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Language Learning Autobiography 5

Juan Jesús L.

Before I started to study English in school at the age of 12, I just knew a few words.  My learning process during elementary, junior high and high school was poor because I was not interested in learning a new language, and it was very boring and difficult for me. I was not successful in my acquisition.  I was only able to pass the exams but could not have a conversation.

It was not until I was 17 that I felt the need to know more English.  I was studying a different major at that time, but I still knew I had to have a very good English level before I finished my degree program. When I decided to change my major and started this amazing major  of “Foreign languages”, it was difficult for me because I had a poor level of English, so that was when I started making a real effort.

During my first semester in this major, I was taking English courses inside and outside of this school.  I also searched on Internet for online courses.  I worked  hard during that first semester, and I have not stopped working hard with my intensive English learning. When the second semester started, I felt comfortable enough to have a conversation but I knew I needed more knowledge because my classmates had a higher level than me, and I had more and more subjects in English and fewer in Spanish, so it was clear that I had to improve.

Sometimes I thought that I was going to fail, but at the same time I knew this kind of idea was not going to help me. In first semester, I had my regular major classes in the morning, in the afternoon I had a conversational class here, and later I went to another school to take other English courses. In second semester, after my classes here at the IEST, I took the next English level at the other school and later a French course, which gave me my first knowledge of French.

In the other school where I was taking English and French courses, I was one of the best in my level at English so I knew I had improved a lot. The positive acknowledgment of my teachers and other students of my language skills made me feel very proud of myself.

Outside of classes, I also watched movies with English audio and English subtitles, listened to English music and read the lyrics at the same time.  This helped me to improve my listening, and to increase my vocabulary, which I then could use in conversations to be more fluent.

My second foreign language was French, but I do not feel able to have a long French conversation yet.  I started taking French courses as part of my major last semester and during this semester I had French phonetics and phonology, which helped me improve my pronunciation. Next semester, German starts and I might also take Italian, so the languages that I have learned, I am learning and I will learn are Spanish, English, French, German, Italian and maybe Mandarin Chinese. I would like to be proficient in all of them. I want to travel to different countries to work and study these languages, because one of the best ways to learn them is to live them, with direct social contact.

My motivation to learn languages is strong because I know that having more than one or two languages helps you to get better jobs in many parts of the world, and makes it possible for you to be able to travel anywhere and communicate with the people who live there, if they speak at least one language you know. I also know that being a multilingual person helps you not to have memory loss; for example, it can avoid the onset of Alzheimers.

One of the frustrations that I have had is that I have to learn a rule or a word several times to get it. I am a slow learner and I have to make the same mistake a couple of times to finally get it. Rules like third person in present, irregular nouns and irregular past participles are some examples of mistakes that I have had to make and overcome to improve in the English language and become a successful English speaker.

After I learn something in class, I like to have reviews outside of class, by repeating and practicing the class material with other classmates or with homework. And then I try to use the grammatical rules I learned when I speak.   For example in French, I had to write the verb conjugations with the different pronouns and endings several times to be able to learn them in the most complete way. Also I have done online exercises to practice more. For me, the most effective strategies that I have used are to write the rule several times.  For example “ In questions: auxiliary + noun + verb + complement + ?” and add different examples for several sentences to get the rule. Another effective strategy for me is to use what I know in speaking because just writing and writing is easy but at the moment of speaking, it is difficult because I mix the grammar from my mother tongue until I have practiced it enough to say it correctly.  For me, the pronunciation of the languages I am learning is difficult.  I can read something as I read it in Spanish, which is my first language. But I have found that oral practice makes it possible for me to improve.

Practicing with my classmates, with friends, with native speakers, on the Internet, has been very helpful for me, to make my spoken English more fluent.  Teaching English to my younger brothers has helped too, because in this way I am not just speaking, writing and thinking, I am explaining what I know and I think this helps me to improve more.

There are factors that have been helpful and unhelpful during my learning process. I am 21 and in a couple of months I am going to start with German. I think I will be successful if I do my best, but it is not an easy task because I will have many things in my head.  With the other languages I will be learning and improving, starting with one more is hard work, especially German, which has a very difficult grammar. But if I want to learn it, I can do it. My personality helps me because I like to work hard, but I am easily distracted and sometimes pay more attention to other things going on in the classroom than to the lesson. Before exams, I start to review the topics we covered during the grading period, and if I do not understand something, I go to the teacher or ask a classmate to help me or do a quick search on the Internet about it.

I think I am an average language learner. The most difficult areas for me have been syntax and phonology, and in language skills the most difficult have been listening and speaking, but with time and practice, I have overcome these problems and have moved forward.

My level of success is until now a combination of linguistic, psychological and social factors.   With the linguistic factor, I have been able to learn the structure of the language, and psychologically I have clear goals that help me to focus on the learning and in the academic field. The social factor was helpful when I was taking courses at another school, but now I do not have the enough money to pay for more courses, or travel to other countries to take courses there. But I have not needed a lot of money to be the learner that I am now. This major makes me think   that I want to be a great speaker of different languages because I want to travel around the world, working and studying and then someday just enjoying my travels as vacations. By then, I will have studied the languages in the countries where they are spoken, and I will have had great jobs in different parts of the world.

My advice to second language learners is: do not give up, be patient and work hard in all the language skills. Learn the basics of each language so you will be able to continue the same process with the other languages. And never stop studying and learning.

My advice to my past, present and future teachers is that they have to consider that every student has a different learning style, so they should plan a variety and balance of activities and evaluations.  They should not just follow one method because each group has different kinds of people with their own ways of learning languages.

My philosophy of second language acquisition is that everyone can learn a second language but everyone learns it in a different way. Social, psychological and linguistic factors are crucial but I think the most important is the psychological factor because this makes you realize what your goals are and what you are going to be able to achieve with the knowledge of languages.  This factor includes personality, which can be helpful or unhelpful when learning a language. In my case, I have been able to overcome my difficulties because of my motivation and personality.

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