I learned my first words in English with the aid of Winnie the Pooh and Richard Scarry’s books. I was three years old. It was not the most stylish or glamorous way to learn a new language but, hey, it helped me to grasp the language quickly once I entered first grade.
Even though I was exposed to a language different than my own from an early age, it took me years of study to master the sounds, vocabulary and writing of the most widely used language of the world. When you live on an island where Spanish is king, the opportunities to practice are small. Anyway, I continued polishing my skills by reading, watching and listening English magazines, programs and music.
The real challenge began when I moved to the United States at the age of twenty three. At that time, I was fluent enough to communicate with ease in my new home.
Nevertheless, the learning phase continued and my master of English went up exponentially. I found out the correct way to pronounce sounds nonexistent in Spanish like the “th” (basically, you have to stick out your tongue) and in the process discovered I pronounced my name (Ruth) incorrectly for a long time. I learned new words like “roach coach” and “boo-boo.” It took me months to understand the slang and grave tones of my friends from the South. I started to speak some sort of Spanglish with some Latin American friends. It was all intense and fun.
I cannot pretend I am the greatest English speaker in the world (I have a heavy accent but I don’t hear it). I understand I will continue to learn for the rest of my life (as I continue to learn more of Spanish everyday). I am humbled by all the opportunities I have had to learn a second language. Without them, my life would have not been the same.
It is impossible to summarize all the good things English (my second language) have given me. Being able to live and travel in the United States while communicating efficiently has been a priceless experience.
I have always said that I go to places for the people. To me, monuments or natural wonders cannot triumph over a connection with other human beings. People are the ones who illuminate a country, place or city. I have been able to live, work and make friends in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom. In Thailand and China, I have been able to discuss current issues with young people. I have been in tables with people of over ten nationalities and have been able to maintain a conversation because we have a language in common. I even like to be the hero after translating crucial information to “gringos” on Spanish speaking countries. It had been a big rollercoaster journey around the world but I have tackled it with my multiple language skills.
I continue to roam the world relaxed since I know Spanish and English and can understand Portuguese, Italian and French. If you want to live, travel and connect, learning a new language can be the key that helps you to open doors.
Remember you don’t have to master a skill perfectly to take advantage of it. Always strive to get better. Learn everyday something new that can help you to develop even more an important skill like a second language. Don’t hold back. Practice and patience pay off. I am a living proof.
How a second (or third or fourth) language has benefited your life? Let me know in the comments section below.
Note: This post is my entry to the Inspire Language Learning Blogger Competition sponsored by Kaplan. The voting period goes from October 29th until November 9th. I will remind you to vote for me. Help me win a laptop. Yikes!!!
Learn English with Kaplan