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Krzysztof Cichy

Who are you?

My name is Krzysztof (it’s the Polish version of the name Christopher) and I’m a 20-year-old student at the Poznan University of Economics. Poznan is a beautiful city of about 600,000 people, located in the western part of Poland and I have been living here since I was born. My interests are: sports — especially tennis (I’m a tennis maniac), basketball and bridge (this is a sport — in Salt Lake City it will be launched at the Winter Olympiad); science — especially physics, chemistry and genetics; music — I love good rock and heavy metal.

How did you learn English?

I started learning English when I was around 10. At first I had no motivation apart from my parents’ pressure who told me it was very important to know foreign languages, especially English.

I blame the Polish political system in the 1980’s for such a late first contact with English. I surely would have started earlier if I had had opportunities to do so, as I liked learning and exploring the world since I can remember.

Additionally, I always wanted to be the best at school - I couldn’t stand it when someone was better than me. Luckily, this was rarely the case ;-). Of course, with English it was the same — I wanted to be the best and always get the best grades. That was my first motivation. However, I must say it wasn’t difficult to be better than my peers as I liked learning new things and some of them didn’t.

In the 8th grade I took part in an English competition. I was the best among my schoolmates, and got to the next level of the competition. Unfortunately, the next level took place on the very same day as the chemistry competition. I had to choose and I decided to go to the latter. I don’t regret it now (I was first in the country) but I felt a little bit confused and deceived. I think learning for a competition is very effective and motivating and they deprived me of the chance.

Sometime around 1994 or 1995 I heard about the SuperMemo method, and I started using it lot (not only to learn English, but also German and other knowledge). It gave me a lot. At the beginning I learned with the Basic English collection, but it was too easy, so I started Advanced English — this helped me to learn many new words. At first, I couldn’t understand many of the definitions, so sometimes I put the Polish equivalent next to the English definition. That helped me to understand the most difficult or complicated items. I can say that I know many words thanks to Advanced English. I also had my own collections. Unfortunately, I haven’t been adding new words recently, but I am going to when I find some time.

My interests were a big motivation for me:

  1. Science — especially contemporary physics (quantum theory, cosmology, astrophysics, physics of elementary particles). I had to learn English to be able to understand articles on the Internet and in magazines like the New Scientist. They contained a lot of specialist words. Unfortunately, almost all the science books I have read were in Polish because I have no access to books in English (or they are too expensive).

    Hence the only books I have read in English were novels — for example, the Penguin Popular Classics series is both available and cheap. Now I’m reading Crime And Punishment — a chapter or two a day as I have little spare time and I analyze every chapter thoroughly. It’s a very good idea, because the book contains a lot of new words and phrases (however often a bit old-fashioned and out-of-use).

  2. Music — in my case it was bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden. Now I’m listening to mp3’s (now playing: Guns n’ Roses Estranged) and it’s great to be able to understand the words. On the other hand, I must admit that I still have a lot of difficulties in understanding some songs when I don’t have the lyrics in front of me. This is especially true of the heaviest bands like Vader. I don’t listen to them very often, but their texts are very interesting from the language point of view.

    Recently, I’ve been listening to Dream Theater a lot. Their songs are worth mentioning from the learner’s perspective — the voice is clean and the language has very interesting structures and words. Music is a very important motivation for me — I still have to learn a lot to understand sung English.

  3. Sports — it gave me a lot — both motivation and some new language skills. I watched every tennis tournament there was on Eurosport (a European sports channel) and thus I had to listen to the English commentary. That helped me to understand spoken English (other channels that helped were CNN and NBC with shows like the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O’Brien). I also searched the Internet for information on my favorite players on the ATP & WTA Tour - Andre Agassi and Martina Hingis. This also required improving my English.

I feel that I still have to improve many of my language skills. I’m going to concentrate especially on spoken English — both my listening skills and pronunciation need to be better. The process of learning a foreign language will never be completed. Perfection is very hard to achieve.

What has English given you?

  • The ability to broaden my interests. I learned many interesting and important things thanks to the knowledge of English.
  • The feeling that I can communicate with other people all over the world.
  • Pure satisfaction because I’m good.