Friday, July 6, 2012

Learning English

Hey everyone! A lot of people have been asking me how hard it is to learn English to attend an American college and how I prepared for it.

First of all, I have to say that everyone has a different pace when it comes to learning languages. However, if we're talking about attending college in the US, you might want to make sure you have, at least, a good level of understanding the language.

I started learning English as most of people do, at school. In Spain it is compulsory to take English courses during your basic education. Also I used to attend English lessons after my school hours for a very long time. However, that wasn't enough to sit down at an American college classroom. 

Once I finished my high school, I kept studying English after my university lessons in Barcelona. I always recommend to take lessons, because it is always better to have someone teach you first. However, you need to continue learning by yourself after those classes. A couple hours a week won't help you that much, but if you take what you learn in those couple hours and do things with that during the rest of the week, then you'll be on the right track. I remember I used to chat with international friends as much as I could, I watched movies in English, etc. 

English course mates in London, UK 2008
Those courses are a good starting point. However, what helped me the most was traveling. I spent many summers abroad taking English courses in London, York (England), New York... and that's when I felt I improved the most. If you're brave enough to avoid sticking with people from your country, you will be 'forced' to talk in English. That's when I started to get more fluent.

After those trips, I finally moved away from Spain to spend a year in Estonia. They speak Estonian there, but the language I used to talk to people and at school was English. Since there weren't native English speakers, I got used to listen to a whole lot of different accents. That also helped me a lot.

Finally, I got to move to NYC. The first months were more difficult regarding the language. However, I started getting used to it pretty soon. I think the most important factor is to loose your fear to speak.

I had to take the TOEFL test to attend Berkeley College (Test of English as a Foreign Language.) Many people have asked me how hard it is. My suggestion is that you go online and find a sample so you can see what kind of test it is. I didn't find it hard and I got better results than what I expected.

English course mates in New York, USA 2007
Once I started my classes at Berkeley, I realized I had enough level to succeed. I never had a problem with the language, which was very relieving! However, there are courses of English as a Second Language (ESL) available to make sure you have the right level before starting your major classes.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that there are many ways to learn English if you really want to and that it shouldn't prevent you from applying to an American school. I hope I've answered some of your questions about this topic here. Thanks for reading and see you soon!


  1. Hi Jose!
    As always, muchas gracias for sharing the interesting and useful information! That's so awesome that being even on vacation, you take your time to write this amazing blog. I won't get tired of thanking you for sharing happy thoughts.

    Jose, could you please reveal the name of that school in NY where you came to take English as a second language courses in 2007?
    I've been searching for an exciting way to come to the U.S. for a while, and as my current job here, in Moscow, is tightly connected with education abroad,I'd like to personally come to the States for the first time in my life at the end of this year, maybe in December, to improve my English meanwhile exploring the country of my cherished dreams - AMERICA. Now I'm trying to choose a very strong and highly effective school for a few weeks in NY or/and LA, so I know I will spend my time and money wisely. What would you recommend?
    Thanks for your advice in advance. :)
    P.S.: Greetings to the Spanish sun! :)

    1. Sure! I took a summer course at Embassy CES and had a great experience. Here's the link:

      Thanks for reading and good luck!! :)

    2. Thank you! Actually, this is unbelievable that you answered with Embassy CES, because I was checking out their web site and couldn't choose between Kaplan and Embassy, but somehow I was thinking more of Embassy. Thank you for sharing!! You help. :) Possibly, in a perfect sitation, I will divide: 2 weeks in Ny Embassy and 2 weeks in LA Kaplan. My first visit to the US! Gonna make the most out of it. :)
      Jose, if you don't mind, I have a couple more questions for you:
      What course did you study? Intensive English, Business English or something else? I thought about taking the Intensive English first, but then I kinda changed my mind to the Business English (hope to find it more difficult, interesting and exciting).
      And could you please share your experience with accomadation: was it in a host family or residence, and how was it? :) I heard sometimes host families are not that welcoming and all they can provide is to describe their house facilities and explain how to use them and that's it. So, practically no interaction with a family itself. They say it is commom especially for host families in Manhattan, because they are extremely busy people and don't have any time to communicate with their international guest. I was sorry to hear that because I'd like to experience what it feels like to live in the American family and explore the US culture from the inside perspective.
      Are you aware of something regarding this issue?

      P.S.: I'm so grateful to you for sharing all this.

    3. Hey! I hope you'll answer me:)

  2. Thanks for sharing the excellent information and some nice tips to learn English. I can read and write English well but have been struggling with Spoken English. I believe as a beginner it is helpful to chat and watch English movies. but to have a thorough understanding of the subject one need a good and qualified teacher. I myself now have joind an e-learning course to improve my skills and hopefully it helps me :)