Let me first tell you that I don’t think I know English very well, to be honest.
I really think that my English could be way better and that I should work harder to improve it. However, a question that I get quite frequently is “How did you learn English?” and I thought that maybe I could answer it by writing a post about my experience with this great language.
I thought that maybe listing the things that I feel have helped me learn the language could be useful for people who are on the same path, trying to learn Italian and maybe sometimes struggling to find the right way to do it.
So the purpose of this post is to give you ideas to apply to your language learning practice and to possibly inspire new ways to study the language and become better at it. The post is not intended as a list of tips but more as a way to share my own personal experience with learning a foreign language.
Well, let me begin by telling you more about my journey with the English language. I started studying it in middle school, at the age of 11 and kept studying it in high school as well. Then I chose a degree in foreign languages at university and graduated with a major in English literature.
But my learning process hasn’t stopped there. I have spent some time abroad, in Canada and the US, attending language schools and doing internships and I am still studying English today. As a matter of fact, I have a private teacher to practice conversation with because, even if I can listen, read, write quite well (hopefully!), speaking is still a struggle for me. Or at least, it is not as good as I would like it to be.
This is all to say that mine has been a long journey but I have enjoyed every minute of it. If I look back, I can see some things that have really helped me improve my English and I thought it could be fun to share them with you so that maybe you can get some ideas for your own practice.
1. I fell in love with it.
English for me has been love at first sight. I still remember that first day in middle school, with a new teacher and a brand new book, and I can clearly feel what I felt back then: pure love. I loved the way English sounded but I also loved the fact that I was given a tool to discover new things and learn more about the world – which is still the thing I am most grateful for.
This is all to say that learning English has never been a pain for me because it has always been an act of love and this has definitely helped me. This love has made it easier for me to study grammar, doing exercises, and all the boring stuff that usually comes with learning a language.
I have always enjoyed studying every aspect of the language, not only the fun parts, and I think it was because I was in love with the language. So this is just to say that I was in a privileged position and this has made things less difficult for me.
2. I listened to music a real lot.
As I said, I have always seen English as a tool to learn new things. And one of these things was music. When I was a teenager, I was literally obsessed with music. I would spend afternoons listening to the same songs over and over again. I was listening to music in my room but I had my walkman with me wherever I went as well. My favorite bands were British and American, which meant that I was quite exposed to the language – to listening to it, at least.
I wanted to know more about the songs I was so in love with and, since there was no internet at the time, I used the album leaflets to read the lyrics while listening to the songs. Without even realizing it, this is how I learned a lot of pronunciation and vocabulary and I have learned things that I have kept in my mind forever. I can still remember from which song I have learned certain words, I swear.
This is why I always stress the importance of listening to music – possibly listening to the same songs on repeat – because words and sounds enter your mind by way of repetition and you do not have to make any effort. And even just listening to music without trying to understand words and meaning is really helpful because your ears are effortlessly exposed to the language – and you’ll pick up words and pronunciation, believe me.
3. I have started reading books quite early.
You know that I really love books, so learning English was a way for me to get access to more books. I was happy because I could read books that were not translated into Italian, music magazines that came from the UK, and interviews with my favorite artists. So I started reading in English from the early stages of my learning process.
My approach to reading has always been a bit unique. I have never used a vocabulary while reading in English and I have never looked up many words. I tried to understand the general meaning of a piece and I looked up words only when they were vital to understanding a sentence or a passage.
I am still using the same approach today. When I read a book in English, I never try to understand every single word. If I stop and look up every word I encounter, my reading experience gets really boring and I do not enjoy the process anymore. Moreover, if I look up only one or two words, I am sure I will remember them. If I look up for more, they’ll end up being forgotten, making the whole process a bit unuseful.
4. Listening is still part of my daily practice
As I said above, when I was a teenager I would spend hours listening to music. Now I do it much less (if only I still had all the free time I had back then!) but I still listen to English resources every day. Music has been replaced by podcasts, which I listen to while I walk my dog, and YouTube videos, which I watch during my lunch break.
I don’t do it for language learning purposes, to be honest, but mainly because there is a lot of English content that I really like and also because, as I said, I love it when people speak English. So this is probably why I never get frustrated when I do not understand perfectly.
For example, I remember watching a Mancunian YouTuber who spoke super fast: when I started watching her videos, I could understand probably half of what she said. However, I liked her content so much that I kept going and started understanding more and more week after week. So this is why language teachers always insist on “use your passion” when learning a language: if you like and are genuinely interested in something, language is not a barrier yet a tool.
5. I never stop learning
Like I wrote at the very beginning of this post, I don’t think I can speak English very well. And I don’t think I will ever do, honestly. Yes, I can read, listen and write quite fluently but I don’t think I will speak as well as I would like to.
It’s been frustrating for a while but I have come to terms with it: I live in Italy and I do not have that many opportunities to speak the language, so my spoken English will never be the way I would like it to be. However, I am trying to do my best and keep learning.
After all, as you may know, learning a language is a never-ending process, we can never relax and we have to make it part of our daily routine, it’s like our yoga for the brain. This is why I keep reading, writing, listening, and speaking English and I do not do it because I want to reach a certain goal but only for the pure pleasure of doing it.
This is my personal journey with English. What is yours with Italian? Is there something I can help you with? Let me know in the comments below!
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