Inglês avançado: Fogos e bombas-relógio Posted by on Mar 27, 2011 in Avançado

Hello, there!

Vamos começar nossa semana com um texto do querido amigo Luiz Otávio Barros onde ele nos conta (in English) como começou a aprender inglês e como foram os “fogos e bombas-relógio” no seu aprendizado.

Fireworks and time bombs

A post I wrote for my blog a while ago invited me to consider a question I’d never really given much thought to: How do I know the English I know today?

I’m not sure I can answer this question with any degree of certainty. What I do know in hindsight, however, is that my learning process was more like a time bomb rather than a succession of rapidly exploding fireworks. Let me explain.

Having been fed a nine-month steady supply of Burt Bacharach songs while still in my mother’s womb, I grew up with an almost surreal passion for American music, which unfortunately never translated into any sort of subsequent formal music training.

I did, however, spend most of my childhood devouring anything musical that came my way, from Abba to Manilow. Did I understand the lyrics? No, not at all, but that did not stop me from learning the melodies and miming the words. I’ve been told, for example, that at age eight I used to sing along to Dionne Warwick’s “I’ll never love this way again” with uncanny, almost unearthly precision. And yet, all the English I knew back then was confined to what they’d taught me in primary school: colors, numbers, animals and the ubiquitous verb to be.

Cut to 1984. I remember being bored stiff at home one day, looking for something to do, so I started flicking through some of my aunt’s old English books. The first lesson of the pre-intermediate volume began with a series of random, disconnected sentences illustrating the use of as … as to compare people and places. There were neat little pictures, though, that did a good job of conveying the meaning of the structure.

Bang. I began to speak English right there and then.

I don’t know what it is about that particular structure that struck such a chord with me, but, honestly, that was really how I began to make sense of the English language. Seeing sentences with a subject, a verb, as + adjective + as must have imposed some sort of order and linearity to the sheer chaos that my exposure to English had been up until then.

Anyway, I remember closing the book immediately afterwards and making a few sentences of my own, in awe of the amount of language that I was actually able to create. In the following weeks, a number of other structures and words started surfacing, one after the other. I used to create mini dialogs in my head, translate them into English and check my guesses with a more capable peer, not necessarily in the Vygotskian sense of the word. Turns out I was right most of the time. The time bomb, which had been silently and inconspicuously ticking away for years and years, had finally exploded.

Two years later, when I finally went to a language institute for formal lessons, I skipped I don’t know how many levels and was placed into intermediate something, which took me aback at the time.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most of my formal language lessons were based on a firework model of learning, whereby the input (the “structure of the day”) was supposed to cause some sort of explosion (my accurate production) within the same class. Needless to say, that was hardly ever the case with me. Plus, the fact that I was a very independent kind of learner with my own agenda (i.e., I knew exactly what I wanted or needed to learn and how) didn’t help much. In other words, even when immersed in a structured learning environment, I was still learning in a pretty organic and chaotic fashion. Once I remember picking up “I’m going to pair you up”, which one my teachers said incidentally in a past perfect continuous lesson. Guess what, I was able to internalize that sentence much better and faster than the tense itself, which, for some reason, I paid little attention to.

Almost twenty-five years later, why on earth, then, do I continue to teach, train teachers to teach and write materials that teach in a linear, atomistic, one-step-at-a-time, firework kind of way?

That deserves another post, I think.

Thank you for reading.

Você pode escrever para o Luiz Otávio e acessar seu site (especial para teachers!) abaixo.

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