A lot of international students asked me how to improve English. English is the biggest factor that holds people back in getting a full-time job after school. Personally, I found formal English training was not enough.
Formal English class is very limited in helping you improve your English as you only speak for 10-15 minutes everyday, there is not much pressure to complete the work. IELTS, TOEFL tests are good for school only, when you get into real life, they won't help you much.
So, this was the way I used to improve my English and get paid at the same time.
To me, not every part time job is equal.
The most effective way to improve English is to get a part time job that force you to speak and explain a lot.
Most students got a part-time job to earn some money, which was what I used to do. Given our first language is not English and we paid a lot of money to go to English class that helped us improve very little, would it be nice if we could improve our English dramatically through the job and get paid at the same time?
The key point is to have the courage to raise the bar a little everyday and change your approach when things don't work out.
My first part-time job back in 2009 when I was a student was actually delivering flyers door to door. My English was so weak, I could barely have a conversation in English with my class mate. So, I was very worried with this new job, I could just knock on the door, say it quickly "Hello, how are you?" and give them a flyer. Then I ran as fast as I could because I was afraid they would start a conversation and I wouldn't understand what they said.
At the end of the day, I asked myself: Would it be nice if I could talk to them?
But the nature of the job was I needed to finished giving out a certain number of flyers, so I had little time to talk to people while doing my job. I knew if I couldn't talk, my English was forever broken.
I needed another job, I asked myself: "Is there any job that help me improve my English?
I didn't just want to earn some money, I wanted to be confident when earning money and I could talk to my co-workers.
Server at English-speaking restaurants seemed like a good one. I went to 20 restaurants from McDonalds to Tim Hortons to high-end ones, but they couldn't hire me because I could not barely introduce myself with my broken English.
So the server job didn't work out well. I thought what else could I do?
One day, I went to a tutorial at school, I thought wow a tutor needed to explain a lot of things to students. This was the perfect part-time job to improve my English. But how?
I talked to these tutors and asking them how to become a tutor. They told me to have good grade and some experience in helping others.
So, I tried to get a good grade in my accounting class, this part was not that hard because I just needed to study harder and I didn't really need to speak English to get a good grade.
But helping other was the problem. With my weak English, how could I help others? I looked around the class and it seemed like some students were struggling to understand the course materials. I thought it would be nice if I could help them, because I didn't charge anything so they might bear with my weak English.
So, I would spend time to explain anything to anybody who didn't understand course material for free. I basically talked to anybody who listened. With my weak English, it took a long time to explain, but the students didn't mind and they appreciated my effort.
I recorded all these sessions, then I went home and tried to fix my broken English by listening to the recording multiple times. I fixed grammar, then pronunciation. I practiced. Then, I came out and help other students, this time it took me much less time to explain the concepts to them and they seemed to understand what I said. Things got better every time I tried. The only problem was I didn't make any money to pay daily expenses and I still had no part time job. I consider this was preparation for my future tutor job.
Look, I was considered a failure at that time because I couldn't even get a simple part-time job at a local restaurant, in which my friends could get it easily.
A few months later, the department opened a new tutoring program called PASS. I told the program director what I had done and I got the job.
That tutor job has still been the most important job in my life as it helped me improve my English dramatically.
The ability to communicate effectively in English is the foundation for the rest of my life here in Canada, whether it is to get a nice job at a big bank or networking to build relationships.
If you are still struggling with English, don't give up. Everybody needs to start from somewhere.
Take a step back and evaluate your options. The beauty of improving your English and getting paid at the same time is the best thing you can do. Sometimes, you need to take a step back in order to move 3 steps forward.
If you don't have a part time job, just go out there and get anything you can get your hands on. It doesn't matter how small or simple the job is. Then you raise the bar and set your goal a bit higher, the point is to get the job that you need to speak English as much as possible.
Always remember, if you choose to study or live in Canada, English is the foundation for everything. Don't get the part-time job just because it pays you some money, chase the job that helps you improve your English, I guarantee money will follow.
P.S: the first tutor job paid me $15/hour, the minimum wage at that time was $10.25/hour. So, hard work really paid off :)