Learning English But Slow Doing Assignments!


I’m learning English, and for me it is hard to explain to my co-workers that English is my second language. Because of my lack English, it takes me more time to finish my assignments even when I try and do my best. Sometimes I have to ask them too many times to speak slowly to me so I can read their lips and understand better. Some people don’t have patience and think I’m stupid. It really bothers me because I’m learning. That doesn’t mean that am not qualified to do my job.


Second Language


Dear Second Language:

Co-workers usually do not mean to be impatient or mean. However, they can be a bit short tempered if what you do or don’t do quickly or correctly affects how easily they do their own assignments. For example, if you work in a fast food place, not understanding orders and asking co-workers to repeat slowly can annoy them because it slows up what they think should be quickly delivered to a customer. Perhaps your job is not so dependent on understanding quickly as it would be on a fast moving assembly line, but from what you say, your co-workers probably are impatient because asking them to repeat slowly affects their own work.

You say that you have the qualifications to do the job. That may be true if you have plenty of time to read (if that is part of your job) and if the co-worker speaks clearly and slowly. Understanding English quickly can be an important qualification for your job. If that is so, you must admit that. I don’t know from here if that is the case. Do not be afraid to speak with your supervisor about how much you want to do good work and how embarrassed you are about having to ask your co-workers to speak slowly. Say you want to ask them how you might more quickly understand what they want you to understand. You might even show your boss the question you have sent us and the advice we have given. Possibly your supervisor will also have some advice for you.

What is the solution? First you need to find time soon when you and some one or more of your co-workers who depend on your work will meet with you to discuss how you might better do your job. This may mean scheduling a time suitable to them to talk with you for 15 minutes for several days or for a longer time before or after work. Perhaps your boss will arrange time for that to take place. If your ability to understand English is essential to your job, training time should be scheduled for you to learn what you need to know. Speak honestly with your co-workers. Tell them that you want to do good work and that you do not want to cause them to waste time because you have to ask them to speak slowly. Ask them to help you. Don’t try to cover up and pretend you know English. Ask. Ask. Ask. Most people will willing help if you have asked permission to ask for help. And frequently thank them.

Second, say that you need to learn what are the usual words and sentences they say that your need to understand. In a small notebook, ask them to print out these words in short sentences and to practice speaking them slowly and then more quickly to you. Maybe they will a game out of seeing how quickly you can know what they say as they speak more quickly. Possibly, if there are only a few things that you must understand, you can even have the sentences numbered. Then all a co-worker has to say is, Number One or Number Two.

Third, make learning English a daily business. Take a class that meets frequently in speaking and writing English. Most libraries and high schools, at no cost to you, have regular night study times with tutors who will instruct you and provide self-study guidebooks.

Also there are many Internet sources to learn how to spell and some have pronunciation available. Write frequently and use your spell check to correct your English. For example, in the e-mail you sent us, apparently you did not use a spell check? If you had, it would have told you that the words English and I are always capitalized, that you incorrectly used the words explain, qualified, and bothered, and misspelled assignment don’t, and slowly.

Please keep us posted on what you do to create a good working relationship with your co-workers and how well they cooperate. I like to sign off my advice with a word that is not an English word, but one I have created by combining the words we & ego making the new word WEGO. WEGO symbolizes the need we all have to seek and to give help to each other. A workplace cannot function without a lot of WEGO. I have a daughter who is certified to teach English as a second language. I will copy your question and my answer to her. She may have additional advice or correct what I am advising.

William Gorden