My story and how I came to learn English
In this article, I would like to tell you my personal story about how I came to learn and speak English, and how this was not always the case. And how, based on my personal experience, I ended up creating my own method “ponte a hablar”. Curious? Let’s start then!
I was raised ... (click on the play button to listen to the story! (Let's be honest, I am not expecting you to read such a long post...)
I was raised in a small town in the Pyrenees, and I grew up speaking Catalan and Spanish, being both of them Romanic Languages, and let me tell you something, English is everything but a Romanic language. That means its grammatical structures are not exactly the same as ours.
You should also know that I started learning English, not as a child (as many children do nowadays), but as a teenager, that means: I was almost an adult, or in other words, I wasn’t a child anymore.
So, my adventure with this fascinating language started (as you may already be guessing by now), in high school.
I went to my classes, and yes, I learnt English or at least, so I thought, because I was able to understand the lyrics of some of the most popular songs, which played during the day on the radio, or even of some old records I would find at home, I am sure many of us started like that…
When I finished high school, I decided to go to London to work there as an au pair girl in the summertime, to improve my English.
The first thing I remember, apart from the excitement of going and being abroad, was me trying to understand the British bus driver who drove us to London.
Oh my God, I could barely understand a word he said! My frustration was reinforced when I met my hosting family. I really thought they had stones in their mouths or something like that..
After two months, however, I had already managed to understand people a bit and to talk a bit too. But my English was far from good, I must admit, I spent much of my free time with a friend of mine from home, but the most important thing was: no one asked me questions and of course, no one corrected me!
I must say, London is a beautiful and incredible city, but linguistically speaking that experience was not what I had expected.
I know if I had stayed there longer, and If I hadn’t spoken at all with my home friend, I would have learnt much more, but the process is still slow. At the end of this story, you will find out why.
Back home, I started going to University. I had already decided I wanted to study English Philology, and so I did. I started going to University as many other students, and at the beginning, we were all at a similar level.
I began to learn syntax and grammar, and I actually loved it; I was starting to understand everything much better!
I realized grammar was what I called “a magical key” to understand, write and speak a better English, so I studied it eagerly!
I was also reading a lot of English literature (there was no Netflix at the time…)
But the real turnaround happened when I met a group of young American students and one of them became my boyfriend. We talked in English almost all of the time, and, this is key:
"He started correcting every single wrong expression, structure or word I said. Sometimes, I could not even finish a sentence when I talked, but I was humble and patient, and I repeated every correction, even though that meant our conversations were not fluent, or at least, my part of the speech."
At the time, I was not really aware of it, but now I see how much I learnt with that system… and in such a short time. And, yes, you guess it, this has become part of my method, and this is how I teach my students nowadays.
Years later, I moved to Germany, where I even taught English at German companies. This is for you to see how good my English got, I was teaching English as a non-native speaker to Germans.
My experience learning German in comparison to learning English:
But, let me also tell you that I spent many years in Germany, and of course, I learnt and I speak German. But even though my German is now fluent, I didn’t have anyone correcting me every time I said something wrong. So, first, it took me much longer to learn, and secondly, it is not perfect.
And why do I tell you all of this?
So, if I did it, you can do it too.
But let me warn you: to learn a language, any language, requires patience, perseverance, hard work and even courage (to talk and make mistakes). Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
Because learning a language is not an easy road, and you are going to feel great and very satisfied with your English sometimes… and then, suddenly, you are going to have the feeling you know nothing and you are going to feel down and discouraged.
Have you ever felt like that? Don’t worry, it is normal. I have experienced that hundreds of times. These ups and downs are completely normal! Actually, it is the same process for any skill you want to learn and master.
Remember when you first started learning how to drive? You had to think so much! You were nervous and insecure until eventually, it became automatic.
The process of learning English is no different, only it may take a bit longer, depending on how much you already know. But if you don’t give up and persevere, you can and will make it happen!
And there are no excuses such as: “I am not good at languages...” or “I am too old to learn a language…”
There is only: “I want to learn and improve my English”.
And if this is how you think, nothing, nothing, can stop you from accomplishing it!
Paris and Rome and about grammar…
Let me tell you a bit more about my experience learning languages. Before moving to Germany, I lived for a short time in Paris and in Rome. In both cases, I remember following what, without knowing it at the time, would become (years later) my own teaching method.
I wasn’t intending on staying there long, that meant I was in a hurry to speak those languages. So, what I did was to study on my own; basic vocabulary and grammar, and it worked! After some weeks studying, I was already out practicing it and speaking French and Italian.
Of course, learning these languages is much easier for us, since we share a common “great-grandmother tongue”, which is Latin, and therefore, the “language traps” (as I like to call them) of the literal translations are not as many, because the structures of these languages are very similar; we could call them almost “sisters”.
Still, the method can be replicated for any other language, and this is actually what I did and what I basically now teach in my English courses.
I know, you must be thinking:
Grammar? This sounds so old-fashioned! I know, I actually also studied, even at my post-graduate University Course on teaching Foreign Languages, that we had to teach no grammar; and not even translate one word; that is to say: learn like a child…, the problem with that is that we are no longer children.
And let me tell you, these systems or methods (learn like a child) do work, but they take much longer, and the end result is not always perfect.
Just think about this: how long does it take for a child to learn a language? With luck, and especially if you are a baby girl, at least 2 years, if you are a baby boy, 3 years? That is a long time…
Playing chess and learning English
Let me give you another comparison, I always say that, “learning English this way is like trying to learn to play chess just by looking at someone playing it!”
How can you play any game without knowing the rules?
Of course, in time, and after watching many, many games being played, you may start guessing what the rules are.
But, wouldn’t it be so much faster if you knew the rules from the beginning?
This is no difference between from learning English or any other language. You need to know the basic rules. You need to know “by heart” where not to make mistakes and then start practising it. (to learn something by heart means to memorize something)
Going back to the example of how you learnt to drive, at one point, those rules became automatic, that means, you didn’t have to think about them anymore.
But first, you needed to know them!
The process of learning and speaking a language is the same; you need to know the “rules of the game” in order to play it.
Those rules need to be so clear in your mind, that you don’t even have to think about them when you speak.
That’s why, you guessed it: I am going to talk about grammar… sometimes in a beautiful and old-fashioned way, mixed with real examples and explained in a nice and entertaining way, as we already did at the end of our first podcast episode.
Talking about grammar again…
I forgot to explain to you too, when I lived in Germany, I also taught at a German University, and guess how they taught languages there: Lots of grammar and translations.
And, let me tell you, I’ve never met a German language student who didn’t speak (almost perfectly) the language he or she had learnt. That made me think that our “modern” systems, are not really working.
As the American Marines say:
“everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die”.
Here, we do the same, we want to learn English, but we don’t want any grammar nor any hard work. However, hard work pays off, and that is going to be your high-speed train ticket to speaking beautiful English.
And that, my dear listener, is my purpose here:
To teach you, little by little, all those “rules”, as I prefer to call them, the rules of the game, with emphasis on what I also like to call the “language traps” of the literal translations.
And that was it for today’s article! I really hope you found it interesting and inspiring.
And something else: Due to the big size of this article, it is only in English, but if you wish a Spanish version, please let me know and I will create it.
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