How I learned English -Part 1

There are several phases in the process of learning a second language. Some may be familiar to all of you, such as listening and repeating silly dialogues on text books, others are a bit more personal and, let's say, 'creative'. Nonetheless I can confirm all of them are real and 'bilingual' people know the struggle.

learning English at school

I don't know where you come from, but in Italy every kid in school has to learn a second language in primary school. For us, in the North, the study of German language is highly encouraged.

And by that I mean mandatory.

Whereas English is left to teachers with questionable accent and cartoon videocassettes. 'Magic English', anyone?

And let me tell you, studying German for six years was not enough to remember it now, as it never got to stage two of learning. The one where you are playing an active role in incorporating said language in your life. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and stick to chronology.

My predicting family has always been language oriented, so much that I thought it was normal for kids to go to English afternoon class on Wednesday. I have reasons to believe I was learning random English words before I even learned how to write my own name.

At the age of 6 my favourite words are 'monkey' and 'umbrella', so there's hope for everyone!

At that point I know what English sounds like, at least I think I do, while singing: tell me uat you uant, uacciurillyrillyuant! That would be Spice Girls, in case you need to re-read it with the right melody.

Then comes High school, or what I like to call ‘the Dark Age’ of learning a second language. We have to deal with as much as one hour per week with a real British language teacher in school, and simplified Shakespeare novels in Italian to read during holiday. 'Back then' we barely have internet, libraries are still going strong,

You know, manuscripts and all that.

If you happen to have a Myspace profile, like yours truly, interaction with foreigners is kept to a bare minimum. For this purpose I have a vocabulary on my desk, near the candle I light at night, on which I promptly check every. Single. Word.

Slowly but surely, my written English gets better, thanks to an extra four-hour-English-course-per-week boost on top of our regular three hours in class. Grammar, my dears, is fundamental. As for spoken English, well, I am pretty good at singing Marilyn Manson songs, once printed lyrics and line by line translation. I am even hiding a cheat-sheet in my pencil case where I write all the swear words I come across. I feel like a demigod with all that knowledge over my '3 hours per week and no Myspace' classmates.


Learning a second language, at first, is a game, a hobby, something I could use to understand music and meet like-minded people from all around the world. This all happened before I took my first steps away from home. The best, and worst!, part had yet to come, and I didn't even know it!

For you, instead, part two is just one click away.

Image: via

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