Adventures in Reading

Nonfiction: How I Learned English edited by Tom Miller

“To tell you the truth, the hardest thing about coming to this country wasn’t the winter everyone warned me about—it was the language… For the longest time I thought Americans must be smarter than us Latins—because how else could they speak such a difficult language. After a while, it struck me the other way. Given the choice of languages, only a fool would choose to speak English on purpose.” – from ¡Yo! by Julia Alvarez

As part of my efforts to learn Spanish, I’ve been exploring a variety of Spanish related materials. How I Learned English is a collection of 55 essays written by Latinos ranging from professional baseball players to union men, admired authors to politicians and their experience with learning the English language. Each of these essays, as the title may have given away, is the writer’s story of learning English. The stories are sad, inspiring, and funny.

However, I confess I chose to read the book to broaden my perspective on language acquisition tools. Though the majority of the writers found themselves in a situation where they had to learn a foreign language, that didn’t slow me down from picking up different language learning techniques. Some ideas to add to my repertoire: Spanish speaking television series or telenovelas like La Fea Mas Bella (a.k.a. the original Ugly Betty), magazines in foreign languages, thinking out tasks in foreign languages, recording myself speaking in Spanish to work on pronunciation, and allotting myself a daily amount of Spanish words to acquire.

How I Learned English is a great book for people wanting to learn any language – it’s not exclusive to English or Spanish. It provides an interesting perspective of immigrants and the passion and failures that come attached to the new experience of a foreign language. Frank McCourt, famed Irish author of Angela’s Ashes, wrote the afterword and says “Politics aside, you can only admire the millions who came here and are still coming, who climb the highest mountain of all-the English language.”

Conclusion: Returned to library.

1 Comment

My sister speaks Spanish (although she’ll tell you she doesn’t) and I’ve thought about trying to learn some. She just moved back to the states from Argentina, so she was completely immersed in the culture and language, but I think she would find this book interesting (well, and living in a state–Texas–where half the people speak Spanish, it would be interesting for me to read as well).

Comment by Trish

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