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Marta Wlodarczak

Who are you?

My name is Marta Wlodarczak. I’m 22 and I study at the Academy of Fine Arts and the Teachers Training College (English Section) in Wroclaw, Poland.

How did you learn English?

I started to learn English when I was in elementary school. Together with my two friends, I had English classes with a private teacher. I lacked motivation and I learnt very little so after a year all I knew was a couple of English words and several basic expressions. This stage was insignificant and could just as well have not happened at all.

I began to learn English in earnest when I went to high school. I was in the same class with Tom and Michal (webmasters at Antimoon) but we were in different groups. I was in a group for students who were to learn English from scratch, and they were in a group for those who already knew some English. On entering the new school I promised myself to learn hard, so I was making fast progress.

My teacher noticed that my English was improving rapidly and he told me to join the group for the advanced learners. This was the worst thing that could have happened to me. I was separated from my best friend, who stayed in the beginner group, and I had to find my place in the new group, which is always difficult. Besides, my new teacher, who was Irish, didn’t speak Polish so I couldn’t understand her and I never knew what I was supposed to do. I was completely at a loss, I was stressed and discouraged and, needless to say, my English didn’t improve at all. As a result, at the end of that year I was sent back to the group for beginners.

My stay with the advanced group made me realize what kind of learning strategies I should use in the future. I discovered that I cannot pick up a new language directly from foreigners and that I should learn more consciously, preferably with non-native teachers, who can switch to Polish if necessary. I started to learn hard again.

I translated into Polish all new words that appeared in my course-book, even those that were used in the instructions for exercises. Before a test I would memorize dozens of words with their Polish equivalents. However, later I would never revise those words so I would soon forget most of them.

Also, when I tried to memorize a new word I always made a special point of its spelling. But I would do it the wrong way. For example, when I wanted to memorize the spelling of the word difficulty, I would pronounce it like this: /di:f fi: ku:l ti/ to make the spelling clear to myself. Of course, this way of learning had a disastrous effect on my pronunciation.

I knew that I should improve my learning techniques and I decided to ask for help those who had the best results in English in our class, that is Michal and Tom. That wasn’t easy because we hardly knew each other. What’s more, in the second grade, they seemed to look down on girls so after a few attempts to approach them I decided to give up. For two years I learned English using the method described above. My English was improving but I was still forgetting new words and my pronunciation was bad. Finally, in the fourth grade I got closer to Michal, who started to teach me English pronunciation and showed me how to learn English more effectively, which was a breakthrough in the whole process of my learning English.

Michal encouraged me to read books in English and to use SuperMemo together with monolingual dictionaries. I started to append new words to my SuperMemo collection and I also used Tom’s collection with ready-made items. Michal taught me the phonetic alphabet and practiced with me the right pronunciation of individual English sounds. I had to learn many words anew because it turned out that I mispronounced them. SuperMemo forced me to learn English regularly so I got better and better from month to month. Finally, I began to write e-mail messages in English, which gave me a chance to fix new words and grammar structures in my mind and helped to improve my writing skills.

I have been using these techniques for four years, and in my opinion, I have achieved pretty good results. I find it easy to read books in English, even those written a couple of centuries ago, which gives me pleasure and satisfaction. I don’t have much difficulty writing in English, and even my American teacher praised me for my writing, which was significant because she’s rather hard to please. Recently, I have taken to watching English movies in the original, and I hope that soon I’ll be able to understand English movies the way I can understand English books. Finally, my pronunciation has markedly improved and I can be proud of it now.

What has English given you?

Since I started to read books in English and watch English TV, English has become my hobby. It has also become an important part of my social life because I use it to communicate with my friends and teachers. I no longer find learning English unpleasant, difficult or boring. Actually, if for some reasons I cannot catch my SuperMemo collection or at least read in English for a few days in a row, I really miss it.