Part 1

I am 27 years old now. I had my first English course around at the age of 10. At that time English was not a course being taught at elementary school, and it usually was taught starting in middle school. But my mother found a teacher to teach me simple English words on Saturdays. I mainly learned basic vocabulary, such as numbers, months and letters.

From grade 7, school began to give English classes to students. English is an important course because it takes up 120 scores of the 750 sum scores. And this score will decide which high school you can go to. The higher your score, the better the school, and the greater opportunity for you to be admitted to a top university.

The first big change happened in grade 8. Our English teacher spent several weeks teaching us the English phonetics systematically. I learned well about the phonetics, and as a result I could pronounce an English word by reading the phonetic marks, while most Chinese students were using Chinese pinyin to help them understand the pronunciation of English.

Gradually, I found I had an interest in reading English short stories in textbooks or test papers. They provide funny stories and sometimes some good tips about life, which was different from the serious articles in my Chinese textbooks. The English examination was easy for me, and I even enjoyed reading the articles included on the test. I also worked hard to memorize lots of vocabulary, and that helped my reading a lot.

The second big change happened at my university. I decided to improve my pronunciation at that time. I found some good tutorials on the internet and bought a textbook teaching American English pronunciation. The writer of the book is Taiwanese and he sounds like an American native. I spent one month following the audio and repeating his pronunciation to correct my accent. After repeatedly practicing, my tongue got used to some difficult pronunciations and I felt my accent improved a lot.

At the same time, I use some ESL (English as a Second Language) audio material to do shadowing practice. Three months passed, and I learned a lot.

Having a lot of spare time at university, I also tried to read English novels. I finished the first 4 books of Harry Potter. I was confident in my level of English, but I didn’t have an opportunity to talk with native English speakers. There were no foreigners at my university, and my English teacher was also Chinese.

Part 2

At the end of my university, I planned to go to a graduate school to learn software programming. I needed to pass the graduate entrance examination. One of the four examinations was an English level test. I was confident in my English, so I had only prepared vocabulary. I spent 3 months memorizing 1500 GRE vocabulary using spaced repetition. At that time, I didn’t know about flashcards. I used a software based on a famous retention curve to remind me to review certain pages of my vocabulary book. At last, I got a high English test score without any preparation for grammar.

At the age of 24, I got my master’s degree in Engineering and entered a big Chinese International company. Some of our colleagues were foreigners so we would text message in English. But I still struggled to read long English articles, and lacked confidence in speaking. But I didn’t spend time on learning English any more, busy working as a software engineer.

My second employer was a South Eastern company. Our product managers mainly worked in the Singapore office but they could speak fluent Chinese with me. All of our company documents in the workspace were in English. Some of my Chinese colleagues would use Google translate to turn them into Chinese. But the translated result was not satisfying, so I preferred to read the original English and look up unfamiliar words.

After COVID, travel abroad recovered. I felt kind of tired of the closed media environment and strong government supervision in China. I want to know what foreigners’ lives look like. And I also want to practice my English to achieve fluency and find a remote job for foreign companies in the future. Having been stuck in office and with facial masks for 2 years, I want to walk outside and be open to the world.

So I quit my job this June. I spent one month taking English language classes in Philippines and then traveled to Bali, Indonesia. Next, I will spend one month in Penang, Malaysia, two months in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand and 2 weeks in Laos. Then I will go back to China to attend the visa interview at the US consulate in China, for my following trip to Latin America.

Part 3

I studied English at Boracay, Philippines for 4 weeks, in an international English school opened by a Canadian 20 years ago. It’s my first time to go abroad. English immersion is challenging but helpful for me.

From talking a lot with my English teachers and classmates, I had learned that even though I didn’t know some advanced words, I could use simple words to convey similar meanings. That’s called meaning-focused activity.

I had four classes every day: one reading class, one grammar class, and two one-on-one speaking classes. My favorite was the reading class taught by a male teacher from London. He was around 60 years old, and he would play guitar in a restaurant in the evening. He was enthusiastic about teaching and encouraging to students. He would ask us interesting questions, such as what we thought our talent was. I replied that I didn’t know if I had any talent. He told me that everyone was talented in something and I would find it.

In the grammar class, I learned the noun clauses and the passive voice. Students were required to make lots of sentences using the grammar knowledge being taught in class. Memorizing a lot of grammar structures was boring, but it was interesting to hear sentences from people from different countries.

From one-on-one speaking class, I learnt the politics, the educational system and social issues about Philippines. The two teachers were Filipinos. One of them liked reading English novels, and was writing his own novel which he wanted to publish one day. The other one liked listening to his favorite F-POP singer, and spent a lot of time browsing TikTok at night. Both of them were worried about the current state of Filipino government. They thought corruption was still a big problem in Philippines and that the situation was getting worse.

Besides regular classes, school also held lots of other fun activities, such as a quiz on Tuesday nights. Participation cost 50 pesos per person. They were divided into 2, 3 or even 4 groups. Each group would work together to answer a series of questions. The group that got the highest score would win all the pesos.

Part 4

At the end of July, I graduated from the language school with happy memories on the crystal blue beach and the friendly local people. I still stayed in touch with one of my teachers on Instagram, and we exchanged opinions on English literature. Then I took a flight to Bali, Indonesia. I lived in Ubud, a beautiful village surrounded by terraced rice fields. There were lots of travelers from all over the world. It was a good opportunity to practice speaking English.

In the first week, I hung out with a friend from Romania 🇷🇴 using CouchSurfing. We walked along the rice fields at dusk, visited the Bamboo Village, and took yoga classes together. We trekked Mountain Batur on Saturday. We started our trekking at 10am to avoid the crowded tourists who went for the sunrise. After the trek, we ate lunch at a local restaurant. I liked Balinese local restaurant, which was called warung in Indonesian, because it was cheap (3 dollars for fried rice with vegetables and a sunny-side up egg, and 0.80 dollar for one scoop of ice cream) and provided a good surrounding scenery. After lunch, we spent an hour playing in hot spring pools.

In the second week, I slept in a 6-dorm room in a hostel. Thus I met tourists from India, Australia, France, Turkey, US, Netherlands, etc. But gradually I got tired of meeting new people and having small talk.

In the third week, I traveled to a countryside villa. It was quiet and near to rice fields. I spent the whole day in my room learning English and had a walk along the expansive rice fields at dusk. I read English novels on my phone and watched television shows without subtitles on Netflix. I joined a language learning subreddit and learned more theories on learning.

Now I am practicing the language learning theories I have learned. I want to get my English from B2 to C1. I want to use English freely like a native speaker so that I can learn more about our world.

– The End –