How I Learned English...

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 26, 2007 1 min read

If you live near or in the nation’s capital and would like to hear how some very accomplished second-language learners in this country learned English, you might want to get tickets to an event at the National Geographic Society on Oct. 30.

Several contributors to a new book, How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life, will share stories on that evening. Here’s a review of the book by the Los Angeles Times from Sept. 23. I’m thinking that some writings in the book would be inspiring, or at least entertaining, for English-language learners. Television talk show host Cristina Saralegui, for example, writes how when she was a new immigrant from Cuba, her teachers in Miami, who were nuns, weren’t too pleased that back in Cuba, she’d learned to say “Stick ‘em up!” from American T.V. programs. U.S. Congressman Jose Serrano’s early language learning was heavily influenced by Frank Sinatra records.

I would like to read more of the works of some of the essayists featured in the book. I’ve already read American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood, written by Marie Arana, book editor for the Washington Post. I remember how she talked about being unsure if she should continue to believe the fanciful tales told to her in her home country of Peru or reject those stories because they didn’t fit with the pragmatism of American culture, which was the culture of her mother. Lots of English-language learners, I think, have such experiences of being torn between two cultures.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.


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