In all these years that I’ve been blogging, in English, I not once explained how I got here. Because English is not my native language. I grew up speaking Dutch and didn’t properly start learning English until I went to secondary school. Since I ended up making my career out of it and my language skills are hence an integral part of my life, I thought it might be fun to tell you a bit more about how I did it.
How did you learn another language?
In the process of my learning English, there is a big gap between formal learning and casual learning. To be quite honest I feel I learned most by doing the second than by doing the first. In fact, I believe that one of the reasons why I had a knack for learning English started way before I ever set foot in an English class.
My first encounters with English was when I was very little (about 2 – 3) and my mother had me watch Postman Pat on BBC to keep me occupied while she did the housework. I was a strange kid and naps weren’t my forte. I simply decided one day I no longer needed a nap and just stopped doing that. So my mom now needed something to keep me busy so I would be out of her hair and this being the 80s and Dutch TV not offering any day time television, my mom had me watch English television instead.
Another experience learning English I had before learning it in school were my grandparents. When my granddad retired, him and my grandma took English lessons. I remember being fascinated with the fact that you could know a completely different language. Feeding my curiosity, my grandmother taught me to say my ABCs and count to 10 when I was 5 years old. So that fascination for language has been part of my system for a long time.
My first formal learning experience came in primary school. I remember being super excited to now finally be learning English. Aged 10, I was eager to try anything thrown at me. Unfortunately, we didn’t do very much other than say thank you for an hour and watch made for education language programmes.
After two years of agony and very basic things, I finally felt relieved when I got to secondary school. English soon became my favorite subject and while I quit reading Dutch books because I hated my Dutch teacher’s reading list, I found that through English I could keep on reading.
I also become highly interested in the UK and the US in my teens and dreamed of traveling there. Eventually my parents would decide on taking me and my brother to the UK three times for a family vacation. I ended up taking my first solo trip when I was 19, destiny: New York City.
By the time I left highschool I was the most proficient English speaker in my year. I went on to study English at university and there I found out that being proficient at secondary school was completely different from being proficient at an English course at uni. I was told straight away I needed to up my language skills else I probably wouldn’t survive my first year.
And so I did! I read every letter on my reading list (seriously I hardly skipped anything and even read the recommended readings), watched as much English language television as possible and it is ultimately what also had me decide to take my trip to New York in my second year. I also enjoyed deciphering song lyrics and often I would pick my favorite song of the time and write the lyrics up by hand.
But studying and TV can only get you so far. My biggest leap in language proficiency came about when I went on exchange to the US in my third year at uni. I lived there for 6 months and learned more than I could have in a life time back home.
But that was all more than 10 years ago. I still try to maintain my language skills and I have definitely felt them fluctuate over the years. It helps that my last two jobs require me to communicate a lot in English on a daily basis and of course keeping this blog helps keeping up my writing skills. I still try to read and watch in English as much as I can. I feel that if I don’t, my English slowly deteriorates and after all that time and effort that would be such a shame.
How did you learn English?