My first experience living in a foreign country by Heloisa Dourado

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I have an aunt who has been living in the United States since she was eighteen years old and she used to invite me to stay with her many times. One day I decided to go. Staying with her and her family was one of the greatest experiences in my life. Besides learning a new language, I made new friends and I really got into the culture of a great and beautiful country.

When I arrived there, I got very excited. First, I was excited because it was my first time in a foreign country, and second because I was going to live something really new in my life. On the other hand, learning English wasn’t an easy process because my aunt used to speak just Portuguese with me; I used to take English classes just twice a week and all the students were foreign too. My experience of learning English in a regular course was limited to this little experience and a short period taking English as a Second Language at the local College. Thus, from that period until de end of the time there, I learned the language with the people from the city and the new friends I had met.

Besides the experience of studying a new language, making new friends was the best aspect of living abroad. I had a girlfriend who lived in a beautiful city by the Pacific Ocean and I used to spend every weekend with her. We used to go out often and in one of these times I met my first American boyfriend. He was handsome and very kind and we had a great time together. He took me to many interesting places and showed me the authentic American way of life by introducing me to his family, his friends and his culture. Moreover, going out constantly and talking to him helped me to improve the skills with the language and mainly to be familiar with the American people and their habits and customs.

Another great experience I had was working as a babysitter. Once I read in the newspaper an advertisement looking for a foreign girl to take care of two children. At first I got really scared with the big responsibility of taking care of two children, but I decided to live this new adventure. The family’s house was in a very nice place by the ocean and the children were very cute and curious about my “weird accent”. In spite of the fact that this new experience wasn’t easy due to my lack of practice at that time, everything went well and the whole situation was very meaningful to my life.

During the time I was living in a foreign country, I realized that living abroad does more for you than just being bilingual; it enables you to live new relationships and to learn about the real culture of a country. I never returned to the United States again, but I will never forget this memorable experience in my life.

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Socializing and becoming fluent in a second language: my journey in Australia by Aline Fidelis

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Learning a second language is a big endeavor. In order to apprehend a foreign language, it is necessary to learn the language structure, its phonemes, expressions, possible collocations, and other intricate aspects related to it. More than the mere linguistic aspect, cultural and social facets should be considered. Therefore, I was fortunate to have this opportunity to live in Australia for a couple of years. Being totally immersed in the Australian culture took my language acquisition journey to an unexpected level.

Joining Bible College in Sydney was a dream come true. Besides the fact that living in a beautiful English-speaking country is a life-changing experience, becoming part of an enormous Christian community like Hillsong College granted me the chance to develop my communicative skills in English. On a daily basis, I had the opportunity to be around hundreds of students from different countries. Most importantly, I was given the chance to be around some remarkable friends who were native speakers. They treated me like family and encouraged me to speak the language out fearlessly.

Those amazing friends, especially my roommate Kaitlyn, daily took the time to chat with me and gently correct me. These generous actions helped me to develop some of the conversational skills that were very limited at that time. Every night, a different visitor was invited over and the conversations went on and on, even when we all had classes in the following morning. Thus, as I interacted to various people with diverse backgrounds and accents, I assimilated the language without even noticing the process involved.

Therefore, I believe that it wouldn’t have been possible to become fluent in English so quickly if I hadn’t had these lovely people around me. Socializing can really contribute to the language acquisition process, once social interaction provides natural practice and it includes the values and behaviors of a culture. Living abroad allowed me both continuous practice and immersion in an English-speaking environment.

After a few months, chatting with friends or talking about my life back in Brazil wasn’t really an issue anymore. I finally started to feel comfortable using my second language, finally reaching a point when I felt confident to give my opinion in class. I can clearly remember the day I had to perform a song to my class, as part of my assessment evaluation for the Worship Music course.

Singing a song in front of amazing musicians wasn’t a real challenge for me, but presenting the background of the song in English was. I slowly introduced myself to the class, explained the story behind the lyrics and announced the singer’s name. Then I described my interpretation of the song and the musical arrangements that were modified. As I saw the reaction of the audience, cheering and nodding their heads in agreement, it felt like reaching the top of a huge mountain. Finally, I overcame an enormous obstacle. Indeed, I was able to communicate my message in a second language, not only because I knew the right words, but also because I was acquainted with the culture.

Obviously, living in a country where you are exposed to English continuously can really contribute to the learning process of the language. However, what made my experience in Australia count were the colors, the flavors, the affection, all the cultural exchange that I got from living there. All of those aspects are incrusted in my memory, resulting in a natural and effective language production, which came out of constant social interaction and practice.

