How I Learned English

July 4, 2006

More “how I learned English” stories in the blogosphere

Filed under: EFL,ESL,language learning,stories — howilearnedenglish @ 2:39 pm
  • This is a story by a student at UIUC whose family came from China.
  • Here’s a kindred spirit who feels that he learned English through reading stories. Just like my friend Neha, he says that he learned English by reading Enid Blyton. I also read tons of Enid Blyton when I was growing up.

July 3, 2006

“how I learned English” 3 months later

Filed under: EFL,ESL,language learning,stories,TESOL — howilearnedenglish @ 3:59 am

About three months ago, I did a search on Technorati for the phrase “how I learned English”  and found 49 matches. A search today resulted in 94 matches! I was curious about whether there were stories about how people had learned English similar to the ones that I’ve been collecting here. Indeed there are some…

  • Innommable of Chicago, Illinois learned English by watching Sesame Street.
  • Muse90210 learned English as a child by watching English cartoons on television.
  • In her story about growing up as a young immigrant in Canada, Shutterbug writes about how she learned English by watching people’s mouths and mimmicking the sounds she heard.
  • JH, an EFL teacher in Japan, asks his students to post their writing assignments on blogs. One of his recent assignments was to write about how they learned English. His students mentioned watching English programs on NHK and listening to CDs as ways to learn English.

It’s so great to find that “how I learned English” is a topic that people are writing about. I think I’ll check the blogosphere for more interesting stories in another three months!

June 28, 2006

Podcasts for learning English

Filed under: EFL,ESL,language learning,podcast,TESOL — howilearnedenglish @ 9:38 pm

Many people are now turning to podcasts to learn or improve their English. Podcasts are like radio or TV programs that people download from the Internet and listen when they want to on their computers or MP3 players. Once people subscribe to a podcast series, new episodes are automatically downloaded to their computers. Podcasts are portable and convenient. Here are a few that you might consider listening to:

  • Business English Pod is intended for advanced learners who want to learn appropriate phrases for business situations such as taking leave and negotiating. Each eposode includes example dialogs by speakers with different accents. The host discusses the behavior and the language used by the speakers in the dialog. He tells you why a phrase was used appropriately in each situation and suggests other phrases that could be used. Most episodes are less than 10 minutes long.

  • Englishfeed focuses on grammar. In each episode, the host Kenneth Beare explains a grammar point such as reported speech or conditionals. His explanations and examples are clear and extensive. Most episodes are less than 10 minutes long.

  • ESL Podcast is one of three podcasts produced by two researchers at the Center for Educational Development in California. The episodes include a story from everyday life followed by the host’s explanation of the vocabulary and expressions used in the story. Most episodes are between 20 and 30 minutes long. The other associated podcasts are TOEFL Pod and English through Stories.

  • The Bob and Rob Show is hosted by two teachers of English living in Japan. The format is like a radio talk show. As they chat and discuss current events, the hosts explain the words and expressions that they use. The shows are about 20 minutes long.

June 23, 2006

Read simple books

Filed under: ESL,language learning,stories — howilearnedenglish @ 8:41 pm

Neha is a project manager for a non-profit organization in New York. Here is her story.

“I learnt English in India. India does have a colonial past with England and so English is spoken as a second language by the elite as well as used in office communication in cities. I started to learn English when I was five. I was exposed to some English cartoons and comedies that they had on television those days. Other than that, I learnt English in school.

When I was around seven, my older brother introduced me to some books in English for children written by a very popular author by the name of Enid Blyton. These books were primarily fairy tales or books about small children. I started to read them though I did not understand all the words. My parents and brothers, all of whom could speak English fluently (I am the youngest child), helped me a little but never pushed me in case I developed an aversion to the language. Within six months, I had sort of developed an understanding that only comes from reading. These books were written simply and were so engrossing that it was hard to put them down. As I grew older, I read other books in English by other authors and also listened to the BBC news on the radio.

