English, Español, Français, 日本語
Language is one of the finest products of human beings, and because of the globalization, need to understand other languages is increasing more than ever.
This is a series of language learning entries, which tackles several languages I learned/am learning (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.). I will be sharing very lough characteristics and origin, reasons I learned, and how I learned/am learning.
Let me start off with the most useful one, English.
Origin of English
When you learn a new language, it is important to know its origin, and if you learn several languages and their origins are similar, it really facilitates learning. By no means I can go into the detail here (that is the field of linguistic), but from the below, you can see that English (top left) is part of the Germanic languages which derives from Proto-indio European, which is just one part of a branch of a big tree (bottom right). Yes, we human have so many languages (an estimated number of 7,000 as of now)
(Source: Historical Linguistics and Global Language Families)
Why I learned English
- Part of education: Simply put, I had to study from middle school. Then I specialized international study at high school which had more focus on English (partly because there was no science/social science for that school’s entrance exam!)
- New communication tool: at high school, there was a native teacher from the U.S. and I liked the cycle of struggle and achievement to communicate in English
- Facilitate international travel: as I started back-packing I wanted to get along with people and activities.
- Survival: when I decided to study/live abroad and started acting in NY, I needed to improve my English skill to survive.
- Study (RE): After I stopped using English (as I was into Spanish in the kitchen), I decided to do my masters, which required high score of TOEFL. I also had to deal with lectures, discussions and homework at grad school.
- Work: Although I thought I was proficient in English after finishing my masters in New York, I still needed to improve it (and still on-going!)
5 Reasons to learn English
As you can see below table as of 2019 (source), total speakers and native speakers (4th column) have different rankings.
|Rank||Language||Total Speakers||Native Speakers (rank)||Origin|
|2||Mandarin Chinese||1,117M||918M (1)||Sino-Tibetan|
- More opportunities: as you can see, if you can use English, you have a chance to talk with over 1 billion people, which means you will have more opportunities to know people, have work, read resources, etc.
- Facilitate Travel: most touristic places’ officers and tourists speak English, so you get to communicate with many travelers and understand the sites you visit you would never know without English (although it is very important to try to learn the local language!)
- Brain and health: research shows that the more languages you speak, the less likely to have a brain-related disease (e.g. Alzheimer) as you are exercising and stimulating your brain. In addition to the brain, learning new things means maintaining a learning mindset (try new things) which will keep you healthier and younger (mental age is linked with physical age).
- Learning to learn: Once you get the hang of English (most countries choose as a second language at school) you get to understand how to learn. For example, you will know your learning style (visual, audio, logical, analytical, etc.) and apply that experience for further/different learning (e.g. leaning another language or other area).
- Joy of learning: Learning new things is fun especially that is something you chose to do. When you come across new phrases, vocabularies or the moment you finally understand something you had no clue, you get to see ah-ha moment. You might want to gain English skills for job and money-making, but I personally believe having joy is one of the most important things. And compared to other subjects that are difficult to measure learning, language is relatively easier to see the progress.
In a nutshell, it will expand your world and makes you a better person.
10 ways to learnーHow I learned/am learning English (what I learned)
- Start/study with any book (basic writing/reading): I had to study from the age of 12 at middle school. I didn’t like school because I didn’t see the connection between what they taught and my real life. Having said that, when I became serious about entering high school, I started studying a lot including English. I memorized the whole textbook and grammatical explanation over and over. So I learned the basic rules, but speaking/listening skills were far from enough
- Getting to know people (basic listening/speaking): Again, language is a tool for communication, so if you don’t have anyone to communicate with, it will not last (and it’s not interesting to work with book all the time). When I went to high school, I met a native English teacher with whom I hang out a lot, and that was how I became used to the basic listening and speaking.
- Use in travel (survival speaking/listening/reading): when I was a university student, I started traveling abroad by myself (the first country was Thailand). I was forced to use English and enjoyed doing so.
- Acting in English (some fluency): I went to NY to study acting. I thought I knew enough English, but I realized it was not the case. Learning English while acting was the best method I learned English as I was not sitting and reading materials (not for me).
- Journal in English (personal writing): every day I was writing my journal in English. This also helps me to reflect my days, in addition to practice my writing
- Talk to yourself (personal fluency): Whenever I had time, I was talking to myself in English on the street. Usually, different language needs different pronunciation, muscle, and practice. So the more you practice, the better (you need to think about how to say well). I tried not to stand out, but maybe someone saw me on the street thinking I was a bit crazy…
- Test (spontaneous fluency and knowledge): I stopped using English for 2 years. When I decided to go to a graduate school, I had to brush up English for TOEFL, for which I read the newspaper (New York Times) worked on test practice, took test 7 times (yes, I couldn’t get the score I wanted for many times). I also learned how to read, write and speak quickly.
- Graduate school (academic English): In my grad school, I had to discuss, write papers, understand the lectures all in English. I admit that I still had difficulty in delivering /understanding the full message, but somehow I managed to finish it. At the same time, I started to realize that probably I will not master this language, which is fine as my objectivo is to use this tool sufficiently.
- Work (real use): I started using English at work, which was quite different from academic English. I learned by doing and imitating others. Acting skills also helped to conduct the presentation. I am still making mistakes and continue to learn.
- Teaching online (speaking and vocabulary): I also started teaching English online, particularly via italki (for more detail, please see 10 reasons to use italki to learn languages). Actually it helped me to learn more, as teaching is the best way to learn.
That’s pretty much it for my case. What worked for me might not work for everyone, but I believe it is good to have a variation.
One thing I would like to highlight again is that English, just like any other language, is a tool and mean to the end, not the final gool. For example, you can have a great screwdriver (tool) to construct a house (goal), but you need to know how to use it (use). In other words, even though the tool itself is not great enough, as long as you know how to manage, you get to meet the objective (e.g. having a conversation with limited vocabularies).
The learning of this time
I learned that English is such a convenient language, and in addition to the study, it is important to learn through different experiences such as traveling, acting, test, work, and teaching.
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