Jump to content

People who have English as their secondary language, how did you learn English?


Recommended Posts

My parents signed me up for courses when I was about 7 and I continued those for about 10 years. Also, I had English in school, starting when I was about 11 and those stopped only after I left college.

On top of that, as a kid I read a lot, and soon realized that reading stuff that was originally written in English, was better than available translations.

Then when I started work, it was almost exclusively done in English, and the employer provided some intensive job oriented English classes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Didn't really have the choice. Introduction to English started in primary school (I was 5 at the time), but I didn't give any interest to it for years. To make it worse, Spanish also was mandatory to start learning five years later. At the end, all of us were to learn three languages along our primary, middle, and high school scholarship. Years passed, and in 2003 my parents gave me FS9 on my birthday. It was the original version, so needless to say I was completely lost with ATC and AI which were only communicating in English and using USCS units. This made me understand the importance of this language, which I gradually fell in love with. I managed to get the best result from my high school's English finals, but it came at the cost of not studying and practicing Spanish, which I never appreciated.

Ironic point 1: At that time, I would have given myself four out of five concerning my practice of the English language. Today, after a year spent in Canada, and five in the United States, I will give myself 2.5/5 at best. Dunning and Kruger hitting me hard.

Ironic point 2: Studying literature, cinema, and philosophy for four years rather "helped" me. It turns out I'm ending first in my composition classes here in Florida, while I was far from being int the firsts back in the Old world.

Ironic point 3: I'm losing my native language because finding no one to practice around. As a result, I end up doing what would turns the average cinema lover mad... Watching versions translated into my first language. Something I hated doing before.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Attempt 1.
9 years of English (of the Dickens/Wells/Twain/O.Henry epoch) in school.
I was sure that a cargo car is "lorry".

Attempt 2.
6 years in university.
I discovered that the cargo car is "truck".
Also learned a rhyme for it.

But the part of a tank is "track".
As well, "ZU-23 Shilka is searching... tracking... firing... Main rotor damaged."
This was a puzzle, because why does a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun use tracks to shoot down a helicopter. Does it chase it on ground? Throws them? Tries to escape itself?

Attempt 2.5.
ZX Spectrum and non-translated games.
A lot of new English words like "gadget, wraith, score (20), merge, arriba, abajo, derecha, izquerda, fuego". I knew them by the game titles.

Attempt 3. The most successfullest for the moment.
A 650 MB CD with archived internet, partially in English, including sci-fi, fantasy, and other books, and archive of forum flame.
After reading a lot of that I finally got the idea of how do the illiterate English speakers build the phrases even without knowledge of Past Perfect Continuous Tense (and even of its existence), tried to speak in this manner in Russian, and English became much more clear. So, rediscovered the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis at home.
Conclusion: never learn another language from academicians. Try to understand and reproduce the speech of the low class (just without unnecessary jargonisms) from the cheap books for teenagers, anyway you won't speak better.

Still can't understand who needs articles. Unless it's a-verb-as-a-noun.
Prepositions are just presumably random. At least I couldn't find a system.

Not an attempt, but something to be read and shock the reader.
J. Vance, "Dying Earth".
The language is definitely English, but every second word is neither familiar, nor even giving an idea what does it mean without a vocabulary, nor even I ever could imagine that such word exists at all.

Edited by kerbiloid
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The first English TV channels became available here in Denmark in the early / mid 80's (sky channel and a bunch of great cartoons like transformers). So that... Ended buying books in English including books on submarines the year before we had English school, which was around the 4th or 5th grade. So 92/93 Iirc. 

PS: Here's the book... Getting all nostalgic now:


Edited by 78stonewobble
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had been speaking english for too long that i dont remember how i learned it on the first place,

I remember that i started with Duolingo, then my school started to teach english and somehow i was the best one in the class, ( at wich point my classmates wanted help from me and not asking the teacher, literally thaey were making a line to ask me things )

And now, all videos that i watch are in english, when i search something in google its in english, most of my games are in english, i never use translate,

Basiclly its becoming my first language.

Edited by Commodoregamer118
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, cubinator said:

But those are Spanish words...

In some parts of the US you might be hard pressed to tell....


Anyways, I started learning english around age 12 - Me and my brother were enrolled in a special after-school course for this, as in our native country one cannot gain any useful language skill whatsoever from the ludicrously insufficient english classes included in the regular education schedule. At this day and age, I hope kids are getting something better than I had back then at schools, or they're pretty much doomed to isolation....

Anyways, having discovered the wonders of cable TV and the inexplicable number of mostly-generic sitcoms available in the 90s (which cable TV had the decency to present with subtitles instead of the horrible overdub used on open channels) - We found that English was really the language spoken by people in the Real World. This then absolutely needed to be learned.

