I have known Evelyn for six years and have always been impressed by her command of English. Her academic achievements in China and strong proficiency in English earned her a spot at Wellesley College. Evelyn was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions and share her story.
ESL Online Magazine: How long have you been studying English?
I’ve been studying English since I was nine.
ESL Online Magazine: Can you describe your language learning experiences prior to coming to America for college?
My learning process was in two parts: school and my own stuff for fun.
When you first start learning a language, the trick is: memorize everything, literally everything in your textbook. No matter how silly a dialog may be or how useless a new vocab may seem. If it’s on an intro-level textbook, you can expect seeing it somewhere in the real world. On my ride to school, my mom and I would go over every word and text that we had learned so far during that semester. When you know the sentences by heart, you’ll have no problem using them when the occasion arises.
Of course, a school textbook does not always provide the most authentic, up-to-date information and many people dismiss it for that very reason. But the thing is, if you have to go to school and spend your time studying it anyway, it is not half bad. It is a springboard to help you have functional English and from there, you’ll have the resources to obtain information way above your grade level.
The second part is for fun. If language learning itself is not enough fun for you, then choose what you are interested in and learn about it in English. If you are not interested in the topics you are reading, learning a language at the same time can be painful and very unproductive. I learned this the hard way.
When I started learning English in the late 1990s in a public/state school, the city’s education department decided that it was important for their students to learn about science in English. They held competitions and schools hosted extra-curriculum classes. I always liked the process of learning a new language but never cared much about gravity and hibernation. It was the least fun I had had when it came to language learning, and the only two words I took away from the two summers of boredom? You guessed it, gravity and hibernation. (Of course I eventually learned about meandering rivers, metamorphic rocks, and magnetic fields, but that’s when English had already become more of a tool than the subject I was studying.)
I happened to like movies, literature, and famous people’s speeches, so I went with those topics in my own time. So many resources are out there, written by native English speakers for native English speakers. Various Chinese education enterprises have taken the opportunity to make a profit by pasting the translation next to the original text and giving you a CD recording of the text, usually by professional actors or news anchors. Take advantage of it.
Next week, we’ll finish the interview. In the meantime, click below to get information on tools you can use to improve your English.