Many of you guys maybe wondering how people around you learn English. At least, this is a case with me. I always wonder how people do some certain things better than me. And I like it because it makes me keep learning and see where I stand among them.
Today I am going to tell you my story. The story of how I learnt English myself. Before telling you everything, let me tell you 10 amazing facts about myself so you will have a picture of me before reading the whole story.
Fact # 1: I never studied, lived or worked in the USA, UK, Canada or any other English speaking countries.
Fact # 2: I never worked with elite or super duper private tutors.
Fact # 3: I am not smart or clever. I understand slowly and learn slowly.
Fact # 4: I never used any magic, shortcuts or special books to learn English.
Fact #5: I knew nothing about English when I started learning English.
Fact # 6: I used to translate the words like “the, of, ing, off, to” which proves I knew nothing about English..
Fact # 7: I didn’t even know the past form of the verb ‘see’ in 1998.
Fact # 8: I exchanged my tape recorder ‘Весна’ to English-Russian dictionary.
Fact # 9: My grammar was almost rubbish back in 1997-98.
Fact # 10: I don’t know Russian and not knowing Russian didn’t bother me to master English.
1. How I learnt the grammar
I learnt the grammar working with a lot of private t tutors and exploring lots of grammar books. My first teacher was Dilobar opa from Translation faculty at Uzbek State World Language University. It was back in 1996 or 1997. I was studying at the lyceum when I soon realised that foreign language was English there. Back at my school foreign language was German and believe it or not our teacher was German native speaker.
So anyway when I realised I should know English to study at lyceum my parents found Dilobar opa and I started working with a lovely and legendary book called ‘Bonk’. At that time Bonk was the best book to study English from. We used to do lots of grammar exercises, learn tons of vocabulary and translate many texts.
Then I worked with Qizlarhon opa (a student at UzSWLU at that time) but my best English teacher at the lyceum. After her I worked with Vasilya opa from Tashkent Information Technoligies University and she prepared for the exntrance exams. We learnt all the possible grammar stuff. I remember once we did not even notice that it got dark in the garden where we were having a lesson.
So what I want to say is that I also started with the grammar. I also had problems with tenses. Actually, I did not know the differences between Past Simple and Present Perfect and many others tenses.
So when your teacher says that you should learn grammar, remember that you should learn grammar. If you are born and raised in the USA or UK then perhaps you don’t need to know the grammar because you already speak the language and know the language.
2. How I learnt to speak
The way I learnt speaking was perhaps the most memorable experience of my life. As soon as I started attending the lessons at the university I realised that I couldn’t say a word in English. I was totally shocked when I saw how some other students could easily, fluently and with a beautiful accent speak English. They would speak non stop. They would not pause to think their ideas in Uzbek or Russian and translate the whole thing into English after about a minute or so. They would just go on and on and on and on.
So I thought “Why not me? Why I can’t speak as fluently as they are speaking”. So I became friends and we used to hang out together a lot. We used to attend speaking clubs after the lessons and we used to speak English literally everywhere. Yes, even on the bus. And even at the bus stop. Everywhere.
But I should say I would not have improved my speaking skills so fast and drammatically if I hadn’t opened English Club for students Uzbek State World Language University where the lessons were all free. Yes free.
Now you may think that in English Club only students came and improved their speaking skills and I had no benefits. When I led the English Club at that time, I improved my speaking a lot …because I also used to talk a lot at the begining when opening the topics, facilitating the discussions and closing the discussions.
And funny part is that because I used to speak only in English to all my students, they used to think that I don’t speak Uzbek or Russian at all. So they always spoke to me English even before and after the lessons at English Club. When they saw me they used to think English.
And sometimes when I had to speak to them in Uzbek or Russian they would say that it was kind of funny and weird. One student even came to me one day and said “Oh Akmal aka you speak Uzbek?”
So basically this is how I learnt how to speak. I helped many other students imrove their English and they helped me to improve mine. It was a boomerang effect. But before that I learnt and improved my grammar first.