At some point around that age (perhaps around 13 or so) I gradually began trying to think in english, rather than just translate from native. This proved to be the key. Even without enough vocabulary to go around, one can begin to use english in his "internal dialogue" with as little as a year's worth of decent part-time classes (2 hours a week, rly) - Once that capability becomes sustainable, one may confidently say that he can speak the language, even if this requires some roundabout descriptions where exact terms aren't familiar.

To be fair, most native speakers of any language don't really bother learning any more of it than required not to flunk gradeschool.

This is where me and my brother fall a bit outside the curve - I personally flunked my native Portuguese as a school subject thrice.  Conversely, I don't recall ever having had any non-passing grades in english. And in the off-school course, my tests were reliably graded above 80% - This is not to say that we were good students. On the contrary, our colleagues were befuddled to the point of jealousy by how we managed those grades while at the same time just as consistently failing to ever return any single piece of the course's assigned homework.  

I personally don't believe in homework. I much rather prefer to use my time actually paying attention to class while I'm there, instead of taking notes for revision some other time...

 Anyways - that was then.  Our all but exclusive preference for "cable culture"* and persistent endeavor to convert our brains to think in english by default payed off rather well.  Each new aspect of the language learned, either in class or elsewhere came as an "A-ha!", instead of a "what the?" moment. This made all the difference. 

(this was the late 90s, mind you, Internet then was a thing that made a weird noise and hogged the phone line) 

It was also around that same age that we started growing the very real feeling that English was really meant to be our first language.  So even after we stopped taking classes, we continued to learn and seek to master it as a native tongue.

Thus we shunned all translations and opted for English on any source of entertainment or device that provided the option.


By age 18, we spent two months living in the Netherlands with english speaking folks all around (Dutch is an insanely hard language, and I have not yet found a dutch person who didn't revert to english so naturally they appeared not to notice the change.) - It was satisfying to confirm then that not only we could hold perfectly comfortable conversation with anyone about anything, but our accent in english was drastically more subtle than that of any of the other students we met when our interchange group got together.

After that it was pretty clear that English really was my first language.  I found that when I speak my native portuguese, I'm half the time having to translate myself back to it from the english spoken inside my head.  This can be a bit awkward at times...



Eventually I moved to Canada, and finally there I truly felt "at home".  It is very liberating to be able to converse in the same language one uses inside one's head. But before I set out and got on an airplane, I made a conscious effort to exorcise any remaining trace of my native accent.

It is actually not possible to have "no accent whatsoever", as someone somewhere else will always claim their pronunciation is really the correct way and everyone else is doing it wrong. What resulted for me, is really an accent made up of blended bits of most others I come across online every day. 

People often ask me where I'm from, saying they're unable to place me by the way I sound. My usual reply:  "I'm from the Internet".



I never stopped seeking to learn more and more English, as I find it a truly fascinating language.  Curiously, the more I learn of it, the more I find in common with various other languages. Then it becomes obvious why it has become an "unofficial official language" of the Internet (and with it, the whole world)

It is not, as some hard-headed overly nationalistic folks claim, because of US cultural dominance that English is the world's standard language.   Not at all. In fact, just ask folks across the pond and they'll tell you most Americans don't really speak proper english anyways... English is a natural common language for the world (much more so than languages deliberately conceived for that very purpose, like Esperanto (which is only really universal across latin-based tongues)) because it is literally a language made of all the others.

If you think about it, the British empire for most of post-medieval history has come in contact and (quite profitably) traded/warred with pretty much every culture in the globe. 

This was their main strength, as a sea-faring folk, they became quite literally the "center of the world". (This is clearly seen on any world map, note where longitude zero is.)  It is then perfectly natural that the language spoken by such people would be one that took bits from all over the place.  And this has been going on for just about a thousand years.  What results is really a universal language, not because any king or queen said so, but because it was really cobbled up from the best (and usually the most easily absorbed) parts of all other languages. 

The result is that english is one of the easiest languages to learn there are. (some are more logical, and easier still, but far less common and thus curiously harder to learn for it) - Even if not properly spoken, bad English is still enough to get communication across for most purposes. It's actually quite difficult to speak it "wrong" and even if you botch half or more of it, you'd probably still make at least a little bit of sense.



At age 30+ it appears my English has massively outgrown my supposedly "native" Portuguese.  Having recently acquired the habit of going through audiobooks at a furious rate, (sometimes >1/day) I have come to a point where I can actually be more eloquent than most people who were born speaking it.  

But then again, having it for a "second" language perhaps made me treat it with more attention than those who can take it for granted. Case in point, my own originally native language probably wouldn't do to pass a high-school test these days... 

But well dammit, Portuguese is HARD!








