When I started working in web development thirteen years ago, I realized that there was a very visible ceiling on how much money I could earn in my profession in Brazil. (For reference, I’ve always worked on website development using the WordPress platform.)
By the time I was fifteen, I had a little more than two years of freelance experience for small businesses here in Brazil. I realized that website development required a lot of hard work for independent consultants and only a few agencies were able to pick up clients who truly concerned themselves with quality – and who had the money to pay for it.
With that in mind, I always had the goal of working for a company outside of Brazil. To do this, I needed to add a few specific tools to my arsenal that weren’t exactly technical: namely, learning English.
The large majority of people that I know here in Brazil that say they’re proficient in English don’t truly understand what that means. In fact, for a long time I thought that I had this level of understanding in English but I didn’t. So if you finished an English course and think that you don’t have any more to learn, get ready to learn why that’s not enough.
I’m going to share some things that changed my perspective about the language, and some steps you can take.
Whenever you finish a language course, your knowledge is enough to communicate and, possibly, teach others to communicate in the language. However, there’s no English course in existence that can teach you everything you need to know to work comfortably in another language. A course is just one of the steps that many people opt not to do.
For example, for a few years, I did the class at Cultural Inglesa. It’s not the route that I would recommend to the majority of people since it involves a higher investment of money for the length of course I did, which was almost six years.
Today, there are many shorter courses that won’t teach as many of the technical details of the language and will focus much more on writing and conversation. In the workplace, no one is going to test you on verb tenses or how to structure a sentence properly.
In spite of everything, I realize that if I hadn’t taken this longer course, I wouldn’t have adapted so quickly to other situations that I will talk about in more detail in other posts. That said, I don’t think a course of more than two years is truly necessary.
Pick a short course and, if possible, a course that’s focused on a specific area of work that you would like to do in the future. If you’re still very young, do something that gives you the basic foundation for the next steps.
I think online courses, in the form of games like Duolingo, are a fantastic alternative if you don’t have the resources to invest in an eighteen month course. The most important part of this option is that you need to dedicate yourself a lot using this option since you’re at a disadvantage – learning with a teacher and classmates is always a more efficient method.
Movies, TV shows, songs, and games
Everyone is constantly exposed to content originally produced in English. If you already have a basic understanding of English, take advantage of this fact and start watching TV shows with subtitles in English, pay attention to the lyrics of songs you like, and translate them so you can understand what your favorite musicians are talking about in their songs.
In my case, I never paid much attention to songs, but I always had my computer, phone, and (video) games in English as a way of constantly practicing the language. The most important part for me was that constant attempt to watch movies and TV shows with subtitles in English and, eventually, without subtitles.
Movies and TV shows are best because, normally, the actors’ speech patterns are clean and with good diction, which will help you a lot when trying to understand the language more quickly without having time to translate before the next person speaks. In the beginning it will be difficult, and I would recommend using headphones to help make the dialogue clearer.
Games are another great, iterative way to practice communicating in English. Opt for games where you will need to read and pay attention to the story to complete the game. Those will force you to really understand the context of what you’re seeing and reading, which will be super important in the future.
Continuing to learn English
I would like to write more articles about how I learned English, it’s role in my working for foreign companies, and my relationship with Erica, who’s native language is English. While she speaks Portuguese, for convenience we speak English at home, which is much easier for both of us.
For those reading this, my intention is to explain the different steps a person needs to take to truly become fluent in a language, with absolutely no barrier. Many times people ask me why I don’t get tired speaking English with Erica all the time and how I learned to do that.
Keep an eye out for our next posts on the blog where I will continue to write about this subject, since this post is already long but there’s so much more to talk about.