The following text was compiled from several e-mail messages received in December 2012. I haven’t proofread it, so it contains a few small mistakes and awkward phrases. — Tom
Who are you?
My name is Kamil Oleksiak and I am 20 years old. I have been learning English for approximately 10 years. I am currently studying English at the University of Szczecin, Poland. I am a sophomore right now thanks to Antimoon.
I came across Antimoon in February this year. Before, I was looking unsuccessfully for a good website so that I could learn English and other foreign languages more effectively. I was searching for useful tips on how to learn English due to the fact that I passed the first semester with difficulty.
Dictionaries and SRS
I guess the toughest part of studying English was learning vocabulary. It was a horrendously demanding task. We used to have zillions of tests on vocabulary during our conversation and integrated skills classes. Vocabulary used to be my Achilles’ heel. I was not accustomed to using English-English dictionaries but now it is my habit which I cannot get out of. I use English-English dictionaries on a daily basis and I am no longer frightened to use them. I use four dictionaries for advanced learners (Cambridge, Collins, Oxford and Longman), one pronunciation dictionary (Longman) and only one Polish-English dictionary in case of emergency (PWN-Oxford Dictionary, I highly recommend it for eager beavers; however, it costs an arm and a leg).
Apart from dictionaries, I realised then that time management played a crucial role in studying; therefore, I downloaded spaced-repetition software (SuperMemo 2004) as soon as I encountered Antimoon. I started my own collection as soon as I downloaded SuperMemo 2004. Since February, I have added loads of sophisticated words, phrasal verbs, idioms, quotations and phrases that I found difficult to remember. I didn’t let all the rare words I encountered vanish without trace. I am pretty sure that it was a move in the right direction. As well as information on history or geography, words and phrases in English have to be reviewed frequently. My collection consists of 4,700 words, phrasal verbs and phrases. I add new items every day and I am fond of this method because it is unorthodox. Why follow the herd?
I take my laptop with me every day. I use software dictionaries in class at the university. I make repetitions when I travel by train. Importantly, during the first year I used to spend three hours a day in train. I realised that I could not waste my time.
I read up to 100 pages a week. I cannot imagine a day without reading in English. Reading is an indispensable part of my life. By the way, strangers are green with envy when they see that I devour books in English!
I like to read simplified books published by Oxford University Press which is the largest university press in the world. OUP publishes thousands of books in an abridged version for English learners. I advise diligent students against reading simplified books below 600 keywords since very often they contain grammatical mistakes.
I would say that, on balance, I spend too much time on reading. I bear in mind that speaking comes first. The reason why I read more than listen is that many podcasts, interviews and so forth are of poor quality. I guess that is why my writing is far better than speaking.
Listening and watching
I spend more than an hour a day on watching and listening to English. I often listen to podcasts. ESLPod is a perfect website to improve listening. I like the fact that once every few days they upload new podcasts. The speakers talk quite slowly, plus have a great sense of humour and therefore they hold my attention. My only beef is that the speakers use American English. I listen to broadcasts on the BBC and CNN, but I prefer the BBC because I specialise in British English.
I also enjoy watching Family Guy, which is an American sitcom. So far there have been 195 episodes. This sitcom is a blast. It satirises American culture. It goes without saying that general knowledge is essential to grasp what is going on in the episodes since there are many scenes that refer to history, for instance September 11 attacks, knighthood in the Middle Ages and so forth. I like the fact that there is no correlation between episodes so if you missed an episode, you would be still able to have fun. On the other hand, if you cannot put up with vile language, this sitcom is not for you. Myself, I wish I had more free time so that I could watch it more often.
As for films, I highly recommend watching Educating Rita. It is quite old, but definitely worth seeing. The film is about a woman named Rita who wants to better herself by studying literature. She enrols at Open University but she has serious problems with writing academic essays. Her tutor, Frank, is a heavy smoker and addicted to alcohol. The dialogues between Rita and her tutor are hilarious and that is the reason why I love this movie. If you like laughing, give it a go.
I would not have been successful if it had not been for numerous computer games. One of them had an important influence on me. Its name is Tibia. This game was a breakthrough in my process of learning English. I am certain that many people have heard about this game. Once upon a time, I was angry at my friends that they were talking about Tibia and I had no clue what they were talking about so I created an account to check it out. As I recall, it was in 2005. I was surprised that the game was in English, all dialogues, names of weapons and so forth were in English. In addition, the game was worldwide so English was an important tool of communication with other players. However, it didn’t discourage me from playing. I learned lots of words and sentences which I used later in high school to impress my teacher with my English. Words related to weaponry came to me relatively easy. Moreover, I used to write thousands of posts on the forum of this game. I loved this game but, alas, I quit at the beginning of 2010. I partially regret quitting the game due to the progress in English I made. I bet that I would not have chosen to study English if I had not played the game. I loathe people who criticise this game only because most of players get addicted to such games. However, I was an exception and took advantage of this game.
My pronunciation is a zillion times better than one year ago. Before I started
my studies, I used to make terrifying mistakes such as pronouncing the words
comfortable and work as
/wɔːrk/ respectively. Phonetics
and phonology classes were a breakthrough. However, at first I loathed phonetics
because I was hopeless at pronunciation, but later on it has become my favourite
subject due to the fact that the academics who teach the subjects are excellent.
They are well-educated and cheerful people who are willing to answer my
questions at any time and I owe them a lot. Needless to say, their English is
impeccable. Both the phonetician and phonologist encouraged me to use the
Longman Pronunciation Dictionary.
There is no single day without using this
dictionary. Whenever I want to dispel doubts how to pronounce a word, I consult
the dictionary. As a second year student, I pay attention to tiny details and
thus I have no problems with passing tests on phonetics and phonology.
Pronunciation is of great importance to me.
Thanks to advancement in technology I can listen to correct sentences while using dictionaries, that is why the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English is superb. Moreover, when I use SuperMemo, I read out sentences if it is possible. At times, I talk to myself on condition that I do not disturb anyone at home. “You need to cope somehow if you have no person to talk with”, that is what one of my teachers said. Quite often I correct myself when I mispronounce a word unconsciously. I have already made headway with pronunciation but there are still loads of things to master. So far I have focused on producing individual phonemes, studying them in great detail and learning general rules of word stress (which are extremely intricate in English). Now I lay the emphasis on such issues as intonation, rhythm and so on.
I hand in all the essays we are asked to write. On average, I write one essay once every two weeks. I believe that the more I read, the better my writing is. If I read lots of pages, which contain correct English, I will have no problems with phrasing my thoughts on various topics.
There is one matter I would like to bring up, namely time management. If you want to be a successful learner, you need to organise your time wisely. You must prioritise your work. It is your own decision how you will spend it. If you spend three hours a day watching silly images, go for it, but do not whine that you are incapable of writing or speaking in English. It is your own fault. Please do remember that every man is the architect of his own fortune.
What has English given you?
- I am able to communicate with people all over the world. I write e-mails to my friends from other continents. They understand me and I understand them. I travel to Germany quite often and use English there. When I went on a trip to Koblenz I had no problems speaking in English for ten hours about various topics.
- All my lectures and classes are taught in English and I derive much pleasure from the process of learning in foreign language. I can read books in English and watch films in English. I particularly love watching films about animals.
- I am planning to earn a living from English. A good command of English will be indispensable to me at work.
- Learning German and Italian is a breeze because I know English. I spot many similarities between these languages. Paradoxically, learning three foreign languages can take less time than learning only one language. For example, I know that un castello in Italian is a castle in English. Likewise, una madre means a mother. Try to pronounce these words. They sound similar, do not they?