Learning English - Interview with Parwiz
In today's podcast, Jack talks to Parwiz, a British Council English teacher who recently moved from Kabul in Afghanistan to the UK. Parwiz shares his experience learning English and some tips to help you learn English effectively.
Hello my name’s Jack and welcome to this week’s Premier Skills English podcast.
In the Premier Skills English podcast, we talk about football and help you with your English.
This week, we have a very special podcast for you because I’m going to interview a colleague from the British Council who has come to the UK from Afghanistan. Parwiz now lives in the UK, but he used to live in Kabul where he was an English teacher for the British Council.
I’m going to ask Parwiz about his experiences learning English and coming to the UK and at the end, I’m going to ask him for some learning English tips.
If you are listening to this podcast on Apple podcasts or Spotify you can also visit the Premier Skills English website at britishcouncil.org/premierskillsenglish where you’ll be able to download the podcast.
On the Premier Skills English website, you can read the transcript and join the Premier Skills English community by completing a task in the comments section. This would normally be a language task, but because today’s podcast is going to be about experiences learning English and Parwiz’s advice, I’m going to pose some questions that I’d like you to answer about your own experiences learning English and what advice you have.
But before that, I want to look at last week’s football phrase. If you didn’t hear it last week, here’s one more chance to guess now.
The word was ********. This word can be used to describe the person or team that has beaten all of their rivals to win a sporting event. Manchester City are the Premier League ********* this season. If you win once, you are a winner, but if you win more than anyone else, you are the ********.
Congratulations to Mobeckham from Turkey, Hayato from Japan, Sarasb101 from Iran, Kamil_Poland from, well, Poland, Hsn from Turkey, Mehmet Sisman also from Turkey, Goku from Japan, Taha Gashout from Libya, Martin Swan from Slovakia, Tony Franken and Adicon from Germany, Adamponeb from Taiwan and Daniel_06 from Colombia. You all worked out that the word I was looking for was champion.
I think that was quite easy, given the podcast was called Manchester City are Champions, but it seemed like a good time to be thinking about the word.
At the end of the podcast, I will challenge you with a new football phrase and I’ll go through the answers to last week’s language challenge.
Now it’s time for me to introduce Parwiz.
Jack: Today, I am very pleased to be able to welcome Parwiz Hussein.
Parwiz: Hello Jack, thanks for inviting me to your podcast today.
Jack: You’re very welcome, Parwiz. You are originally from Afghanistan and now, you’re living in the UK. Can you tell us what you do?
Parwiz: I was previously working with the British Council Afghanistan as a teacher and teacher trainer but since moving to the UK I’ve been working with the British Council as an assistant consultant and I'm very happy being in your podcast today
Jack: And we’re very happy to have you here. I’m sure the listeners will be interested in your experience of learning English. Would you mind telling everyone about your experience learning English?
Parwiz: Well, I started learning English at the very earliest stages of my life. It was back in 1998 and I and my family, we were living in Pakistan as an immigrant. And ... and during the day, I was making carpets and during the evenings, I was attending language courses so it was that time I started learning English.
Jack: I’m sorry ... Did you say you learned English in Pakistan and you were making carpets?
Parwiz: We were living in Peshawar because it was close to the border and there were a lot of community of Afghans living in Peshawar. Making carpets was one of the biggest ... what do you say, job? ... in that time, and I was around 8 years old when I started making carpets.
Jack: So, were you working full time making carpets when you were 8 years old?
Parwiz: Yeah. It was more than a full-time job. So, we were used to start working in the early morning; five in the morning up to seven o’clock ... eight o’clock in the evening. So it was very long time making carpets. Yeah, and we only used to take break on Fridays. Friday was our only break day, we weren't working.
Jack: Wow. So you were 14-15 hour days, six days a week when you were only 8 and that’s when you were learning English? How? When did you have time to learn English?
Parwiz: The courses used to start from eight-thirty up to ten o’clock in the evenings or at night. And then right after stopping making carpets, I was attending the ... at that time they were private language courses in Peshawar, Pakistan. They were using the IRC International Rescue Committee course book and syllabus, so we were used to learn English through that course book.
