Hey, your English is good!?


Having been learning English for more than 17 years, I have been appraised for multiple times, “Hey, your English is good.” Considering my English learning process, I believe that Your English is Good conveys more information and reflects my English improvement in different places. However, as I am doing my Master in Canada, I realize that I still have a long way to go before I am able to say My English is Good confidently.

Initially, Your English is Good was connected with pronunciation. I started to learn English when I was 4. As an English teacher, my mother suggested that I should watch the videos and listen to the tapes very carefully so as to master a good pronunciation. Her words were powerful and impressed me deeply. I thereby won many English speech competitions throughout my primary and middle school years. “Do you know him? His English is really good!”; “He is really like an American when he speaks English!” I used to enjoy these words, which indicated that I was really born with the talent for learning a foreign language well.

As time went by, the meaning of Your English is Good changed when I was in high school. The English test was a mandatory section in the national college entrance examination, therefore my English teacher mainly focused on the English grammar and how students could improve their performances in English tests. As a result, a good grade demonstrated Your English is Good. Even though I did not always rank the 1st in my class, I was still one of the best students who got excellent grades in every English test. “Hey, how could you be able to get 140/150? Your English is so amazing!”; “Can you tell me how to do the reading exercises?” These words really pleased me at that time. I also enjoyed the moment when I assisted my classmates in understanding  difficult passages.

When I pursued my BA degree in Beijing, I had to redefine Your English is Good. This time, however, nobody said Your English is Good to me. In turn, I began to realize there are many English language talents. Your English is Good implies both good grades in English tests, but also fluency in spoken English. For example, one of my best friends, who did not prepare for the ILETs, got 8/9 in the speaking section. She also represented our university to participate in national competitions and won many awards. When I prepared for studying in the US (I initially decided to study in the US. However, as I found the tuition fee was much cheaper in Canada, I changed my mind), she helped me both in my writing and speaking in order to pass the TOEFL. Fortunately, I was able to acquire a competitive score in it, which won me the opportunity to be enrolled at McGill.

While a competitive score in TOEFL somewhat revealed my English proficiency, I faced huge communicative barriers because of my inability to express myself in English. I’ll never forget the day when I was at the Vancouver International Airport.

“Why Canada (for work or study)?” A customs officer asked.

“Because I think McGill is blabla…, and Canada is blabla…”I attempted to answer her question.

“Oh, for study. No worries!” She replied with a smile.

I felt embarrassed at that moment because I failed to answer her question! I tried to comfort myself by saying that I would be fine, and I would manage to answer other questions tomorrow. However, the situation became even worse when I had to communicate with more people. Especially when I had to figure out what I intended to eat at a restaurant. Moreover, although the TOEFL score ensured my enrollment at McGill, in addition to comments on the content, I also received kind feedback from my instructors, such as “ I know what you mean. However, you need to rewrite this sentence.”; “I think the Writing Center will help you a lot.”, etc.

I did not think my English is good anymore. I had to work very hard to polish my language so that I was able to at least express my opinions clearly.

Luckily, thanks for the great support offered by my classmates, my English has been improved gradually. I hope Your English is Good will someday show that I am able to communicate with others freely and that I receive feedback concerning simply about content rather than grammar.



3 thoughts on “Hey, your English is good!?”

  1. Hi Colin,
    Your blog post is a wonderful demonstration of how contexts of learning (including metrics of evaluation) shape our identities and feelings of success as leaners. I think it’s important to recognize and remember that each time we enter into a new context, the linguistic demands will be a bit different and it might take some time to adjust. I would love to see you come back to this post at the end of your Master’s and write a Part 2. I am quite sure you’ll have more feelings and stories of successes from your time at McGill, and certainly a lot of feedback on the content of your work.


  2. Hello Colin,

    Thank you for sharing your stories with us. I had similar experiences as you. However, my stories focus on a different perspective. In my opinion (as a non-native speaker), being good at English is to speak and write like a native speaker and possess the ability to interact and effectively communicate with people from diverse backgrounds through English, highlighting teamwork and problem solving.

    Before coming to Montreal and McGill University, I had lots opportunities communicating with English native speakers. I had no trouble in daily communication, although with an obvious Chinese accent. I feel that I am not good at English, but being able to speak this language is one of my advantages no matter in study or at work. However, when arrived this city and had my courses here, I felt I was lost in a forest, unable to catch up the entire information form teachers and fail to speak like a native speaker in daily life. For example, at first, I did not know how to react people saying sorry to me at the street when they hit me by accident. I had no idea how to organize my paper in APA format and how to email my professor asking for suggestions. I also heard “Your English is good” from classmates because I can communicate with them in English not because I am really good at English. At that stage, I felt my English is “Stagnant English”. It’s not alive. I use my Chinese to think about English and react, like that I use Chinese language structure to speak English, which sounds not native, and I have small talks in Chinese structure. I would say “What did you do?” instead of “How are you?”. I think of Alison’s story that the Japanese think that adding a “Please” at the end of a sentence would be polite in English, but in fact, it’s not. I was like that.

    However, after a year here in McGill University and living in Montreal. I think I am making progress to “Good English”. I had the opportunities to communicate with our classmates coming from all over the world. I had group work with them successfully and I could share my opinions here with you. English is not only a daily conversation tool like when I was in China. Instead, I perceive it more like my language and it helps shape my identity as well. I think you are making progress gradually as well. And by the time you finish your study at McGill, you would also perceive “Your English is Good” from another perspective.

    Here is a link about “speaking like a Canadian”. It’s really fun. It would tell you some Canadian vocabulary and expressions.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Maxime – Comment 1

    This was an interesting read, which I felt was quite reflective of the themes we spoke about last week. It is clear from your life experience that language is so closely tied to identity. It is interesting how for some people, grammar and vocabulary use equates ‘good English’, whereas for others the accent is most important. I think that in our modern, globalized world, accents are just a reality and as long as you are understood by other English speakers and are able to get your ideas across in a concrete manner, you speak ‘good English’. I think you have the right approach in focusing on your productive and communicative skills. I think your English is good!

    Liked by 1 person

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