Dear Toni I am in Form Six. I feel suffocated whenever I write articles. I feel depressed, as my English is not very good. I tried to improve but failed. What should I do? I'm afraid I'll fail all my exams - I'm an art student, but my language is letting me down in other areas. Down in the dumps Dear Nervy Learning a second language any time after your early childhood isn't very easy. Your mind is so used to your language, that it struggles to deal with new words. Added to that the vast differences between languages like English and Chinese, and it's no wonder you feel a little down. But it isn't impossible to improve. The fact you're even writing to us makes it really clear that your English is far better than you think it is, and that you're well on your way to making it even better. There really is no better way to improve your skills in another language than increasing your confidence in using it. And the best way to do that is practice, practice, practice. There are lots of fun ways to practise which won't make you feel like you're doing school work, but will just as effectively improve your grasp of the language. The first fun way is to listen to songs in English and watch TV shows and movies in English. Not only will you expose yourself to vocabulary as you listen and watch, you'll have plenty to talk about if you try the second language-improvement method: language exchange partners. There are many people who want to learn Cantonese, and in exchange will happily teach you English. You usually meet a language exchange partner once a week, maybe in a cafe, and just talk about everyday things such as your hobbies, families and travel plans. There are even language exchange groups, where several people meet up, instead of just two. This is also a great way to make new friends. Just make sure you tell someone where you are going to meet, and arrange to meet in a public place. If at any time you feel uncomfortable, just get up and walk away, and call your parents to let them know you're leaving. As you say you are particularly nervous about writing in English, why not find a penpal? Penpals were a lot more popular before the internet, but they are still a great way to practise writing in another language, and to learn about other countries and cultures. You can find penpals on Facebook, or better still, check out a dedicated website such as www.studentsoftheworld.info or www.e-palworld.co.uk and find people with similar interests who will happily write regularly by e-mail or even snail mail! The important thing is to believe that you CAN improve and not to worry too much. Language learning is a funny thing - if you practise regularly, fluency will creep up on you. Don't be afraid to ask for help from native speakers, and don't be afraid of 'getting it wrong' - it's better to try a new phrase or piece of vocabulary and let someone correct you than never trying and never improving. Good luck! Dear Josh I'm really not sporty. I'm the only guy in my year not on a sports team, and sometimes I get teased. I don't mind watching games on TV - in fact, I'm a huge Liverpool fan - I just don't enjoy running around, and would rather concentrate on my photography. Am I a freak? Snapper Dear Ansel Despite what American TV shows would have us believe, the sporty guys are not the only cool kids. Luckily most schools in Hong Kong don't conform to Hollywood stereotypes, and all interests are encouraged. Photography is a great hobby - you shouldn't feel ashamed that you'd rather set up a perfect shot than shoot a perfect goal. If you're bothered by the teasing, make a point of watching football matches with your sporty classmates - if you're a fan, you can show off your knowledge of the sport, so they'll know you'd just rather watch than play. And why not combine your hobby with sport? Learning to take action shots well can lead to success if you want to become a professional photographer later. The important thing to remember is that you have to be true to yourself. If you don't like sport, so be it. If people can't accept that, they're not people you need as friends. Toni and Josh are currently on sabbatical, so their responses are intermittent. But keep writing in - they'll reply whenever they can.