Jack: That’s amazing. I mean, my son is 8 and he goes to bed at 8.30. He goes to school from nine till a quarter past three. I can’t imagine he’d learn much after 8.30 in the evening and he’s not working all day. Did you have classes every evening?
Parwiz: The classes were every evening and it was from Saturday up to Thursday so we used to go every day attending the language courses.
Jack: And do you think the classes were effective? Did you actually learn much English?
Parwiz: Well, honestly, because I was a little young at the time and ... and I also ... yeah ... living in a very tough situation, economically and yeah, socially, I remember that I had very good knowledge of English language but I don't remember if I could communicate in English at that time, because English was spoken only in the classroom environment and no one outside were communicating in the language, so no ... I remember I had a very good knowledge of English but I don't remember if I could communicate very well in the language.
Jack: And how long were you studying this way whilst you were making carpets?
Parwiz: We were in Peshawar from 1998 up to 2000 and at the end of 2000 we moved back to Afghanistan, because there was a new government there.
Jack: OK ... so then you went back to Afghanistan and I guess then you carried on learning English was it still in a private language course or ...
Parwiz: I learnt English at the school and then the university. I have a bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature and I started teaching English in 2011 but I haven't stopped learning the language even when I'm a teacher of English.
Jack: Yeah, I mean languages are complex and changing. There are something like a million words in English and the ways English is used around the world means that there is always something interesting and surprising to learn, even for a native speaker English teacher.
You were obviously a good student of English and enjoyed learning the language. Why do you think you liked it? What do you like about English?
Parwiz: What I really like about the English language is that you can solve your problems, your daily problems, everywhere in the world. In most of the countries the signs and the names of the restaurants they are written in both languages, the local language as well as the English. Even in Afghanistan, English was considered as a foreign language but it's still ... we have on the ministry's billboards and on the sign boards, on the traffic sign boards. Everywhere, it was written in Pashto and Dari and also in English, so so what I like is is you can solve your problem if you can communicate in words ... and you can solve your daily problem, but in the meantime it made me a bit lazy to learn to communicate in other languages.
Jack: Hmmm - that’s interesting I’d never thought of that kind of problem? What problems do you think you have faced because you’ve focused on learning English?
Parwiz: Yeah, so relying a lot on English language, I faced lots of challenges in ... on relying only on English. For example, I was stuck in Berlin Ostbahnhof train station for more than 3 hours because no one was communicating there in English language and I missed three trains. I didn't know what train to catch and what platform should I be there.
Jack: Yeah - I know that feeling. It’s kind of embarrassing really, but you do kind of expect to find English in stations and in airports. I got really stuck in Japan on a work trip. It took me ages to find anything in English. There was actually a machine you could buy tickets in which had an option to change the language to English, but it took me a long time, as I say, it’s a bit embarrassing.
Problems aside, let’s get back to your experiences learning English. What do you think you found most difficult as a learner of English?
Parwiz: As a learner of English, I found two things very difficult, specifically in a context where no one was speaking language outside the classroom environment. The first thing is developing communication skills, so if a language is not spoken outside the classroom environment, it's very challenging to develop communicative skills; if you don't have the opportunity to use the English outside. And again the classroom language and the exchange of the language inside the classroom is very different when you go outside, for example, if you go shopping. So it would be very different language that you would use. I remember my university days; so we had these great teachers giving us instructions and trying us to improve our language, but it was limited to the subject that we were used to study
Jack: I agree with you there. It can be very difficult to find opportunities to practise using language when you are learning. What was the second thing?
Parwiz: The second thing is the the natural pronunciation or intonation of the language, because our teachers in Afghanistan they learnt English from someone that they weren't a native English speaker as well and then we were learning from them, so it was very difficult for us to to understand if a native speaker was speaking to us. So we had problems with understanding because we only understood our teacher. We only could understand if someone from a non-native environment speaks to us, but yeah it was a bit challenging for us to understand if someone native English speaker speaking to us.
Jack: Can you give me an example of this?
