Aimlessly Going Forward

blog by Tomas Sedovic

How To Learn English In 14 Years

Take an English course at the elementary school.

Do not pay too much attention to it. Learn how to introduce yourself and memorize the most basic words. It will help you along the way but do not expect to learn English only via school lessons.

Love reading books. Read lots of books in your native language.

Play the computer games.

There are games that have a strong storyline, and feature a lot of text. Play them in your native language. They are fun and you would not understand them in English.

There are games that do have some text in them, but that is not their main point. Play them in English. You will not understand them either, but you will not miss on anything important.

Watch movies and television series. Prefer the voice in English with subtitles in your native language.

On your reading journey, you will discover The Book. You will know it after you have read it ten times. The book that you love above others. The book that you know by heart.

Get The Book in English. Look around for the opportuninies: ask your teacher, look into the library, buy it in a bookstore. Ask the book seller. The good ones will order it for you if you ask them nicely.

Sit down and dive into it. Do not touch the dictionary. Overcome your fear. You know it by heart after all.

Because you know what is supposed to happen in the story and because of your love for the story, you will get pulled in. You will read it as if it was in your own language, your memory filling in the words you have not learned yet. This would not have happened had you used the dictionary. It would have kept interrupting you, demanding your attention every time you had come across an unknown expression.

You will feel different after you have read The Book. You will be changed. Reading the story that you have known by heart in another language caused something that the courses at school kept failing at for all those years.

It mapped the English sentences directly to your brain. You have learned what a particular phrase means instead of what words it consists of or what grammar rules are in play there.

You have processed the language as a child processes it: deriving the unknown from the context and connecting it to something they know already.

Read other books. Try reading English books that you have never read before.

Play your favourite games again. In English this time. You will understand them. Through repetition, you will expand your vocabulary and cement the common gamar rules into your brain.

Continue watching the TV series. With English subtitles. Every now and then, turn the subtitles off.

You will realize that you know the characters' voices and the way they speak enough to understand them. You will not need the subtitles anymore.

Start watching the movies without the subtitles. You will train your ears for the different ways the English is spoken. You will tell Scottish from American. You will tell British from Australian.

Write in English. Communicate on the Internet -- ask questions, answer questions. Comment on blogs. Talk to people.

Find a friend who will instant message with you in English.

Find the things that interest you. Read about them on the Internet in English. Wikipedia is a wondrous resource.

Look for the things related to your studies and work on the Internet. Google is an awe-inspiring harbringer of information.

Write your Bachelor's Thesis in English.

You will find it being equally difficult compared to writing in your native language. You will have to look more words up, but your brain will have an easier time formulating thoughts and sentences because you have read all the information in English.

Start listening to English podcasts. Unlike the movies they can show you how a real conversation flows. You will hear how people actually talk.

Get into a situation where you have to talk to someone in English. You will understand well but you will keep forgetting all the words. You will realize that you still have trouble speaking fluently.

Convince your boss to have all the conversations with you in English because you need it. Convince a skilled friend of yours to do the same thing. Convince your girlfriend.

It will help you to speak your mind and not to worry about all the words.

You will realize that throughout the day, you spend more time dealing with English than with your native language.

Over time you realize that you are unable to lend books and movies to your friends and family anymore. The majority of your collection will be in English which they cannot understand that well.

You will notice that people around you sound horribe when they speak in English. You will hear the mistakes they make and see their origin in your native language.

You will understand English more than almost anyone else you meet.

You will speak and write English better than almost anyone else you meet.

Watch the HBO series called The Wire, without the subtitles.

You will understand hardly anything. It will be a lesson in humility. You will struggle to understand the main story. You will realize that you still have a long way to go.

You will be tempted to turn the subtitles on. Resist the temptation.

Watch The Wire as it is and learn to love it. Your understanding of the story and the language will get better over time. Not perfect but better all the same.

After you have watched it all, start over again.

With your being used to the story and the characters, you will understand it much better the second time. You will still not get everything, but you will be able to enjoy even the more nuanced parts of the story.

The way the characters speak will settle in and you will be able to enjoy The Wire properly. Do so as it deserves to be enjoyed.

Start reading audiobooks. You will be able to read them even where you cannot read otherwise -- when you go to work, when you wash the dishes or when you are shopping.

Cherish this rediscovered love for reading. Enjoy the fact that it does not put a strain on your eyes. Fondle the sound aspect of it.

Start reading things aloud when you know it will not disturb anyone.

Read the Neil Gaiman's poems and recite them out loud. You will realize that you can appreciate poetry more when it is spoken as oposed to being read. Enjoy the sound of your voice.

There were games that you did not play because they featured too much text and your eyes tired from work could not take it in the evenings.

Play these games. Read the text out loud. It will reduce the strain on your eyes (however strange that sounds) and you will enjoy it more.

You will get confident that you understand both spoken and written English well and that your speaking is equally good.

You will have spent over a decade learning the language and there is nothing wrong with being proud of your tremendous accomplishments.

You will feel like you belong to the English speaking world.

Some podcasts play audio questions that their listeners sent. Record a question for one such favourite podcast of yours.

Listen to the recording. You will realize that your speaking has not changed in the slightest. You still have that strong foreign accent that your mind's ears smoothed out years ago. You still sound as bad as anyone else around you.

Do not despair. You have still come a long way. Accept this lesson in humility and set out a new goal: to learn to speak so well that not even the native speakers would recognize that you are not one of them.

Follow this goal.

Tomas Sedovic on 5 May, 2010