Frustration to success

02.27.2010

in Beyond the Basics, True Stories

Adrian was frustrated! Seven months earlier he had started an adult ESL class in his home country, Brazil. But it wasn’t working. His English wasn’t getting any better.

Why did Adrian quit?

This was unusual for Adrian. He’s used to success. He’s a full professor of law at one of the leading universities in Brazil. He teaches courses in constitutional law and philosophy of law. He contributes to books and writes articles in his native language, Portuguese.

What was the problem? Adrian memorized lists of vocabulary words. He took and passed all of the grammar tests. He talked in class when his teacher asked him to, even though it made him uncomfortable. He did everything he was asked to do, but his English wasn’t improving very much. So Adrian quit.

Adrian finds success

A few days later Adrian sat down at his computer, went to Google, and began to search for help. On a bilingual blog, he says he found this statement (definitions added):

Acquisition (picking up a language) requires meaningful interaction (involvement) in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are not concerned with the form of their utterances (what they say) but with the messages they are conveying (communicating) and understanding.

Here’s the important part of that long sentence: we acquire, or pick up, a language when we understand it in natural communication – when we understand what people say or what they have written.

Adrian remembers thinking, “That makes sense!” If I cannot understand, how will I learn?”

Soon Adrian found the ESL Podcast and began to listen to it. He subscribed to the learning guide and began to read it. Later he found VOA Special English. Soon he was reading and listening to both whenever he had time.

A few months later, in a casual conversation, one of Adrian’s friends from the ESL class was amazed by his English. He asked Adrian where he was studying, and he said, “Man, I’m studying alone.”

How good is Adrian’s English? He tells me that about two years after he began this process, he decided to write an American professor at New York University about an article he had written. When he did, he received an answer. Adrian was ecstatic! It was the first time he had tried writing in English, and he was successful.

Today Adrian continues to read and listen. His English is good enough that he reads and listens to articles from the Economist. He listens to CNN Student News, the ESL Podcast, and VOA almost every day.

He enjoys reading John Grisham’s books because Grisham is an attorney, and his books are about attorneys and court cases. Since Adrian is an attorney, Grisham’s books are easier to understand.

Oh, I must not forget. Adrian also loves to read Spider Man comics!

Why was Adrian successful?

Adrian was successful because he spent his time reading and listening to interesting, easy-to-understand English. As his English got better, he moved to more difficult reading, like Grisham’s books and the Economist.

In three short years, Adrian’s English has improved significantly. Today he can use English to easily discuss almost anything, including his new favorite subject – how to acquire more English.

How does he feel about it?

Here’s what he says:

Studying English is a huge pleasure for me now. Reading in English opened a whole world and I feel that is only the beginning.

You could do the same!

Warren Ediger

Related reading: Frustration to Success – how he did it (part 2 of Adrian’s story)

sarah February 27, 2010

“Studying English is a huge pleasure for me now. Reading in English opened a whole world and I feel that is only the beginning.” I agree with him and i feel so. Thanks.

Fernando March 2, 2010

Warren,

Did you describe my life in the text? I totally agree with you.

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