Ma Hongmei, 32 years old, was a Sales Executive at a cosmetics brand in a renowned Beijing shopping complex. While many of her peers are married or are starting a family, she decided to learn English in Singapore. She left her job in Beijing and started a new chapter as a full-time student in Singapore. 

As a young adult away from home and working in Beijing, she faced obstacles for not having good English proficiency. Hongmei was fully aware of her poor English skill, however she was not concerned about it. Like many young adults away from home and working in Beijing, Hongmei looked for a job in Beijing upon graduation and became a Sales Executive for Lancome cosmetics. All along, Hongmei has disregarded the importance of English communication skills, as she did not have the chance to practice her English skill since graduation from high school.

One day, an English-speaking foreigner came to her sales counter looking for products; she greeted the customer. At that moment, she realised that her mind went blank and no words came out of her mouth when she wanted to communicate with the foreigner in English. She also could not find words introduce the products on her display counter. Unfortunately, she was not able to close the sale. Feeling helpless, Hongmei then found out that all her colleagues knew basic English and had no problem communicating with foreigners except herself.

Remembering when foreigners asked her for directions, she realised she could not speak proper English when she wanted to lend a helping hand. Even when she picked up her courage to speak using her poor English communication skills, the foreigners could not understand her. Yet it was kids who were passing by who gave clear directions to the foreigners speaking in fluent English, leaving her feeling awkward and inferior. 

Although Hongmei excelled in her current career, she faced various obstacles, awkward situations and even her job performance was affected due to poor English skill. Her knowledge and skills were sufficient for her profession; however she was in need of improvement in her overall capability, such as good English proficiency which would be critical if she was in a management position. It is not too late to start learning English at the age of 30!

It is neither too hard nor too easy to learn English, but how does one learn it well? Hongmei has considered many ways.

For example, mobile phone apps and online courses are now trending. Though it is easy to access and very convenient, it is lacking a good learning environment as there is no teacher who could immediately correct students' pronunciation and grammar mistakes, thus most people find it hard to keep going. There are some training institutions in China which provide good supervision for English learning, however, most participants are students from universities, high schools and primary schools, 'overage students' might be prejudiced by other participants. Moreover, the teachers normally conduct classes using bilingual, both Chinese and English language; She was worried that she might learn Chinglish instead of proper English.  

Hongmei has decided that since she is determined to learn English, it would be best to learn it as a full-time student in an all English-speaking environment. She also heard many good reviews and recommendations about the British Council in Singapore. Taking all these into consideration, she thought that Singapore will be a good choice. This is a country with a multicultural background. Not only does Singapore provide a good English speaking environment, it is also not far away from China. It can be said to be the best choice to learn English for people from China. 

Ma Hongmei did a lot of research online looking for relevant information, asked a few friends who have had experiences and set her ultimate goal on a one-year English course offered by the British Council. The most important reason for this choice was that British Council in Singapore offered full-time courses while China did not.

When she told her relatives about her decision, everyone thought she was crazy. Not only that she was going overseas just to learn English, but also she was going to quit her job and leave behind everything she had in China? Hongmei's seemingly unreasonable decision caused an uproar in her family, but she eventually proved that her decision was correct.

"In Singapore, I learnt more than just good English communication skills.", said Hongmei. 

 

British Council student Ma Hongmei with her teacher and classmates

The British Council, which has been established in Singapore for 71 years, offers a wide range of English courses targeting groups of people with different needs such as Academic English, General English, Business English, IELTS preparation, etc. All the teachers in the British Council are speakers of English as their first language. All courses are conducted using English only but can be delivered full-time, part-time or one-to-one. After Hongmei browsed through the courses descriptions and schedules, she chose General English course based on her goal of returning to the workplace.

At the start of the course, Hongmei found it hard to follow in an all English-speaking environment due to her poor foundation in the English language. However over time, she found that in such an environment, there were words that she would naturally understand and grasped their meaning without deliberately memorising them. The multicultural environment also brought many surprises to Hongmei, the Britsh Council teachers not only introduced them to local cultures and customs, but also brought them to the Marina Bay Sands, Sentosa and other attractions, while communicating with the local Singaporeans using English. Living in Singapore and surrounded by learning opportunities everywhere, students from different countries gathered together after classes and they communicated in English during the gatherings. This not only widened their perspectives, but also tremendously improved language communication skill. 

On several occasions, Hongmei encountered taxi drivers who were not able to speak Chinese. Due to inaccurate pronunciation, she often said the wrong street names and led to embarrassing situations. Despite these, these kind-hearted drivers would eventually drive her to the correct place and corrected Hongmei's pronunciation, which made her think that learning opportunities were indeed found everywhere in Singapore!

A year's learning journey was near its end. Hongmei, who had previously avoided conversation with foreigners, now could confidently converse with them whenever foreigners approached her to ask for directions or to greet. 

Hongmei exclaimed: "I remembered once that there was a foreigner asking me for directions to Chinatown, I showed him the way with fluent English, I was proud of myself."

She said that the British Council in Singapore made her understand that no matter the age, the profession, if you are determined to learn English, learning English is no longer a distant dream. Hongmei is confident about her future plans upon returning to China after completion of her course, she believes that with good English communication skills, she will have better career opportunities. 

 

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