A Decision for a Lifetime by Carolina Martins

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My entire life was shaped by a decision made by my parents twenty four years ago.In 1988, my father was awarded an amazing opportunity – a scholarship in order to further his studies, paid by his public job! There was just a little problem… He would have to move to far off Wales, to study at the Bangor University. My mother wasn’t too happy to go abroad for who knew how many years, especially since she spoke very little English and I was only three years old. After a few conversations, she decided thatit would be worth trying, even though we were all very close to her family and would need some time to adapt. She supported my father and we left Brazil three months after he had gone to Bangor to establish himself and get everything ready for our arrival.

 

The flight itself wasn’t too terrible, as far as I can remember, but the arrival left me bewildered. I couldn’t understand a single thing those people were saying! My parents explained that I would learn English, the main language spoken in Bangor. They treated learning as a very good opportunity, not only some temporary necessity caused by our need to live there for a few years. My mother did her best to help me settle down, and by the time kindergarten started, I could even introduce myself properly. Yet I sensed this invisible language barrier, and not many of my new Welsh classmates tried to cross the bridge between us and be friendly. I was actually somewhat relieved when the school started offering us, the little foreigners, some separate lessons – but that relief only lasted until I noticed that while we were studying more English, the local children were having a break and watching the telly!

 

During the following months, despite missing my family, immensely disliking the school’s food and having few friends, I got quite used to Bangor, and more importantly, to English. At first, when I couldn’t communicate as well as I would like to, I drew for the school’s contests. This became an important tool for me, and I kept drawing even as I became fluent – a process that didn’t take long. While I was experiencing all this at school, my mother was helping me at home. She gave me extra classes herself and did everything she could to give me the much needed incentive in my studies in both languages that were an active part of my life. By the time I was four, I had learned to read in English; things clicked together in that language much quicker than they did in Portuguese.

 

This was a major turn-around point for me. As I started reading, I noticed that I really enjoyed it. Perhaps it was some sort of escape valve for my stress, but reading became my main hobby and through it, my English became much better. I soon reached the point where I even began dreaming in that language. Portuguese took the backseat and I discovered, much to my dismay, that I actually liked English. I needed it to communicate, sure – but it had also become “my” language, the language of my imagination, thoughts and plans.

 

We spent almost four years abroad before my father was done with his studies. He went back to his job, my mother got a new one where she could practice her much improved English and I started taking English classes. Until this day, I am very glad that my parents didn’t simply let me idle and stop studying the language since it was no longer vital – the way they dealt with things, immediately looking for an English school while enrolling me in a regular Brazilian school, didn’t allow me enough time to forget anything I had learned.

 

Unfortunately, I finished the advanced course too young and, given the option, I chose not to study English formally anymore in high school. I still read in English, of course, and I watched everything I could without the subtitles, but by the time I was 15, my English was no longer as good as it had once been. My native accent had faded away a long time before and by then my vocabulary had also started to dwindle. Worse, I lost the very firm grasp I once had on certain structures – but I never really lost that ability to “know” that something sounds awkward, grammatically speaking, when it’s wrong. Noticing that my English skills weren’t being used enough, and approaching that time in life when you have to make a career choice that might as well change your whole future, I decided I would go back to studying English in college. When I told my mother this, she was fine with my decision, but couldn’t bring herself to support my possibly becoming a teacher… Which led me to apply for Translation instead.

 

Studying Translation, I became much better at writing than I had been before, and I favored creative writing over all else in precisely the same way I had always favored fiction over all other books. I also became good at translating things quickly and my vocabulary dramatically increased – but it took me less than a year to notice I wouldn’t enjoy living the life of a translator unless I could work solely in certain areas, and that managing to work like this wasn’t very likely. I would much rather do something more dynamic and interesting. I began to feel haunted by uncertainty, and kept to the path I had designed for myself, until one day I admitted that I would prefer to follow my heart and become an English teacher. I started getting part-time jobs on just about anything that let me lose my natural timidity, while still doing freelance translations and studying, so that by the time I finished college I could think of teaching without having to get a different degree. Meanwhile, I forgot something very basic; it didn’t occur to me that I lacked a deep understanding of English grammar or, even more important, that I had never made an effort to learn how to teach.

 

After I left college, I noticed my mistake. I spent a while working with translation, learning how to deal with clients and wondering if I should get a Teacher’s Degree or try to learn how to be an effective teacher through practice. I remembered my past teachers, the good and the bad, and came to the conclusion that the ones who influenced me the most were the Welsh teachers that had taught the foreign children with creativity, innovation and kindness. I thought that maybe these characteristics had more to do with a person’s own self than with any formally learned knowledge, and set forward to getting a teaching job and learning the rest in any way I could while practicing these qualities I liked so much. Eventually, I arrived at Casa Thomas Jefferson and soon learned more in a month than I had learned in the previous six! This was both a bit frightening and absolutely exhilarating – and it still is. Now I dream of specializing in teaching children and helping them acquire a second language in a way as close as possible to what my old teachers did for me back in Bangor.