It has been more than nine years since I moved to London in November 2013.
It was a couple of years after I got out of university and one of my biggest regrets was not knowing English as well as I wanted.
In Italy, we study English in school; I did English from middle school to high school, but even if I like to think my understanding was pretty good (later, I realized that that was just true for movies and with the ideal environment), I couldn’t say the same for my speaking and writing.
So in 2013 when the adventure in a small startup was over, I decided it was time to fix that.
The option was to either start some random English course or go for a complete immersion in the UK.
Brexit had not happened yet, so it was “fairly easy” to make a choice, but how would you do that?
In the summer, I started sending a bunch of CVs from Italy to various types of companies, from startups to Amazon and Google. The former were faster to reply, so I decided to go for it since I wanted to save time.
They set an interview date, and I just booked a flight, landed the day before, did the interview, and got home.
I was “lucky” enough to pass the interview at the first try, and we agreed on the starting date; remember, I didn’t have a place to live yet. I had an offer and a monthly budget on which to base my rent.
It took a week for me and my yet-to-become wife to find a suitable room where I would live while working there.
The first three months were quite challenging; coding was not a problem, but language was. My speaking and writing needed to be better, it was common for me to misspell words or go with the wrong pronunciation.
I clearly remember complaining, “with all the chaos in the office during lunch, it was hard for me to understand others.” The issue is that I said “chaos” as I would in Italian, which sounds very similar to how you would say “cows” in English, resulting in everyone looking at me very confused.
As for the example above, I underestimated how my listening was good enough in quiet environments, I trained on TV movies for years. Still, it was terrible in a noisy office while listening to many different accents.
I had almost a constant headache for the first three months, but I kept pushing. I kept consuming all my content in English, reading books in English, watching movies in English, and, more than anything else, spending time with English-speaking people.
I was lucky enough that the people in the office had no issue correcting me when I made mistakes, and I kept reminding the others that I needed that.
There were, this is not a joke, an American (the founder), a Portuguese, a German-Italian, a Polish, a Finish, a Greek, a French, and a bunch of English people in the office. It was crazy to experience all these cultures and accents; that was the other fantastic part of the experience.
Communication aside from the language was also a challenge; everyone had different humor, and communication needed to be candid with someone but very different with others.
We went out for lunch almost every day, and we tried each other national food in the food markets in London, especially the one in Whitecross Streat, not far from the office that was in Finsbury Square.
I loved how London was a melting pot of cultures, I used to walk back home at least twice a week and walk different streets, to experience diverse landscapes and eccentric characters and learn something new about London.
I spent more than a year in London. After six months, my English was good enough, but around the tenth-month marker, one of my colleagues recognized that with a “Wow, your English improved a lot” while in a pub.
That was a clear signal that I had achieved what I wanted, I don’t know when I started dreaming in English (many say that is the signal that you got it), but I was happy with my level. I could speak to people over the phone and go on with my life in London without significant impediments.
Nine years later
My English kept improving. I still spend most of my days reading, writing, speaking, and listening to it, to the point that when I leave my home office, I sometimes struggle to switch back to Italian in my head, and I find myself counting things in English.
At the same time, last week, I was in London and realized that I went back to having issues understanding people in a noisy environment; I believe that not traveling for the past two years and microphones and conference call software getting better made my brain regress on that.
I suppose you cannot get it all, but I’m pleased with where I got, and I’ll keep pushing to get better at it. That is also one of the reasons I’m writing this blog post.