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My story of English learning

Popularity 12Viewed 5949 times 2014-9-15 12:24 |System category:Others| learning, English

Mind you, if you are looking for shortcuts for learning English, you will be disappointed because I don’t really think there are any. I just want to share my experience of learning English with others. And hopefully, people who are keen to learning English can find something helpful after reading this.

Like a lot of Chinese students, I started learning English as soon as I entered secondary school. During the three years in my junior high school, I had learnt nothing other than some basic vocabularies and expressions. Fortunately, I was passionate about learning this foreign language partly because I was good at it which rendered a sense of achievement and partly because it was so new and different from the other subjects. However, the passion didn’t last long. Once I got admitted into senior high school, I could feel my enthusiasm about English learning fading away as time went by. This was mainly because I couldn’t stand being bombarded with boring as well as complicated grammar points every day. All the grammatical terms such as subject, clauses, auxiliary verbs etc. didn’t make any sense to me. Soon, I lost interest in English. Worse still was that deep down I was against having English lessons. As a consequence, my English became very poor, which I didn’t really care at that time as I was so sick of learning English grammar.

But, English music reignited my passion to learn this second language. So here is the story. One day I bought an English magazine called “Crazy English” from a bookstore. Accompanying the magazine was a tape which records several English songs and articles collected in the magazine. The moment I listened to the songs recorded in the tape, I fell in love with English music. So I developed the habit of listening to English music whenever I could. Not only did English music make me regain interest in the language but also became my mood booster under the extremely stressful atmosphere due to the intimidating Gaokao. Occasionally, I would also read some interesting articles in the magazine to get to know the culture in which English is embedded. To me, the culture from English-speaking countries was so fascinating that I simply couldn’t resist its charm.

Both English music and English culture served as great motivators to my English learning. Therefore, I decided to pick up my English. In order to achieve that goal, of course I did many lots of grammar exercises and reading exercises while in the meantime I kept my habit of listening to English music and reading English magazines. Even though my grades in English tests got improved, I still had no idea about English grammar even after I graduated from my senior high school. Also, I could barely speak English.

That said, I still chose English as my major because I believed at least this major was predictable and thus I would not wind up studying weird courses which I didn’t even have the slightest idea. Soon I realized that choosing English as my major was probably not a right decision owning to the fact learning English as a major was completely different from learning it as a hobby.

Every term, I had so many English-related subjects, ranging from comprehensive English to business English to linguistics. Honestly, my English at that time was far from ready for me to understand business English let alone the abstract and theoretical linguistics. From an outsider’s perspective, it is probably not bad to study a variety of subjects as this will provide a wide set of possibilities for our future career. As a matter of fact, that in my viewpoint, is not going to get us to anywhere as we are technically good at nothing. Equally sad was that English speaking wasn’t valued as much as it was supposed to on my campus mainly because the traditional methodology of English teaching attaches little importance to oral English. Also, it seemed that the majority of students were still learning English in a quintessentially Chinese way-rote learning. Consequently, students spent a great amount of time memorizing vocabularies as well as doing grammar exercises. Not many a student realized that they had to actually learn to use English in real-life situations.

During the first year, I was obedient. I attended all the relevant and irrelevant lectures on time; I handed in my assignments as required. But, unfortunately, at the end of that year, I found out that I was making progress in English at a painfully slow speed. For a short period of time, I was deeply concerned about my future as I was certain that if the condition had continued, I would have wasted the rest three years to get a probably worthless degree.

There was this time I got to talk with an English native-speaker. During our conversation, I was sitting there racking my brain to try to come up with anything to talk about. Awkwardly, only a few questions came into my mind. Because of the nervousness, I even had asked a question twice. Anyway, it was the most embarrassing conversation I have ever had with a foreigner. Nevertheless, it invoked my deeper passion for knowing English culture. Aside from that, I determined to make some changes.

The first thing I did was watching American TV programs. I still remember the first American TV series I watched- "Gossip Girl" Leave the corny plot aside, I have to admit the eye candies and the fancy clothes in that TV program are still commendable. The wholly different world in American TV programs drove my desire to learn English culture even further.

Meanwhile, I started writing short English diaries. At the beginning, the content was monotonous and filled with mistakes regarding to grammar and lexical collocation. However, gradually, it became obvious that there was more I could talk about in English, at a superficial level, though.

Certainly, I didn't discard the habit of reading. At that time, the English materials I read were not limited to magazines any more. I also read English novels and newspapers. It took me ages to actually finish reading an English fiction. Then and there, I didn't have a clear idea about how much I could benefit from merely reading.