3. How I learnt to read & listen
Well, I learnt how to read and listen in English by reading and listening to English materials. Hahahahaa OK, let me tell you what I did. Those years when I was a student, many students who were learning English used to visit several English libraries in Tashkent.
That time we had Mustakillik International Library in Chor-su located in the first floor of Republican Foreign Languages Teaching Centre building. I guess they are still open these days but they are not as popular as they used to be before.
Then there was British Council Library but the British Council people used to call it Information & Learning Resource Centre. And inside of it they had another centre called Open Learning Centre, as far as I remember. But for us – students – the whole thing was just a British Council Library. There were other libraries or resources centres at American organizations such as ACCELS and IREX but I never went there in my life.
OK, so back to how I learnt to read and listen in English.
Of those two libraries – Mustakillik and British Council I liked British Council most and not because I know some people at the British Council today. Those days I knew nobody there. I liked British Council because almost all the materials they had in their shelves were specially designed for language learners. They were adopted, tailored and simplified. For example, if your English was Elementary you could find lots of useful and interesting materials for your level.
What about Mustakillik library? They mostly had second-hand books donated by American people from the USA. You would not be able to read anything with pleasure even if your English was strong Intermediate. And reading second-hand books was like wearing second-hand clothes, sorry.
But unlike British Council they had native speakers working at library reception. Sometimes we used have round-table conversations on different topics. That’s only thing I liked about Mustakillik library – interacting with native speakers. But soon those native speakers were kicked out of the library and later out of our country for breaking some local Uzbek laws. After those events I completely lost my trust in them and stopped visiting their library.
So back in the British Council library I used to borrow lots of video, audio, grammar and reading materials and study almost everyday. It was like a paradise of knowledge at that time.
When I first took and opened those Macmillan readers I was, you know, so happy I was able to read and understand English text. The text which was not in my mother language. Same thing was about videos and audios. Though sometimes I used to borrow Hollywood-made movies and couldn’t understand much. I used to understand about 5-10 percent of the movie. But I never gave up and in fact one year I was watching Hollywood movies without understaning almost anything. LOL.
Later I realised I was doing exactly the right thing. Because you know our ears, mind-set and they way we receive information is not adopted to English way of receiving the information. So after about a year I was so happy that I could comfortably sit and watch a lot of Hollywood movies.
So you need time, patience and practices, practice and practice.
4. How I learnt to write
The way I learnt writing was also very interesting exprience. Believe it or not I was not confident about writing skills until I took a teacher training course at Westminster International University in Tashkent. One of the main requirements of the course was to write a coursework of about 8,000 words after several training sessions in order to show how much you have learnt in the course.
So after about a week or two we were all given a coursework to write. I went home thinking that I couldn’t write anything of 8,000 words. I was really scared because I thought I had to write in a highly and highly advanced, academic and smart language. And I didn’t know that language.
But as I was leaving the building I remembered one of our tutors saying we could go to the library and pick up previous year students’ coursework to see how people wrote last year.
So I said “Why not?” and went down to the library. I randomly and without feeling any happy picked up 2 or 3 coursework papers. I put them into my bag and went home on a tram. As I was sitting on the tram wondering what to do, I remembered aboout the papers in my bag and decided to have a look at them quickly.
You know what happened next? As soon as I opened and started to read some pages I quickly realised how simply … no, no … super simply they were written. I was really and really shocked because I thought I would read a text full of smart words, phrases and sentence structures which were extremely difficult to read and understand. But it was quite the opposite. Yeah, quite opposite.
When I came home I took a shower, had a dinner and started writing my own coursework. After about 2-3 days I went to the university and showed it my personal tutor still thinking my writing was horrible. But … to my biggest surprise she said my writing was quite fine and that I should improve the content I put there which was not problem at all.
That was my first eye-opening experience and I just fell in love with writing that I even started blogging. When I started bloggin my writing skills improved even more because I started reading other blogs which teach people how to write better and create a great content.
So that’s my sweet little story. If you didn’t like it, no problem. If you liked it please don’t forget to share it on Facebook. Adios!