Dalia, a former TOEFL student, recently asked me the following:
How can I master the English language? Can I speak English like my mother language or is this impossible? I mean, at my age! What do you suggest? My problem is that I can’t express myself in a professional way. I’m not the exact same person when I speak English. This makes me feel uncomfortable and imperfect. It makes me feel bad most of the time! What can I do?
I see many TOEFL students who are distinguished professionals. They are lawyers, doctors, CEOs and pharmacists. They are PhD scholars. They are architects, urban planners, engineers and statisticians. They are artists, photographers and actors. They want so much to be taken seriously in their field. They want to be understood. They want to express their ideas and write eloquent emails. They want to contribute to a professional conversation, but after all their years of studying English, this still does not come as easily for them as they would like.
First, I want to honor all of you for studying TOEFL and having the courage to go on this journey of seeking an advanced degree and/or profession in a language that is not your mother tongue. It’s really hard to be an established professional in your native country and then start anew in another country, in another language. It can feel like starting from the very beginning. It can feel like all your professional experience won’t be recognized because you struggle with finding the right words in this new place. But, remember this; the United States is a country of immigrants. Many Americans can trace their ancestry back just a few generations to people who could not speak English and still they managed to build a new life for themselves. If you decide to remain in the U.S., you will become part of that immigrant story. You are not alone.
This was my response to Dalia's question:
I'm not sure that I have a good answer on how to be the professional English speaker that you want to be. I wish I had an easy fix for this. But I will tell you this:
1. You are not as imperfect as you think you are.
2. Make peace with the English version of you. Your English self is a different version of you. It won't be exactly the same as your Mother tongue self. The essence is the same. You have the same spirit, same soul, same heart, but your voice will be different. Difference is GOOD and it is BEAUTIFUL. Embrace the imperfections because they are part of this version of YOU. This is the YOU who worked so hard to start life in a new country. She is the one who has overcome tremendous struggle and is still committed to life. She is the one who lends her expertise and skills to those around her. When you offer your gifts from that soulful, heart-centered place, people will feel it and want to work with you. That energy is more understandable than words and more powerful! Anyone who doesn't understand you is probably ONLY operating on the level of words. Ultimately, this is someone you do not want a working relationship with anyway. It’s better if that person falls away so that a potential boss or co-worker who understands your passionate energy can enter your professional life.
3. I do think it’s possible to improve. But first, appreciate the imperfections. They are a part of you. Let the English version of you shine. Honor all that you have accomplished so far. Continue to show up. Continue to speak. Continue to be present and growth will happen.