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Language Learning Autobiography 1

Ana Isabel E.

Due to globalization, learning a foreign language plays a big role in life nowadays. Acquiring a new language helps us improve our communicative skills and how we view a different culture.

I was born in Mexico and my native language is Spanish. My mother told me that I could talk very clearly at a young age. It helped a lot that I used to live with a big family, and was always surrounded by my grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins. I was constantly receiving a great amount of input from the interaction between my family members.

I went to a kindergarten where no second language was taught, but when I turned five my mother convinced my father that I should study at the Columbia School for me to receive a bilingual education. Since then, I have been studying English, from elementary school until my language major. English was my first second language and after Spanish is it the one in which I perform best.

Even thought I never studied in an English speaking country, I had the advantage that some of the teachers at my elementary school were native English speakers. We had many interactional activities and the classroom was full with posters that stimulated us in our learning.

Each month we had to change the classroom´s bulletin boards to different themes such as the days of the week, colors, animals and even pictures of us when we were babies. In an indirect way, this was a perfect environment for me to learn, which I didn’t notice before until I took this second language acquisition course.

When I began learning English I wasn’t aware of the process because I was young and it was easier for me compared to how I’m currently struggling with my French classes. I remember that Math, Ecology, and Grammar were all taught in English. I also enjoyed learning new words and Spelling was definitely my favorite subject.

I consider myself to have a good English level and when I travel to the United States with my family, I understand the language and I´m able to communicate. At first I was very shy about talking, mainly because of my pronunciation, but with practice and time I gained confidence.

I feel comfortable when I participate during class, but sometimes I get nervous when I talk to a native speaker, and I try harder to avoid any mistakes.

When I was in my last semester of high school, I took a couple of extra courses which included: oral and written expression and Italian. Italian wasn’t that hard for me, because of its similarities to Spanish. We had a good teacher, but I didn’t learn much. I could perfectly understand the classes, but now I don’t remember a lot of what we did. The problem was that we only had the class once a week and it lasted one hour and a half.

When I started the language major here at IEST, I chose Italian again, but I had the same problem. I studied just one semester and the next one I couldn´t take it because of my schedule. Even though it was a very informal class, I did enjoy the language and I plan to learn more about it and its culture. What I learned of this experience is that acquiring a new language takes a lot of practice and effort and I didn’t study or practice the sufficient amount of time for me to learn it, so sadly I forgot most of it.

I have to say I really enjoy my major. I think it is really underrated.  Most  people I know claim that it is very easy to study languages and that I should do it as a hobby and not as my degree program.  They don’t really know what they are talking about, because learning something new requires a great deal of effort, and it is not simple to master a foreign language, especially when you aren’t learning it at a young age. It involves a long process that I wasn’t aware of until this course and is influenced by all the factors (linguistic, physiological, social) that directly affect our learning.

In my first and second semester, most of my classes were given in English, and I didn’t have any problems, and I passed the 6 levels that are required here at the school.

Later during my summer vacation I took a French course at the Tec of Monterrey. Until then I didn’t have any previous knowledge about the language. I spend 50 hours of my summer just dedicated to French, and they were worth it! The classes were fun and dynamic, and I got used to listening to French audio tapes, and the teacher encouraged us to talk and practice our pronunciation. We were a small group, 5 maximum, and it helped a lot that the teacher had the time for each one of us.  When I entered third semester, I felt more familiar with French and I could follow the teacher as she spoke. The summer course I took gave me confidence, foundation and a great start for me to continue my studies with Miss Kizzy.

I often compared my L1 to what I´m learning in French, because they are very similar as they are both Romance languages. French words sound a lot like Spanish ones and we can infer their meaning. Besides vocabulary, the sentence structure is much the same. At some point this semester, I lost track of French, and I felt I got behind, because I wasn’t paying enough attention to class, and it got complicated.

Now I´m taking extra classes with a friend of mine to reinforce what we study during the week and I´ve improved. I believe we have advanced a lot, even thought the time is limited. I´m now able to understand what the teacher says, but I have a great deal of trouble producing speech. I´m not good at speaking, and it is difficult for me to hold a conversation. I need to practice my interaction skills more and that´s one of the reasons why I´m looking forward to traveling to a French-speaking country during the summer vacation. It’s good to have the knowledge known as linguistic competence, but it is more important to use it in real life situations, which I haven’t had the chance to do.

My friends and I found a well-known school in Montreal, Canada, which is known for being a bilingual country (French and English speakers). The school´s name is ALI and we want to take the super intensive French course for a month. The subjects given include grammar, listening and speaking, a total of 30 hours per week, that´s 6 hours daily from Monday to Friday having the weekends off. I considered this a great experience and a wonderful opportunity for us to learn French and practice our English as well. The teachers are native speakers and we will receive a private hour per day just to enhance our communicative skills, just what I need.

In other matters I´m really excited because next semester we are starting with German. Yes! I went to some classes, and I really like it. I like how it sounds and I believe it’s a beautiful language, but I´ve heard it is difficult. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to study it this summer. I have to wait until we are back to school. Still I downloaded an application on my cell phone where you can listen to several international radio stations, so I can tune in into a German one.

As to my future plans, I´m applying for the international exchange to study for a year in Germany. I chose Germany instead of France because I think the language is harder. I´m looking for opportunities, and the best place to learn a language is where it is spoken. If you are living there, you have to learn it no matter what, because you need to in order to fulfill your basic needs.

It is never too late to learn a language. I´m 19 years old and I just finished the second year of my language major. I have much more to learn, but you can start any time with the right attitude and motivation. I´m truly enjoying my courses and listening to what my teachers have to say.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” (Nelson Mandela)

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