Besides the aforementioned, I had some lessons in English training centers. To cater to the needs of Chinese students, most of English training schools put up attractive slogans like "Help you master English in a month" or " Guarantee high scores in certain English tests". They are apparently big fat lies. Admittedly, teachers do play a significant role in students' English learning. But, it is the students not teachers who decide the outcome. If students didn't make efforts and didn't show perseverance, it would not work no matter how excellent the teacher is.

Later, the more I realized that I could learn a lot from self-studying, the more class I cut. I did what I then considered as right, which was not recommendable as I am pretty sure attending lectures is beneficial.

After I graduated from my university, on the whole, my English was OK. Even though my speaking had been improved a lot, my writing was still terrible. Honestly, during the first six months of working, I was resting on my laurels which soon were no enough to meet the requirements of my job. So I had to do more English reading, writing and speaking.

Even after I came to Australia, I had to spare a great deal of time to hone my language skills. Even though being abroad afforded me an authentic language environment, my English sort of reached a plateau. That was because talking to acquaintances or not-so-close friends didn't help much with my English as the topics we could talk about were limited and the level of our conversations was not deep enough. Therefore, I read English fictions recommended by my friends. The great stories like "Desert Flower" " Handle with Care" deeply touched me. Gradually I tended to write down my reflections concerning those stories. Also, I grew more interest in reading English books or autobiographies. It is reading that helps me finally overcome the plateau and make more progress in English learning.

Learning a foreign language is never easy because you are not only learning a language but also its accompanying culture. There are a range of learning strategies you can employ. You should chose the ones that you see fit. But, one thing is for sure, no matter what learning strategy you apply, a determined mind beats everything.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Friends who just made a statement (5 Person)

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Comment Comment (19 comments)

Reply Report voice_cd 2014-9-16 09:12
Thanks for sharing your story here, we have highlighted your blog.
Reply Report Min1989 2014-9-16 09:49
voice_cd: Thanks for sharing your story here, we have highlighted your blog.
Thank you for highlighting it. Have a nice day:)
Reply Report Min1989 2014-9-16 10:31
I apologize for writing such a wordy blog. This is because I am obsessed with details. Anyway, I am gonna write another blog about the tips for learning English based on this story.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-9-16 11:40
What an inspiring tale. Thanks for posting.
If I may share my thoughts with you?
Language learning is a lifelong task. Even native speakers should devote themselves to study. Sadly, a lot of them 'rest on their laurels' as you so colorfully said. So, your efforts are doubly admirable. Congratulations.
Reply Report cody160 2014-9-16 13:57
Inspiring. I found your story could strike a chord with me. When I first read CE, it's probably more than 9 years ago, and I still keep reading it. It has many interesting stories, covering a wide range of topics. It's one of the reasons that has kept me interested in English all these years.
Reply Report 唐简 2014-9-16 17:53
Thanks a lot for your blog. It's really inspiring.I am the kind of Chinglish learner. Even now i pass band 8 degree, i still think i have a lot to learn. Some of your experience such as reading english books and autobiographies and watching movies, i would like to try. Are there some books you think good?
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-9-16 18:15
Haha...the plateau

My Chinese is at the plateau


seriously, it's p**sing me off now.
Reply Report 财神 2014-9-16 18:59
Good Good Study! Day Day Go up!!
Reply Report Min1989 2014-9-16 19:45
teamkrejados: What an inspiring tale. Thanks for posting.
If I may share my thoughts with you?
Language learning is a lifelong task. Even native speakers should de ...
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I cannot agree with you more. And I think I need to spend more time on my Chinese.
Reply Report Min1989 2014-9-16 19:58
唐简: Thanks a lot for your blog. It's really inspiring.I am the kind of Chinglish learner. Even now i pass band 8 degree, i still think i have a lot to lea ...
Hey, I am glad you find this helpful. There are several books I would like to recommend to you. The first one is Mao's Last Dancer which was written by a Chinese Australian. If you grew up in Chinese countryside, this book will remind you of your childhood. You can also learn a lot of expressions which exclusively exist in Chinese culture. Another one is an autobiography called " Desert Flower" If I am right, there is a movie based on that book. It tells a inspiring story about how a girl from the desert become successful. It is a very inspiring story. I also like the book "Handle with Care" which is from the author who wrote " My Sister's Keeper ". This author is really good at psychological description.
Reply Report Min1989 2014-9-16 20:03
seanboyce88: Haha...the plateau

