How I learned to speak English

When we first moved to the States, I was the only one in my family with at least some knowledge of English. And that was one class I had taken in the equivalent of 7th grade, with a teacher who thought us British English. I thought I could wing it. Boy, was I wrong. American English was completely different. Words were spoken at a rapid pace. Parts of certain sounds were swallowed or completely ignored. Words that sounded one way to me were pronounced a different way.

I quickly found myself in various ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes, re-learning how to put words together. There were many students in the classes. The teachers barely had  time for one-on-one attention. I loved to read and couldn’t wait to get my hands on books. This reason, coupled with a couple of instances of bullying, became the motivation to spend time in the tiny middle school library. I read everything I could get my hands on. Soon, the librarian knew who I was.

But, I quickly realized that, it wasn’t enough to know the words. I had to know what they meant. I had to fit it in the cultural context. I had to understand my peers and why some things were funny or not, and why certain things I said or did led to ridicule. So, I decided to watch what they were watching, with a dictionary by my side (naturally). It’s true. Once a nerd, always a nerd…only then, I didn’t even know what a nerd was. So, these shows taught me English, the way my classmates spoke it. They were the gateway to years of research about American popular culture and how it impacted language and politics and vice versa.

1. Boy Meets World

It was the early 2000s, and Sean, Corey and Tobanga were still in high school.


2. State of Grace/The Wonder Years

Both shows sort of run together for me. All I know is, even today, I enjoy a good narration.


4. Strange Days at Blake Holsey High


5. Degrassi


By this time, I could speak and understand English relatively well. I remember when my parents would ask me to go do my homework, I would say “This IS homework!!”. Or maybe I just thought it, lol.

Other shows that also made an impact: Proud Family, Fresh Prince, Cosby Show, S Club 7, Clueless, Saved by the Bell, Reading Rainbow and Arthur.

How did you learn how to speak English? If you moved to a country that didn’t speak English, how did you learn the language?

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