You could say that for English student Aura, learning English was a matter of life and death.
Aura, who hails from Colombia, is planning on doing a neurology fellowship (with a specialization in epilepsy) at McGill this year. In addition to the language requirements of her program, Aura felt the added pressure of feeling confident working with English-speaking patients.
“I chose Montreal because it’s one of the best places in the world to study epilepsy,” she says. “I am excited about the idea of studying here. It’s challenging for me because of the languages and I don’t want to make mistakes with patients or something like that.”
To that end, Aura has spent over four months studying English at E-QIP (she was here for three and a half months in the spring and returned in September) and soon she’ll join E-QIP’s French classes in the hopes of becoming a trilingual threat.
Aura says Montreal’s bilingualism was one of the most surprising things about the city when she first arrived last March.
“The way you change between French and English, English and French, in the same sentence. It was like, what’s going on?!”
Aura is here with her husband, a fellow English student, and while they’re both doing very well in their studies, their approaches to learning are quite different; fittingly for a neurologist, Aura is a stickler for accuracy, while her husband is more focused on speed and ease of speaking.
“I think he’s more fluent. He makes a lot of grammatical mistakes, but he doesn’t care,” she says. “It’s different for me because I always try to speak properly, so I overthink the whole sentence.”
She says that because she needs English at such a high level, she feels “stress to learn quickly, to improve quickly.”
“I feel frustrated, because I try hard to do it well. But I like it.”
Aura and her husband will be spending their first full winter in Montreal this year, and she says while they both love Montreal, her husband feels like he’s truly found “his place” in the city. She, on the other hand, still misses her family, her food and her friends a great deal, but she’s excited for all that their time here has in store.
“I’m nervous but excited, because in Colombia, we don’t have seasons, and we don’t have snow, so that’s a new thing for me,” she says. “I saw some snow the last time, but it was just a little, like for two or three days.”
Her advice to students who are in the same boat—those who are under pressure to reach an advanced level of English, and fast—is to make the language a part of their everyday lives (not just inside the classroom) and put new vocabulary in context. To unwind, Aura enjoys listening to music and watching videos and TV shows—a guilt-free activity when it comes with a side of language learning.
“This is why I like to listen to music [in English], because I like music, and I enjoy watching the video of the song, so for me, it’s easier to learn vocabulary when I’m doing something that I enjoy,” she says. “So try to look for things that you enjoy, and at the same time, try to learn new vocabulary, new rules. I think it’s an easy way to learn.”