Parwiz: So, yeah ... yeah. I visited the UK in 2016 and it was my first visit coming to a native English environment and I found myself in a very difficult situation. I thought I don't know English at all, because I couldn't understand the immigration officer, what she was asking me, and I couldn't understand the taxi driver ... drivers. On the other hand, they couldn't understand me either as well because how I was talking to them and how I was speaking to them, it was ... it wasn't the way that someone speaks English.
Jack: And so what problems did this cause? What happened?
Parwiz: Right after exiting the airport in 2016, I and my colleague, we were here for us to attend international conference for English language teachers and ... yeah, the conference was in Birmingham. And we tried to ... to because it was around one o’clock in the morning, we tried to take a taxi from London Heathrow Airport to Birmingham. And, yeah ... I remember I repeated 5 times to the taxi driver: ‘I want to go to Birmingham’ putting the stress on the last syllable. Because in the course books, you know a few cities are written in the course books and the way it is pronounced or it is stressed but I didn't know about Birmingham. So I was stressing always the last syllable and the taxi driver didn't have any idea what I was talking about and he was just saying ‘excuse me’ or ‘pardon’ and I would say ‘I want to go to Birmingham’ and then again he had no idea what I was talking about. Maybe, it's very rare if someone books a taxi from London Heathrow Airport to Birmingham because it's a long distance.
Jack: Yes - I think that might have had as much to do with the taxi driver’s problems understanding you as your pronunciation. I think taxi drivers at airports must be used to lots of different ways to pronounce places they drive to.
Now you have moved to the UK. How are you finding speaking English here?
Parwiz: I currently live in Scotland. I moved to the UK in 2021, in July. When I was in Kabul, I used to work ... most of my colleagues were from England, and I used to understand them very well, because the way they were speaking I was used to there. I was used to the way they pronounce words and the way they were speaking. But moving to the UK and specifically moving to Scotland, in the first few months, I had the same problem I had when I visited ... when I entered the UK in 2016. Yeah, for me, it took me a few months to understand how ... how people talk ... how English is spoken in Scotland and any time when I wanted to try to communicate with someone I was asking them ‘can you please speak slowly and then give me time to understand and then I'll provide an answer’ so I found that a little bit difficult moving to the UK.
Jack: Again, can you give us an example of anything you found particularly difficult?
Parwiz: So, I live in Paisley and the first few weeks, I was hearing something and I couldn't understand the meaning. It was very difficult to me and then later and later on, I analysed it myself. So, they're saying ‘a wee bit ... a wee bit’
Jack: Hmmm. Wee and bit ... that’s quite hard.
Parwiz: Yeah. Now, I understand that a wee bit, what does it mean, but at the beginning, I didn’t understand at all. So yeah now I understand a wee bit which means yeah - maybe, after a few seconds I’ll get back to you.
Jack: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I mean, I know that wee means small, but it's really interesting to hear that you, you learnt it from the context of people saying, you know, hang on the wee bit or I'll be there in a wee bit, a short time. I’m sure that there will be lots of other examples of English and Scots in fact now, that you’ll pick up whilst you’re in Scotland. Well, thanks for sharing your experiences of being a learner. I was wondering if we could finish this up with some tips that you could give for listeners to the Premier Skills English podcast for learning English.
Parwiz: The top three tips that I can give: firstly try to find a native speaker, a pen friend who you can communicate in English language, so you can practise your skills and then, in the meantime, you can learn from your pen friend how English is spoken in the society. In course books can find the graded version of the language, but it is a bit different how English is spoken by the people.
Parwiz: Secondly, try to focus on all four skills of the language, on reading, listening, speaking and writing. All of these skills are equally important and try to build confidence in all of them.
Parwiz: When I was learning the language people used to focus a lot on grammar and vocabulary and they were thinking that these two are the basis of a language and they were focusing a lot on learning vocabulary. They were learning vocabulary from even a dictionary and trying to memorise the words and their meaning in their first language.
Parwiz: But from my experience, all of these skills are equally important in addition to ... grammar and vocabulary, they are important but in order to be able to communicate in a language you need to be able to read, write and understand language and also communicate in the language.