By the time I turned ten, I was fairly fluent in English. By the time I turned eleven, I spoke it with as much ease as I would speak my own mother tongue, Hindi. The books had helped me to transition in a quiet and dignified manner.

I have taught Japanese and English, and currently teach Hindi as a hobby. I tell all my students to read simple books in the language and also to listen to news in the language they are trying to master. Listening and reading provide a person with unchallenged ways to become fluent in a language.”


June 16, 2006

Listen to podcasts

Filed under: EFL,ESL,language learning,podcast,stories — howilearnedenglish @ 4:07 am

Gary is a full-time college lecturer and an occasional DJ. I introduced him to podcasts sometime in February of this year. Since then, he has been listening to them religiously every single day. He started listening to podcasts for learning English such as:

However, he has been exploring the "podcastsphere" on his own and now listens to podcasts meant for native speakers. He searches for podcasts in the iTunes music store and subscribes to the ones that he finds interesting. After some picking and choosing, he has decided on these:

He likes the fact that the podcast episodes are downloaded automatically to his computer everyday and that he can listen to them whenever he wants to. He is not sure how listening to podcasts has affected his listening skills in English but feels that he can get the gist of a story quickly without getting stuck on words he doesn't understand. New words used to overwhelm him and he would feel frustrated and tune out.

May 28, 2006

Find treasures in the laundry room

Filed under: EFL,ESL,language learning,stories,TESOL — howilearnedenglish @ 7:14 pm

This is sort of like a continuation of my story about reading anything that comes along that looks interesting. For me, the laundry room has been a great place to find reading treasures.

I live in an apartment with no washing machine. Anyone who needs to leave his or her apartment to do laundry knows how annoying this is. But… once or twice a week, I face the necessary evil and haul all my dirty clothes down to the basement. Now I know I'm luckier than others. At least, I don't have to leave the building… just ride the elevator up and down many many times. Still… it's irritating. Until… I found the bright side of things.

When I'm waiting for the washing machine to its deed, I browse on the shelves in the laundry room where my neighbors have left their unwanted magazines or old books. I can usually find something that catches my eye. It would not occur to me to buy these magazines if I saw them on a newsstand but because they are there and I have a few minutes to kill, I leaf through the pictures and read some articles. Throughout the years, I've thumbed through the likes of Cooking Light, Architectural Digest, National Geographic, and Forbes. Most recently, I read an article entitled "Frank Gehry's Japan" in Architectural Digest. I also enjoyed a column by Rich Karlgaard in Forbes called "Digital Rules." In the May issue, he gives advice to young people in a piece called "About That First Job." The last page of that same magazine had quotes by different people on the concept of "style." Very cool…

These magazines are outside the scope of my regular reading materials. They contain expressions and vocabulary that I would not have been exposed to otherwise. They have enriched my life with ideas and images as well as with different writing styles in the English language. Now I come back home with clean clothes in my basket and a little extra something in my head. English can be learned in many ways outside the classroom and sometimes it happens in unexpected places. I found reading treasures in my laundry room. Many thanks to my generous neighbors.

May 18, 2006

Watch the news and repeat after announcers

Filed under: EFL,ESL,language learning,stories,TESOL — howilearnedenglish @ 2:29 pm

recording of story coming soon

Newspaper Clifford is currently a program manager for a non-profit organization. His strategies include watching the news and repeating after announcers as well as reading newspapers and books related to his work.

“I came to the United States in my mid-thirties. The toughest experience I had at the beginning was not a lack of skills, not a lack of job opportunities, but insufficient English proficiency both in writing and speaking. I could write, but not idiomatically and precisely, and I could talk to people, but not express myself fully.

The lack of proficiency in English also hindered my career. When I sent out a fax, my supervisors wanted to read and edit it first. Gradually, it became an established procedure that I must send all my correspondence to my supervisors first for editing before I sent them out. I could not communicate with my clients independently. The lack of English proficiency also hurt my confidence. I often shunned way from tasks such as supervision and cross-departmental coordination because I was not sure about my ability to communicate.

