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从学英语到用英语学习-我的英语学习之路

2006-08-23  广南子

从学英语到用英语学习
-我的英语学习之路

                                        

I began to learn English in my first year of middle school. During the 1980’s in China, English education resources were very limited. As I have always been interested to learn, I enjoyed my English class and was successful studying the subject. I think during that time, the people and the stories I studied opened up a completely different world to me because we knew so little about life outside of China. The English class became the only way we could get information about other countries. My major in college was International Accounting, which was a new course in the early 1990s, and luckily I passed CET 4 and CET 6 before I graduated. But, I could not speak or write English very well even after I completed college. As the Chinese economy began to grow in the international marketplace, I realized that I should continue to improve my ability to understand English. I practiced learning English, but I have to say that over time my skill did not improve. I would describe my English learning experience as eager, frustrating, confusing and not effective.

 

In 2003 I moved to America. Suddenly, I was put in a world where all of the information in my life was in English. While I was very happy to be in America, I felt frustrated because of the language difficulty, and disappointed about my English skill. For the first time I realized that language was such an important tool, and I could not use this tool freely because I am not in a Chinese speaking country. The first few months were difficult for me to adjust to the new language. Now when I recall my early time here in America, I think my difficulty was not just about language. The biggest problem was my poor knowledge about this country. I did not know much about American history, culture, beliefs and lifestyle that, of course, is very different from China. We have a saying in Chinese, 如鱼得水which means as free as fish in water. My feeling at that time was just the opposite of that saying. I left the water I used to swim freely and I was put in the water I was not use to at all. The water I mean here is about the society I grew up in and my native tongue I used all my life. Thankfully, with the help of my family and my effort, gradually I overcame the culture shock caused by language difficulty and lifestyle change. Day after day, I feel I am getting used to the water here as I continue to involve myself in American life.

 

We know that when someone is in an English-speaking environment, his or her English skills will be improved much faster than those who study in a non-English speaking country. Why? My experience has taught me two fundamental reasons. First, when one is in a native environment, he or she will receive much more information about that language. As I am in America, I am exposed to a complete English information world. Most of what I see and hear everyday is in the English language. While in China, I spent several hours practicing English every week. Obviously, now I hear more, speak more and read more in English than when I was in China. Second, when one is in an English-speaking environment, they have to use English as a tool to live, therefore becoming more proficient everyday at learning and using the language. Everyday I use English to make sense of the world. The contents, or information inside a written or spoken sentence, expressed by English become more important than the language itself. To make sense of the world I use my ability to think through and solve problems, work toward my goals, try to understand people, form beliefs and gain knowledge. So for me, to learn and use the vast amount of English information that I am exposed to daily continues to help me to regularly improve my skills.

 

When I was in China, I tried to study language itself by memorizing vocabulary and sentences (I studied 新概念,英语900,洋话连篇...). Now I am in America, I am trying to use English as a tool to learn a lot of knowledge such as this countrys history, culture and religion etc. And in order to live, I also need to learn about how school, restaurant, clinic, bank work here in America; how to deal with people from diverse culture effectively and so on. See so many new things I need to learn. Actually I am not studying English, I am learning the America ways of living. I learned about American justice system by following TV news about all kinds of cases; I learned the American political system by reading books and watching news; I learned about the financial systems by dealing with my own financial affairs; I learned Christianity by attending church activities.... So for me, I feel knowledge is more important than language itself, and I am trying to use English as a tool to learn all kinds of knowledge I want to master.

 

It matters that if you are in an English speak country or not. But it does not mean you could not learn English better if you live in China. Internet has created a global village, which means you can get as much as information as I can get from Internet. So for intermediate English learners, you have to figure out what knowledge you want to learn, then use English to learn it. I am sure if you try, you will find it is more interesting and more effective. Let’s say you are interested in Hollywood movies, you can find tons of information about movies or celebrities in the internet, then you read those information everyday, I am sure you can improve your English by reading those stories you have interests.

 

As you are not living in an English speaking society, reading is the most practical and effective way to get English information. I suggest you: first, read as much as you can; second, read those article you like and have interests. I feel to read what I have interests is more effective reading practice. I remember one of my English professor here told me a story about learning English: There are two groups of people who are trying to learn English, put one group of them in a beach and let them read whatever they are interested; put another group of people in the classroom and let a teacher teach them English everyday. A year later, test them of the learning result. Guess which group learned better? The group in the beach! In this professor’s class, our reading assignment was to read New York Times 3 articles every week, we can choose whatever we want to read. Then every Monday, we bring the 3 articles to him, he will chose one, and let us write a summary or talk about the article in front of the class. Mostly I chose articles about China, because those articles make sense to me.

 

Overall, I want to tell you that for those who have learned English from middle school to college, it is time to think about using English to learn something you want to know and forget about learning English.

 

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