If you ask people who know me, they will say that English is my favorite subject after Turkish. They will also tell you that I annoyed them greatly with my English language learning by playing loud English songs at home, writing down song lyrics during math lessons, or changing a movie’s subtitles to English.
People learn English for various reasons. They either work or study in an English-speaking environment or immigrate to a country where English is the common language. And there are unique reasons to learn English, such as studying only to be able to read in English or communicating with a partner whose first or second language is English.
My reason falls into the second category: I fell in love with English.
My first English word with Muzzy in Gondoland
I remember precisely when I fell in love with English. It was the summer of 1998, and I would buy newspapers to read their supplement for kids. That year a newspaper distributed BBC language books, and I found Muzzy— a British animated television film created by the BBC. According to Wikipedia, Muzzy was created in 1986, so I don’t know who wanted to distribute Muzzy books in Turkey a decade after it was first broadcast on television!
Whoever that is, I am grateful to them. I remember how I opened that first book in an entirely different language and couldn’t read a word of it. It would discourage many people, and my brother was instantly uninterested, but not me. I was enchanted by this magic called English and wanted to decipher it. I especially liked the word “apple.” I couldn’t pronounce it and asked everyone around me to read it for me.
I pronounced it “up-plae” because English and Turkish phonics are completely different. My father’s colleague taught me how to read it. I softly whispered the word to myself, “apple, apple, apple.” Saying a foreign word out loud was too much at that time. I treasured it so much and wanted to keep it for myself only.
Elementary school years
You cannot imagine my excitement when I learned we would study English in the fourth grade. I looked forward to my first lesson and sat anxiously at the very front of the class. When my first English teacher walked in, I felt a whole new world open before my eyes. He wrote, “Hello, my name is ….” on the board, which nobody in the class understood.
He wanted us to read these words and introduce ourselves in English. I was the first person. I stood up to introduce myself and said, “Hell-oh, my nuh-ma-ae is Bahanur.” I was familiar with the expression because I had spent my summer reading English books without knowing what I was reading. I would follow the pictures and guess what they might say, but it was my first time speaking English.
The teacher smiled at me and said, “Well done” in Turkish. He corrected my pronunciation before moving on to the next person. I was no longer anxious or ashamed. His smile and encouragement meant the world to me that day and marked a milestone in my life. After that lesson, I wanted to learn English no matter what.
What else propelled me to learn English? Harry Potter did a pretty good job at that. I was a fifth grader when it took the world by storm. I read the first three books in a week and dreamed of reading Harry Potter in its original language one day. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were all I spoke about all day long for a year.
I imagined visiting the UK and speaking to British people about Harry Potter. I wanted to interview them to learn how they felt about the book. When the first movie hit the theaters, I was vastly disappointed, not because it didn’t meet my expectations. On the contrary, it exceeded my expectations, but I had to watch a dubbed version of The Philosopher’s Stone.
Nothing drives me more insane than watching a dubbed movie. I believe it is a crime to dub movies, let alone watch Harry Potter speaking Turkish. I made another promise to myself that day. I would watch all the Harry Potter movies without subtitles and read the entire series in English one day. And guess what? I did. Few things in the world make me proud of myself, and having achieved this dream is one of them.
Loud music years
I didn’t go to a language course. That wasn’t a big thing among my friends, and learning a language was considered a luxury, something ‘extra’ back then. Turkey might be home to different nations and ethnicities, but it is far from being a multilingual country. Few students studied English, and they mostly went to private schools.
I attended state schools and got little exposure to English compared to them. After Muzzy in Gondoland, I started listening to English songs. One of my classmates introduced me to heavy metal, American and British pop, hip-hop, and the musicians that shaped the 2000s. I spent a lot of time with her listening to English songs and downloading their lyrics.
The grammar and vocabulary used in these songs were beyond me, but the challenge encouraged me to learn English more than intimidating me. I spent hours rewriting these lyrics and unconsciously mastering my spelling skills even though I didn’t know how to pronounce them correctly. Finally, when I got caught writing English lyrics during a math lesson, my math teacher said, “I’m proud of you because at least you know what you want.”
I wanted to major in English language and literature, but unfortunately, I was a social studies student in high school, not a language student. I don’t know if this archaic system still exists in Turkey, but back in my time, our future was designed in high school. We were put in four different departments, such as science, social studies, language, and a ridiculous class called “equal weight,” which consisted of Turkish and math.
My school’s language department was not open due to a lack of interest, so I had to go to the social sciences department. I studied journalism in college, but the medium of instruction was English. Therefore, attending a prep school was mandatory. That was the best thing that happened to me because a prep school meant free and intensive English lessons.
I spent a year devouring English and learning it faster than most people in school. Most students complained about the uselessness of English while it was the key for me to open new doors in my life. I passed the language exam but never stopped learning English. I still learn new things: how to pronounce X or what to say in a particular situation. Because English has a vast number of words, learning English is a never-ending journey, even for native speakers!
And that’s my brief English learning journey. If you wonder how I began teaching English, read this post. I will write about my English language journey details in a different blog. Until then, stay awesome and keep learning new words!
What about you? How did you start learning English? What is the most challenging part of learning English?
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