Edited by Moach
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Like I said elsewhere, English is just the Indo-European language group mashed back into one with all *unnecessary* features dropped.:lol: It's also classified as analytic by linguists, since we don't use true endings, like, say Russian or Portuguese. Sometimes, though, I wish we did...:/

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My country was a British colony in the past, and thus knowledge of English is very important if you want to progress socially. So much so that I was held on a pedestal because I could understand and sing English songs :D  .Thus English is mandatory here in education. I started learning it from kindergarten. However, I was unable to have a proper conversation in English until I was 16. Then I changed schools and had the misfortune of being bullied by a girl who spoke the most refined English, she almost sounded Scottish. Her pronunciation of each syllable was perfect. Listening to her speak English was like watching Gordon Ramsey cook!

I was included in her gang to be the group clown. They would make fun of my bad pronunciation and thick native accent and bully me. Little did they know, that I was and am totally shameless. If constant humiliation was what it took to get the criticism of the best English speaker in the entire city, maybe the entire state, then so be it. Over two years I kept learning as much as I could and was so much better at it than ever before.

Right now, I can speak English much better than my own mother tongue which is a bit shameful, to be honest.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmmm... British colony, states? I guess India?


The only reason I'm on this thread is because I'm interested in languages and I'm learning Russian. I speak English as my primary.:lol: Any advice on learning another language would be very welcome!

Edited by SOXBLOX
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Age 10 onwards, school. Although "english" is a bit of a stretch, in actuality I learnt 'strahlian.

Drove my english teacher nuts by insisting that the monster is "beautiful". She thought I couldn't understand the difference between "beautiful" and "ugly", whereas I was perfectly aware of the meanings just disagreeing with the statement. The monster in question being a monster in a picture book.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Probably from 6 months in the USA when I was 3 years old, school, and another year there when I was in fourth grade. (My English started to get very good after that year, also started watching KSP videos around that time.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

I am From Argentina,which it's a Country where i talk in spañish.

i have learned english for a long time on 3 Different steps:

1)watch more than one thousands of English Videos on Youtube.

2)learn English on School.

3)Play (and enjoy) VideoGames in English Language.

I can safely say that my Learning-english period has been Finished...:D(except my weird Grammar)

-Kane Kerman-a(not so) Expert on faking a jool landing video-

Edited by Kane Kerman
Fixed a bit my Grammar again,english isn't my native Language.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

English is my second language. Even if it's probably the one I'm speaking and writing  reading most. French is my natural language.

I spent fourteen years learning english in school, without much success. but then I discovered role playing games, in particular Vampire The masquerade, which was not really translated in French (some parts were, bust most of the supplements were not), s I started reading a lot of english (including weird old forms of it). Then I got on IRC for help support about Linux, which made me discover another kind of english. And perfectly legally downloading facy movies and series with only english subtitles helped a lot too.

And then I worked in international context (UN and Human Rights related stuff) and had to hang around with a crowd of people who also spoke internet englis - or they're own local version of english - and it helped a lot with confidence in both my terrible accent and grammar. And botched vocabulary.

Basically, I learned some basis of english at school (mostly grammar) and a good lot of it from internet sub culture, cyberpunks forums, role playing games, and talking with too many people online. I sometimes think its easier to reason in english in my head, I found written french weird (because 99% of what I'm reading is in english), and I found english words popping into my mouth when I try to speak french. Which is OK, I've quit trying to speak proper language a while.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Interesting thread… it dawned on me that the question is more about “when did you grok English” (relatively speaking at least). With two sisters picking up the language seemingly effortlessly, I was the oddball in the family, struggling with it and getting bad grades at school.

Then I discovered computer games, which at my age and time (the early 80’s) were mainly text adventures like Zork and the Scott Adams adventures. Night after night I’d drag the English-Dutch (for understanding what was printed on the screen) and Dutch-English (for typing in the commands) dictionaries to our TRS-80 and picked up a significant part of the language. Growing older my interest expanded to applications like Visicalc and Wordstar — and while Dutch manuals where available, the quality was usually abominable, and requiring translating half the words back to English to reverse engineer what the original phrase was, in order to figure out its meaning; reading the English documentation was just easier. By the time I graduated high school I routinely scored 95% on any test for comprehensive reading or listening.

I now speak far better English than my sisters and reading novels in English is second nature — for them it’s not a struggle but they still prefer translations. It helps that I live in the US, nowadays, so I have little choice,

Getting an Austrian girlfriend when I was younger and repeating the process with German (an easy language for Dutch speakers) I can attest that, at least for languages in a similar family, the academic method of focusing on grammar is a complete waste of time. Commercial courses that focus on conversation are much better; what you need is a vocabulary (the collection of words inside your head; not the book) and practice, practice, practice. You’ll pick up the grammar as you go along, and even if you don’t, people will understand you if you know the words anyway.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This thread is quite old. Please consider starting a new thread rather than reviving this one.

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...