In order to overcome this bottleneck in my career, I started to do two things three years ago: listen and repeat after news anchors and read newspapers, books and especially books on English writing regularly. Almost everyday, after I get home from work, I’ll find at least 30 minutes to listen and follow the news announcers, mostly on CNN. I also try to talk with my family members in English. To improve my English writing, I read as much as I can the New York Times weekend edition. Sometimes I also read books on how to improve English writing and books related to my work, such as those in economics, finance, management, and marketing.

I am happy to say that, by now, I have made pronounced progress in both writing and speaking. I don’t have problems expressing myself in my life. At work, I write independently. I write research papers, business proposals, feasibility studies, web documents, and promotional materials for the products and services I develop. I’ve enjoyed what I have been doing and will continue doing it.”

May 6, 2006

Practice with a conversation exchange partner

Filed under: EFL,ESL,language learning,stories,TESOL — howilearnedenglish @ 4:31 am

audio recording of story coming soon

PeopleTalking.JPG Maria is a professor at a college in New York City. She found conversation exchange partners to be very helpful for practicing the target language and learning about the new country.

“Back home in Spain, I studied English in elementary school, high school and then I did my undergraduate degree in English as well. However, the first time I traveled abroad to Ireland, I could not understand or speak as proficiently as I thought. I could read Shakespeare in my classes yet I felt uncomfortable speaking in an informal conversation! I decided to listen to music in English and watch TV as much as I could. However, I believe that my most successful strategy was the conversational exchange partner system. Once I moved to the US, I was determined to improve my listening and speaking skills, so I decided to meet with native speakers of English who wished to learn Spanish. Thus, one day a week we would speak English and the other, Spanish. Not only did I practice the target language, but also got to meet new people when I first moved to this country. No doubt, having conversation exchange partners proved to be the best strategy to learn the language and customs of a new society.”

May 5, 2006

Listening to the stories

Filed under: EFL,ESL,miscellaneous,podcast,TESOL — howilearnedenglish @ 3:46 am

I’ve recorded the stories as MP3 files for people who prefer listening to the stories rather than reading them. You can click on the link at the beginning of each story to listen to it or subscribe to a podcast of the “How I Learned English” stories by entering into a podcatcher such as iTunes or Juice. The second way downloads new stories as they become available and allows you to listen to the stories on your computer or MP3 player at your convenience.

April 28, 2006

Work on pronunciation with tapes & podcasts

Filed under: EFL,ESL,language learning,podcast,stories,TESOL — howilearnedenglish @ 1:55 pm

audio recording of story coming soon

Girl listening to CD Kate is currently in the field of information technology. She worked hard on her pronunciation with audio tapes during her commutes to work and recommends listening to podcasts.

“I started to learn English in middle school. At that time, I mainly learned grammar and reading. I didn’t have a chance to talk with any native English speaker until my late twenties. So when I came to the US, my pronunciation was bad. People sometimes couldn’t understand me. What helped me most to improve this aspect were listening to audio tapes that teach English pronunciation for non-native speakers and practicing with them. I borrowed some audio cassettes such as American Accent Training—A guide to speaking and pronouncing American English for everyone who speaks English as a Second Language by Ann Cook and English Pronunciation Program by Paulette Dale from a local library, and listened to them while walking to work and back home. I used to live in a place within about 30 min. walking distance from work. Each working day I would practice following the cassettes for an hour. The audio tapes taught how to pronounce English correctly and explained what mistakes a non-native speaker might make and why. A year later, my spoken English was improved a great deal. Nowadays, with the iPod or any mp3 player and many free English learning podcasts on the Internet, this kind of practice is readily available. I subscribe and listen to English Feed, Listen to English-Learn English and ESLPod. I feel that many podcasts that teach English are helpful to improving English pronunciation. As everybody knows, practice makes perfect. Although I am far from perfect, I can always say my English continues to improve as long as I keep practicing.”

Web resources that can help you with pronunciation:

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