Parwiz: And the last tip that I can give is er ... You can find a graded resources ... graded books on a topic or subject that you are interested in. For example, if you are interested in chemistry, you can find graded reader’s book about chemistry and you can read and improve your English language. So it would be very interesting for you. In the meantime, you develop the knowledge in a specific subject, as well as you improve your language skills, specifically reading skills in the language. I can give these three tips for learners who are learning English.
Thank you Parwiz for sharing your experience and tips with us. What do you think? Have any of you got interesting stories about learning English? Has anyone had classes at unusual times or in unusual circumstances?
All of my language classes have been in school or in teaching centres where I have worked. I think that the ways you can learn English are changing now with podcasts and online lessons. What do you think?
I would love to read about your experiences learning English so please share your stories in the comments section of the page for this podcast on Premier Skills English.
This week, the focus is on the difficulties you face learning English and tips and advice to overcome those difficulties.
Parwiz gave you three tips which were to find a pen friend or a native speaker you can interact and communicate with, to focus on all the skills of English as well as grammar and vocabulary and also to try to find graded materials in English about topics you are interested in. A graded resource is a book or some sort of information about a topic that has language that has been edited so that it is easier to understand for people who are learning English. You can get graded readers of all sorts of books that are easier to understand. Normally, this podcast is graded ... well, not graded, but I try to make the language a bit easier to understand and I try to speak clearly to help.
Now it’s your turn. Can you think of three tips you could give to other learners to help them learn English more effectively? Perhaps you have found something that works really well for you to help you learn and remember vocabulary or perhaps you have found that something that some teachers advise, that is no help at all. Please share your tips in the comments section on the podcast page for this podcast on Premier Skills English.
Now it’s time for me to challenge you with a new football phrase. This week’s phrase is quite easy, I mean I think you will have heard of it, but it’s a little tricky to use. The phrase is **** ***. This is a common phrase that means to do exercise to stay healthy and in good physical condition. Often, it is used as a noun, with a hyphen between the two words to mean the types of activity you can do to stay healthy. So you can join a ****-*** class. I think that this use is not very fashionable any more, but the verb form is still used a lot.
OK - before I finish, I am going to quickly go through the answers to the language challenge from the last podcast.
Number 1. I need you to keep an eye on their new number 7. I’ve heard she’s really fast so don’t get caught out.
Number 2. I know it’s cold. I’ve put the heating on, but it’s going to take a while to kick in.
Number 3. The fans were so happy, you’d think the result was in the bag.
Number 4. Any plans the team had of recruiting a new striker were out the window when the club’s financial report was released.
Number 5. The director is in trouble so now is probably a good time to make a move if you are going to.
Number 6. These little bugs look harmless, but they are capable of inflicting a painful sting.
Number 7. My hopes of a holiday began to slip away when the cost of flights started going up.
Number 8. I thought we had a chance, but when I saw who we were playing my heart sank.
Number 9. The club’s season went from bad to worse when their star striker was injured.
Number 10. We are facing difficult times, but I’m trying to be philosophical about it.
That’s all I have time for today. Before I finish, I just wanted to say that I hope you found this podcast useful, and I hope all of you stay fit and healthy and safe.
Bye for now and enjoy your football.
This week, the focus is on different experiences of learning English, the difficulties you face, and tips and advice to overcome those difficulties.
Parwiz gave you three tips which were:
- Try to find a pen friend or a native speaker you can interact and communicate with
- Focus on developing all the skills of English as well as grammar and vocabulary
- Try to find graded materials in English about topics you are interested in.
Now it’s your turn.
Have you ever learned English in an unusual way or in unusual circumstances?
Can you think of three tips you could give to other learners to help them learn English more effectively?
Now it’s time for a new football phrase.
This week’s phrase is quite easy, I mean I think you will have heard of it, but it’s a little tricky to use. The phrase is **** ***. This is a common phrase that means to do exercise to stay healthy and in good physical condition. Often, it is used as a noun, with a hyphen between the two words to mean the types of activity you can do to stay healthy. So you can join a ****-*** class.
If you can work out what the phrase is, leave it in a comment at the bottom of the page.