I speak English as a second language … So ?…

I came to Canada almost four years ago with zero skill of communications in English. Plus the fact that I have been speaking Vietnamese for my entire life, I do have to say that I speak English with a Vietnamese accent. I’ve been improving my pronunciation every day; however, it’s still very noticeable that I speak English as a second language.

Not less than 10 people have judged my knowledge and abilities based on my English skills.

I will tell you my personal story.

Last April, I applied for a position of Enrollment Support Assistant in a Conservatory. My main responsibilities would be communicating with patrons including instructors, staff, parents and students in person, via emails or phone, consulting and promoting Conservatory programs, answering inquiries and solving any problem from customers, etc. Overall, communication skills in English are the main key for this job.

I had an interview with them over the Skype because at that time I was in Boston to organize the final round event for VietChallenge – a Boston-based competition for young Vietnamese entrepreneurs. I got interviewed with four people and all of them were born in Canada, which meant English was their mother tongue language. To be honest, the interview went pretty well. I solved well cases/problems they gave, and I believed I would be a good fit for the position; however, I didn’t get the job.

After I got an email that I was rejected, I sent them another email asking why I didn’t get chosen. I can’t recall exactly what they said, … by any way I was not chosen. I, of course, was very sad because I really liked the job. My dream of working in a music school with kids immediately collapsed. Time healed everything and I moved on with my life.

Three months later, one day, they sent me an email saying if I was still interested in the job. At that time, I just quit one of my jobs so I, without a delay, said “yes”. Next day, I came and had a meeting with them.  Right away, they asked if I could come to work tomorrow at 8 a.m. It only took them 10 minutes from the moment I stepped into the room to the moment I signed the paper. I was literally in shock and asking myself if I was dreaming. They also told me that they were afraid that I spoke English as a second language so they didn’t think I would be able to do the job.

I said to myself that “Yes, I do speak English as a second language but I will prove you wrong. I will totally do my job as well as other English speakers.”

As scheduled, I came to work the next day. After a few hours of watching and learning how people do their jobs, I told them to let me try. On the first day, I answered around five phone calls, provided patrons with accurate information and balanced my money account at the end of the day without any mistake. My manager was so happy, “Omg she will be another Steve.” (Steve was the person who had been working there for seven years and he started the job when he was my age.) One of my senior staff had to admit that they made a mistake not hiring me at the first place, and the reason I speak English as a second language so I can’t do the job was so wrong!!!!! 😉

Now, I’ve been working there for seven months and I have no problem communicating with people in English. I do my job just as well as other English speakers.

Canada is a multiple-cultural country and there are many people coming from all over the world. Plus, it’s the 21st century, people travel and live in different countries. It’s very common to meet people who speak English as a second language. It’s the most beautiful things in the world I’ve seen because people can switch from one language to another language in a second. It’s so amazing!!!

Sometimes I find it hard to understand people who are not able to articulate English well and vice versa, people find it hard to understand my English accent sometimes. However, I have to say ENGLISH IS NOT THE MEASUREMENT FOR KNOWLEDGE AND ABILITIES. Being a person who speaks English as a second language is not a bad thing and everybody should know and respect it. If I can do my job as well as other people in the Canadian workplace where I am the only foreigner, so can other people.

To be honest, I’ve been doing very well at school. I got into Dean’s list and got a scholarship awarded by Canadian Public Relations Association. I just want to say it’s not fair to judge foreigners’ abilities based on their English.

If you are experiencing the same situation as mine, you definitely need to read what I write below.

  1. You should be proud of yourself that you can speak at least two different languages while other people can only speak one language.
  2. You should be proud of yourself because you’re more tolerant than other people. You’ve learned from your experience that it takes time for people to understand you so that you’re more patient and willing to spend more time on listening and understanding people.

Listening and understanding are the most important keys to communications and relationships.

3. You should be proud of yourself that you are very brave and confident to speak, read, perform different jobs, etc. in a new language. You need to show them how good you are. If anyone judges you based on your English. Please stand up and speak up for yourself. The moment you are afraid of speaking English and going away from English speakers, you’re giving up. Again, it’s the 21st century. It’s the century for GLOBAL CITIZENS. You’re are one of them and you should be proud of it.

4. I’ve found that I can guess what foreigners sometimes are trying to say and help them to say what they want. I’ve known that because a big portion of my patrons is immigrants and some of they don’t speak English quite well. You should appreciate that you’ve worked very hard to improve your English skills while English speakers don’t even have to try. English comes to them naturally and they just take it for granted.

5. You should be proud of yourself because you know more than one culture. It means you see the world in different points of views. You are more respectful of other cultures and people.

6. I know sometimes you go home and blame on yourself that your English skills are killing you, your jobs and relationships because you didn’t speak well with customers and they were confused, or because they didn’t have a good paper for your class. It’s very normal. I feel it all the time. Just practice and practice every day. Do what I do now: start a blog, write, write and write. Don’t stop learning every day. I learn new words every day. It’s like my hobby.


For foreigners who live and study abroad. Embrace yourself and practice languages every day. I wish you luck. Let me know if I can help you anything. Send me a message. I promise I will spend time on listening to your stories. I guess they must be very interesting.

For people who luckily speak English as a first language, I hope you can understand and appreciate what non-English speakers have gone through by being patient to listen and understand what they say. Please do that. You will learn so many interesting stories from them, from a completely different perspective. 🙂 I’m more than happy to tell you my stories. Send me a message :-).

Photo: Internet 🙂


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