We tried to list all the possible factors.

• We are not confident with our broken Chin-guish, sometimes in a strong accent
• When we hang out with Chinese students, we only speak Chinese and therefore not enough chances to practice English
• We don't even know how to make jokes in English
• People speak so fast that it is difficult to understand, especially when they use slangs that we are not familiar with
• We don't know what to talk about in a casual conversation
• We don't share common interests because of the cultural differences
• There is an inexpressible fear to approach people different from us
• The list is on and on......

And we also tried to come up with some "solutions".
• You have numerous reasons to be confident! Although most of us use Chin-guish all the time, you will be amazed by how much people can understand you, maybe better than yourself. The Chinese accent is not that bad compared with some other accents (YY it yourself and I don't want to make it explicitly, or I will be charged as racism). We are not fluent in English precisely because we don't speak it too often. Practice makes perfect and practice with those you feel comfortable with.
• Seize every chance to learn and practice. ESL open centers offer free workshops and tutoring services, if you are a full time student. If we have foreign roommates/housemates, why not say "hi" and chit chat a bit while you two are cooking?
• Watching American dramas is a good way to learn slangs, and if possible, make notes and remember them.
• Our Russian facilitator in that workshop suggested us to search the internet and find out 13 common English conversation topics. I would like to talk a bit about my personal experience in everyday conversations. Canada is an immigration country and almost all Canadians are not originally from Canada, you may start the conversation by talking about their place of origin. Also, a lot of Canadians have Chinese friends and they are interested in Chinese culture and especially Chinese food! Sometimes cultural difference is a potential topic as people are always curious to learn. But you need to prepare as how to introduce your own culture to the other in English.
• Be prepared. I absolutely agree that we have very different culture with the Canadians, but I don't agree that this is an unbridgeable chasm. I like reading/watching CBC news and this is a good way to know about the Canadian context. So yes, I can talk about the ISIS and the Ontario election with Canadians. I remember before I threw a party at the end of last semester, I googled all the details of how to behave in a party and what I should pay attention to as a host (such as the fact that a host is supposed to greet and talk to every guest before, during and after the party). I personally enjoy this process of learning and I admit that internet is an amazing invention!

It is never going to be easy, especially at the beginning. I am still in the process of learning and you are not alone. But believe in me, you will be do great if you keep trying! I want to end this article by quoting a sentence from a book I just read.

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
(Beckett, 1987:7)

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