My Chinese is at the plateau


seriously, it's p**sing me off now.
I really admire people who show great passion for learning foreign languages. I tried to learn Japanese for some time. But then I had to give up as it was so difficult to strike a balance between different languages.  Haha, seriously, I think my Chinese is stepping backwards . And to be perfectly honest, it must be very difficult to learn Chinese as a second language considering I spent more than six years learning the basic characters.
Reply Report Min1989 2014-9-16 20:08
财神: Good Good Study! Day Day Go up!!
Hopefully, this expression will be accepted into English like "long time no see".
Reply Report Min1989 2014-9-16 20:13
cody160: Inspiring. I found your story could strike a chord with me. When I first read CE, it's probably more than 9 years ago, and I still keep reading it. It ...
Wow, it's so nice to find someone who have something in common with me. And yes, CE is one of the best English magazines available in China.
Reply Report rdelrosso2001 2014-9-17 06:27
Dear  Min1989:

Yours is a very inspiring story.  As a 60-year-old native English-speaking American (3rd Generation Italian-American), I would grade your English writing at 99% out of 100!  (I wish I could write Chinese half as well as you write in English!)

You only made 2 or 3 errors:

For example, early in your post, you write: “I did many lots of grammar exercises and reading exercises”.

The words “many” and “lots of” are redundant, meaning they mean the same thing.   But more importantly, a good English speaker or writer would never write “many lots of”, but only “many”, since “lots of” is a “slang” expression.   Rather than write “did”, I would write “performed many grammar exercises”.  But those are a very tiny errors.

You say you spent 6 years learning Chinese characters.  That work ethic is to be congratulated! I read that, in order to be considered “literate” in China, a person needs to know at least 1,300 (thirteen hundred!) different characters! Is that really true?  And depending on one’s College Major, one needs to know 7,000 to 10,000 Chinese characters.  These numbers are unbelievable to Westerners, since we only have 26 letters in our alphabet!  Is it true that Chinese has 50,000 characters in its Alphabet or Character Set?

I remember reading that Japanese students usually need to study Japanese characters for 8 years, before they can read a newspaper, at age 13.   When I was 6 years old, I realized I could only read my own name and a few words from television.  But I remember reading the newspaper as a 9-year-old 4th Grader, in 1963, after President Kennedy was tragically assassinated.

I began creative writing (in English, of course!) in November 2010.  Lately, I have written more articles, about politics and science (“Global Warming”).  One day, I hope to get them published!  If it makes you feel better, even though I have been writing in English for 54 years, I STILL have to constantly rewrite and “polish” up my English.  (Please note: When used in this context, the English word “polish” has nothing to do with Poland! I could see how English could be a challenging subject.)

My theory is that when you have to spend 6 or 8 years just to learn an Alphabet of 10,000 or even 1,300 characters, it creates a habit of very hard work in you.  I believe this is also true in Japan and Korea, where learning 5,000 characters seems to be common.  (When I worked in the New York City Government, 2 of my hardest working coworkers were the 2 Chinese women.)

I think that writing is like a muscle—the more you exercise it, the better you get at it!  In February 2013, I began rewriting an article on “Big Data Analytics” and the 2008 Financial Crisis.  I am now at 117 pages, so my “article” will have to become a book!  (My first book!)

I wish you more success in your study of English and other languages.  Being bilingual and multilingual is a valuable asset in today’s global economy!

Min1989, you are going to do very well in life!   Maybe you will win the Nobel Prize in Literature!
Reply Report J.E.Overington 2014-9-17 09:23
Thanks for sharing your experience which has some similarities to my experience while reading mathematics 1984 to 1995. An interesting pedagogical study on English second language acquisition was published in Taipei, by author surname Krashen, in which one of the questions asked is how to improve habitual reading ability which together with writing compositions, is known to be the strongest, fastest, surest way to learn more new language faster and better. Krashen's survey result show, unsurprisingly, purpose driven reading has the highest success rate, with entertaining reading coming in second. Knowing the result, it seems like common sense. However, the experience you share is the flipside of the coin Krashen shares. People who have a goal and who read so as to achieve their goal, learn more language better faster than alternate reading, writing, memorising, listening and speaking practices, on average, in general.
Reply Report Min1989 2014-9-17 17:27
rdelrosso2001: Dear  Min1989:

Yours is a very inspiring story.  As a 60-year-old native English-speaking American (3rd Generation Italian-American), I would grade y ...
It's a great honor to read your comments on my blogs and honestly, I think I am more than flattered. Thank you for letting me know my errors. It nice to know from where I can improve my English writing.

