Written by Rohisha Maharjan
Being from a non-English speaking country, it is sometimes a challenge to clearly communicate the pictures in my mind only through English words. I’m bilingual with my national language Nepali, and my mother tongue (ethnic), Newari, and no one in my family before my generation could speak English.
I studied in an English medium school and spoke reasonably good English with friends. In my school, we used to have secret “captains” whose primary mission was to report to the teachers when anyone was speaking Nepali in the school compounds. Getting caught and reported meant paying a fee depending on the number of times we got caught. We always thought that it was a ridiculous rule, but now I’m actually thankful for it since it made a good base (with my English) for me at an early age.
Coming to Australia in 2014 for my studies, I had to talk to people who had been speaking English their whole lives. It was different from speaking to my friends to whom I could easily refer to for Nepali words if I had any difficulties. I had a good score in IELTS (a language test required to get a Student Visa). However, an English test is nothing like speaking to an actual person or having a real conversation in English. So, I wasn’t very good at interacting with people, partly because of my shy nature but mostly because I was afraid that I’d say something totally different from what I’d meant to say. Soon, everybody knew me as a person who didn't like speaking to people at work and Uni.
Being a designer is essentially communicating the ideas in your head to others. So, when I joined design school, I had to change my habits. I was in an environment where it was crucial to speak and explain all the details in my work. I had to work in teams, do presentations, and write reports and design intents. I quickly realised that to use English to convey my ideas at this level; I had to self-evaluate and analyse the issues to create solutions. The problem was that I was holding myself back way too much and having doubts within myself.
The first step I took was to write what was stopping me from interacting with people. I had a few realisations that helped me understand my situation and set some actions to overcome them. I was afraid that people would look down on me because of my accent. I didn’t know any fancy words which I thought would make me look intelligent. I wanted to avoid any awkward situations where the other person misunderstood what I was trying to say. I was always too self-conscious.
So, what did I do to start overcoming these challenges?
I made a list of a few doable actions for myself, which I continue to do to this day.
I read fiction novels very often as they contain more conversations.
Whenever I read magazines or articles online, I write down interesting words on my phone and try to use them later while talking to someone.
I have conversations in English with friends at least once a day.
I write journals (3 pages every single day, mainly in the morning). I usually try to write how I’m feeling and what I want to achieve that day. If I find it hard to write three pages, I sometimes write any words that come to my mind. I always make it three pages.
To make the most significant impact on my presentations, I always look for powerful adjectives that I could use so that I don't feel lost for words.
I observe the way people talk and also pay attention to their gestures and body language.
Working on Mindset
Along with these actions, I've also had to work on my mindset. I used to have the impression that English was the greatest and the most superior language. One of the essential steps I unintentionally took to speak freely was to respect my own language. Yes, English is the international language, but having my own mother tongue gave me an edge to my personality and individuality.
Accepting this fact made me more confident, even if I made mistakes and had an accent. The other thing I realised was that no one expects me to speak perfect English, and as long as the other person gets my message, I am allowed to make mistakes. But I also know and am proud of the fact that I'm always working hard to improve.
Having the right mindset aligned with the task is crucial to get a result. Taking all these steps has made me more proficient in writing and speaking English. Now, I don’t hesitate to make mistakes if I have to, and I can easily correct them without feeling guilty. The best thing to do if I experience confusion during a conversation is to ask what I don’t understand, and that has significantly changed my performance at work.
I believe consistency and practice are the keys to achieving any goals. The same applies when trying to learn to speak better English, especially professionally, as communication plays a vital role in any workplace.
Thank you, Rohisha, for sharing your story. I believe it's so important to share these experiences with others to give them hope and inspiration. If you want to contact Rohisha, you'll find her personal portfolio website Nook Journal Design.
Want to write an article for the ArchiEnglish blog to share your experience with others and have the opportunity to work with me on your writing? Send a message here.