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July 13, 2013

Tales of a foreigner in the U.S.: Learning English

My journey from Spanish to English and how it shaped our passions for languages and education
Written by: Mauricio Dangond

So far we have dabbled in 4th of July sentiment from an educator’s perspective with our United We Stand post, and paid an homage to Ye Mengyuan & Wang Linjia. Today we want to share with you my experiences as an English language learner and how these experiences have shaped mine and the Academy’s focus on languages and education.

My journey Born and raised in beautiful Colombia I was lucky enough to be brought up in a family whose view of the world revolved around the idea that we belong not only to the country in which we are raised but to the planet as a whole. This mindset led my parents to take us on international vacations every year. Traveling was done mostly to the United States but we frequently ventured to Canada and other countries in Latin America as well.

The beauty of Colombia Colombia is a Spanish speaking country in the northernmost part of South America. With all its known problems it is however a beauty to behold and a very cultured nation which like many others is in one way or another becoming more “Americanized” – more on this on a different post. My brothers, sister and myself were educated in bilingual schools. This made it easier to travel to the U.S. as we already had some knowledge of the language. Traveling and English became an important part of our lives. I often thought of one day living abroad and having a family in a different part of the world. It wasn’t until many years later that I met my wife (and CEO of our Academy) in Colombia.

She was doing a Fulbright teacher exchange in Bogotá and I was attending Business school, still (I took my time!). As to not bore you with our life’s story I will skip the way we met and paths that led us to move to Chicago, IL. I will tell you however that it was in Chicago where I learned that what great English skills I thought I had were really a set of sentences and words I knew how to string together, albeit with a strong foreign accent. You see, visiting a foreign land and actually living in it are quite different things. For one, during our vacations as a child all I really needed to know was how to order food at a restaurant, extra pillows at the hotel (my father refused to call reception himself) and the occasional “do you know where the restrooms are?”. I find that you cannot really learn a language without being somehow immersed in its culture. So using English at a school located in a Latin culture country will only get you so far.

A somewhat brief but very significant sprint of teaching Spanish in Chicago taught me a lot about people and customs in the United States. While this greatly helped my own language and personal development it also reshaped my understanding and views on the English language. Flashbacks of my English classes at school made me realize how little inane drills and textbook memorizations help when learning a language compared to experiencing it. Through this fascinating stage in my life my wife’s idea of teaching English to foreign students really began its journey. Oh, by the way, the Academy? That was all ideated and thought of first and foremost in Barbara Dangond’s mind.

Nowadays my English language skills have increased enough that I feel comfortable writing in it to a broad audience and speaking it to anyone I come across. You should have seen me in the prime of my foreign phase, quiet and scared of sharing my views for fear of sounding too foreign or not using the right words. Today I may just speak too much. But in efforts to continue to improve on a second language this is a very good thing.

What happens next? I like to think we lend a hand in uniting this world through teaching English and facilitating socialization of children from different parts of the world all in one place. We will continue to share our experiences and thoughts through our blog in hopes of connecting with other like-minded groups of people. We have been very lucky in having already connected with wonderful individuals who, like us are doing their part in bringing societies together. For our next post we will have input from the very knowledgeable Kerstin at Fluent Language Tuition on language and personalities. I highly encourage you to visit her blog. She is a native German speaker with experience in French, Spanish and English. I guarantee you will gain valuable information and insights.

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Until next time!

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