I once read a journal article about Chinese. If I remember it correctly, normally people need to know at least 3000 Chinese characters to be able to read and write Chinese compositions. I don't know how many characters we need to know to study a certain major in college. But the 7000 to 10000 sounds a bit doubtful to me. According to a famous publisher in China, until now, there are around 80,000 Chinese characters. However, only 3500 are frequently used. Trust me, I was awed to find out there are so many Chinese characters in total.

Generally, in Chinese primary schools, Chinese teachers concentrate on teaching Chinese characters like the strokes and the meaning. The learning of the characters are rigorously enforced in all the schools. So it is uncommon to find a Chinese student with difficulties in reading Chinese.

Learning Japanese as a first language is a bit similar to learning Chinese as both of them are pictographic languages. My Japanese friend told me she spent many years learning Japanese characters as well. I cannot imagine how difficult it can be for people to learn these languages as foreign languages.

And you are absolutely right about the practice of writing. I have been trying to keep writing blogs mainly because I want to improve my writing and I don't want to rest on my laurels any more as I believe they are gonna be inadequate soon.

And congratulations on your first book. It must be ecstatic to be able to achieve something in the area that you have great passion for. I love writing and hopefully, I can write a book one day.
Reply Report Min1989 2014-9-17 17:38
J.E.Overington: Thanks for sharing your experience which has some similarities to my experience while reading mathematics 1984 to 1995. An interesting pedagogical stu ...
Thank you for your comment. I never really have a purpose when I read. But I don have a goal which is to polish my English. When I first started reading English articles, I only chose the articles I was interested in. At the beginning, I spent some time on the lexical collocations. I also like analyzing the sentence structures as learning grammar in a certain context to me is much easier compare to doing boring grammar exercises. Gradually, I don't need to learn grammar any more. But I still pay a lot of attention to wording. I also start appreciating the style of writing as well as the story. At this phase, I chose books which I can strongly relate to. Reading those books can invoke strong feelings in me and therefore drive me to write down my reflections.

I think reading intensively and extensively is definitely a great way to learn a language. Also, motivation is very important.
Reply Report KIyer 2014-9-18 05:35
Overington is correct. Purpose driven learning is the best in ANY language, particularly from native speakers, in real life situations. That is how a child learns its first language. It is the easiest. There is no ego or image for a child, it will try as often as needed and the teacher will try to communicate messages of feelings and in context. The language itself is not so important. Rules and grammar should come later after a bit of familiarity with the language, if one needs to learn them for a purpose.
Reply Report Lily_ly 2016-6-1 10:52
I began my English learning from middle school. Now I am still trying to improve my English, especially my oral English. I feel very nervous when I am talking with foreigners. After reading your blog, I think I have done too litte in English learning. I will try harder in future learning. Thank you for sharing your story with us. It's quite helpful.

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Recent comments

  • The Purpose of Reading 2018-4-12 13:45

    we have the same feeling about. reading,reading. really tells us a lot especially when welearn foreign can help us to understand other. country's culture and customs.therefore,when we talk. in foreign languages.we. needn't worry about. making too. much also can enrich our life.let's enjoy reding

  • Why don't We Stand Out and Fight? 2018-4-4 14:14

    It is actually emotionally and mentally healthy to have nursing homes for old people in residential areas, and makes it easy for families to visit their elderly relations regularly.
    Death happens to everyone and it is stupid to hide it away. Death is not bad luck - it will happen to you and me.
    In some European countries there are homes for the elderly next to kindergartens, and everyone benefits from interacting with each other on a daily basis.
    The elderly benefit from interacting with children and keeps them mentally alert, whereas the young learn about death as a normal part of life.

    For a country that supposedly 'respects' their elders, China has a very superstitious attitude to death and dying.
    where i am from, the elderly are allowed and supported by family and state) to be independent and in their own homes.
    Where medical treatment is needed, residential homes allow the elderly appropriate facilities in towns and cities while their families can visit easily and local residents can interact with them.
    In addition, local communities benefit from being able to interact with these residents and the residents can still be part of a local community, not hidden away as something to be ashamed of or 'taboo'.

    Shame on China for such medieval superstitious attitudes regarding death.
    Does China 'respect' the elderly so much that they should be hidden away from people's lives?

    Do you want to be isolated and hidden away when you are old and your family don't want to or can't visit you?

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