As an exchange student from Taiwan, I once imagined the exchange to Manchester as a magic potion that makes my English skill “level-up” miraculously. After a semester, I realized that this assumption is both true and untrue. In fact, Manchester is a new place with more obstacles and more experience points. The more I know the insufficiency of my ability, the more motivated I am to try to improve myself.
My English is never good enough. Sufficient to survive and make friends here, but far from enough to understand every word of my friends, lecturers (especially those with strong accents or soft voice), movies, and musicals. I love movies and musicals, but I hate it that without the help of subtitles, I always miss a lot of details (oh yeah, every movie and TV show includes subtitles in Taiwan, even if they’re Mandarin voiced. I later found out that I can choose captioned sessions available…I guess I’ll rely on them all the time in the future). Also, I usually struggle when a group of friends are talking. I feel much more comfortable while having a one-to-one conversation─when there’s anything I don’t understand, I can just ask and figure it out on the spot. However, when there are more than one in the conversation group, I feel bad to interrupt even if I’m totally lost (especially when I’m only close to one of them).
Also, when I talk I stutter quite a bit, particularly when I’m nervous, and I have a strong Taiwanese accent. I’m currently doing a piece of coursework, for which I have to record my own voice, and listening to my horrible accent is freaking me out. However, I feel very warm that nearly everyone says my English is already good enough (usually adding something like “I wish my French/ Chinese/ Spanish…etc. was as good as your English”). As for my accent, they also comfort me that accent doesn’t matter that much as long as it’s understandable. My boyfriend, a sweet British guy I met here, even says he finds my Taiwanese accent cute. He says that Britain is a diverse country; different ethnicities and accents are treated with the same respect.
Though I still want to learn British RP accent as much as possible, I’m less anxious now according to my lovely friends. I feel extremely happy whenever people say they can see my accent weaken and my fluency improve. My family visited me at the beginning of this semester, and my brother said he was so surprised to see my great improvement over this time. I have watched more English videos, kept having conversations with native speakers and learnt from both, learning new expressions every day; I’m very glad that my efforts have paid off.
I’m very lucky to have the chance to do the exchange program in Manchester and make so many lovely friends. I hope that my English will become better and better, and I can make good use of such an amazing place, bringing priceless treasures back to Taiwan at the end of the year.