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  • Writer's picturepriyanka halder

ESL: English as your Second Language

Updated: Jul 4, 2020

Welcome to my first blog post. I want to start by sharing how it feels to embrace a brand new language in someone's adult life. I want to caution everyone reading my post that there will be lot of mistakes in my blog posts. So be prepared.

A little background of myself. I grew up in Kolkata, India and went to the nearest school , where I used my native language Bengali until I graduated from high school. My parents sent me to a spoken english class (30 days) before I went to pursue my bachelor degree in a complete new city, Bangalore where no one spoke my native language. So I had to speak in english most of the time. That's how my journey began...

Initial challenges in speaking and writing

It was pretty challenging in the beginning to think in my mother tongue and then translate and speak in english. I think I still struggle with my vocabulary sometimes, when I am speaking too fast. Also, I was never a fan of literature or writing. In my bachelor degree though I used english for all my subjects and I got more than 90% marks. I struggled when it came to my business writing class. I could secure only 56% marks in that. One thing I was particularly very weak was spelling. I think my mom has some short of dyslexia. She confidently spells words wrong. And I inherited it somehow or it might be just a coincidence you never know.

When it comes to writing I can find patterns what I did or still do wrong sometimes. I have issue with <space> in front of every punctuation marks. I sometimes give double <space> in between words. I often forget to capitalize first letter of a sentence or pronoun like I. Another interesting fact is sometimes I mix a and e. But trust me none of these are intentional or showing disrespect to the reader of an email or blog. I have been better at proofreading but I still fail miserably when I am writing using a phone and it auto corrects itself. The last issue I see is, I suddenly start to write in camel letters and please don't ask me why? It's all in my brain :)

Now coming to speaking, pronunciation is very big deal specially when you started speaking at age of 18. I wont say I sound like a native english speaker. I had issue pronouncing similar sounding words like fool/full. When I graduated my bachelor degree in computer application back in 2006, India was booming in call center jobs. Very few people know I got my first big job in HP(Hewlett Packard India) as TSE: technical support engineer. The company gives extensive english speaking training almost for 3 months. I remember I had a diary, where I knew how I will respond for what question. I recorded myself often and spoke to ownself to practice and master the art. I passed their test with flying colors. But by the time the training was getting over and I was about to go on floor, that how they call starting of the job. I had found my first software engineering job in Accenture. When I went to see the Hr for my exit interview at HP, he accused me of lying (no one would give me a job in software engineering) and told he could see how I could not be a good TSE. I guess, few bitter words just stays in your heart forever...

MS in CS:From failure to passing english writing test to getting A+

Now fast forward to 4 years. It was 2010, when I finally decided to leave my pretty good test engineer career in India and go pursue my Master of Science, Computer Science in the United States.I had to give TOEFL to get admission. I studied a thick TOEFL book for months to finally write the exam. I thought my exam went well. I kept waiting for result but somehow it got delayed. It was almost my application submission end date and I got to know my speaking section was not recorded properly due to faulty mic, so TOEFL cant score me. I almost cried but figured out I could give PTE, another english test which scores a student using computer and sends same day results. I finally could made it to the submission date. I passed that test and got the numbers needed to get admission in California State University, Long Beach.

But life was not so rosy at all when I had to give a mandatory english writing test on campus as a foreign student and failed it. Everyone except me in my whole friend circle (10 of us)had passed that essay writing test. I was so ashamed to share that news with everyone. As a result of the failure, I had to take up a english writing class. And now that I think about it. It was the best english class I could ever attend in my whole life. It changed the way I used to think while writing. I figured there were no summary, no connecting words, no gist at the end. Though that semester was really hectic for me with 4 different subjects. I learned alot and I learned to embrace my writing. I passed the class with A. Later on, I had scored A+ on my most of the technical papers in my MS course. Success always feels great at the end....

Public Speaking

And now 9 years later it is 2019. I can say I am a tiny public speaker. I have spoken at 2 big conference in Long Beach and NYC. I have spoken in first ever meetup for a startup company in SF, spoken in largest automation meetup in LA, participated in 3 different webinars and lastly I am schedule to speak in 4 major conferences in USA and Canada this year. You must be thinking how did it happen? Well I believe in one thing, if you are passionate about something no one can stop you to achieve it. I am in general very outspoken person. But speaking in a public setting can be nerve wracking to me as well. I still remember wonder women in tech, my first conference appearance. I felt like I should ran away. But as I went to stage and started speaking it all became calm and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I will write a separate blog post how I started public speaking but in this post I want to tell you all who are like me whose first language is not english. YOU CAN DO THIS.

Dont worry if you can't pronounce all the words, if your vocabulary is not as strong as a native english speaker. Don't worry if the first talk is not great. Don't worry if you get criticized by the person you thought will come to you and say I am proud of you. Don't worry if no one will like your blog post. It is not end of the world. Seek help. Get a mentor. Ask your friend to help you to review your blog post. Failure, rejection or criticism should not stop you to pursue your DREAM. If A girl like me could do it, you can too. "Failure is a path to success". MAKE IT HAPPEN*.

*reference: 1. 2. courtesy)

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