“My English is not very good”.
This is one of the most common worries that I hear when speaking to vets from all over the world. In many cases, this is not true at all, but there are a few reasons why we experience this:
- Comparing to our own native language, we know it takes us time and brain work to translate
- We know we have an accent
- We know we cannot fully express ourselves as we do in our own language
There is no way around the fact that we need good English levels to work and live in the UK. As a matter of fact, poor language skills are one of the main reasons why practices do not hire foreign vets. It’s also often very difficult to go from English to medical English, which is our technical language.
Although I am not a native English speaker myself, I feel very comfortable expressing myself and speaking (and writing) in English and I’m fairly confident that I’m one notch below native. Except for my accent. But that’s Scotland for you!
So on this article, I will share with you some tips to help you study and improve your English levels.
Before that, though, I would like to remind you of the four areas of comprehension of a language:
As you very well know, reading and writing are the easiest. Listening is the next most difficult and speaking is, by far, the hardest of all.
You’re here and you’ve read a good bit by now, so I’m going to assume you’re past the “basic” level of reading (and that is usually followed by writing). So we are going to focus mostly on improving your listening and speaking skills.
Learn about the phonetic sounds
Yeah I never studied this, and I’ve been studying English for 20 years now. But this makes a massive difference in your ability to understand what others are saying. The “phonetic sounds”, properly named as “phonemes”, are the different sounds that you can pronounce in the English language. And do you know why English is tricky to understand? Because there are forty four phonemes, yes, 44 in numbers. And to make matters worse, there are two types of phonemes: vowels and consonants. There are 24 consonant sounds and 20 vowel sounds. And they are pronounced differently for the same word depending on regional accents.
So yeah – no wonder you get confused about what you are hearing and get so many headaches with accents!
Do not watch dubbed series and films
This is incredibly easy to do and will help you massively! When you watch films and series with subtitles instead of watching dubbed versions, your brain really starts to combine words with sounds. This makes it a lot easier for you to then be able to pronounce those sounds, and it also helps, of course, with writing (provided they are nice subtitles…) and even comprehension, as you may learn new words and have an instant “feeling” for what they mean from the context of the scene.
Think in English
You didn’t see this coming, did you? I must say that this is the single most useful tip I’ve personally used. Starting to force your brain into thinking in a different language will reinforce all of those brain synapses, and that’s how you learn languages – repetition, repetition, repetition. Thinking in English is like repetition, repetition, repetition in private! I started by doing this every night before bedtime, and if you’re lucky you actually fall asleep thinking in English. You must, however, make this an active process. In other words, if you are struggling to express yourself in your thoughts, the next day you must learn how to say what you want to say. Or think! By doing this, your speech becomes a direct act of language use, instead of what most people get stuck at, which is to perform the exhausting mental exercise of thinking in their own language, then translating it to English and only then saying it. This is why they struggle with fluency.
Thinking in English is the most useful tip to get you to really know English!
Improving Clinical English and Communication
You need a certain level of English skills to work in the UK, and you need a certain level to get good at your job. On top of that, you also need to improve your technical language and sicuss some very sensitive and difficult topics with clients.
This is why we created UK VetTalks, Clinical English and Communication classes specifically for vets that help with three areas: clinical knowledge, veterinary English and client communication.