MY EXPERIENCE AS A LANGUAGE LEARNER has been very important in learning how to teach English and developing a method which I call "bilingual and phonetic".

I studied 6 languages to one degree or another in my life. Below is a brief description:

1. French, a few songs in the 3rd grade and 1 year, in my 8th grade English teacher's French club. We learned phrases and pronunciation. I bought a book called "French Through Pictures" which I used for a while. I still remember a song, "Sur Le Ponte."

2. Latin, 6 years, from 7th grade to 12th. We began by translating into English "Ceasar's Gallic Wars" and ended by translating some very realistic poetry of Plautus and a few other poets. Actually we could say it was almost XX rated poetry. It was only at the end did Ihave any interest in learning Latin! Well, I was a teen age boy!!! 

3. German, 7 years. I began in my sophomore year at High School, in a experimental immersion course in 1959. Our first year texts included “Deutsch Fur Auslander” by Kessler, which I still own. We also used a Langensheidt’s German English dictionary. There were only 6 to 8 students in our classes and we read a lot of very good books. I still remember the first sentence from Kafka's "Metamorphosis", which we studied our second or third year. We also read "The Visit" by Durrenmat, which became a movie with Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren. I then studied German for four years in college and I was a German honors student for two years. I read “Faust” by Goethe, most of Schiller’s and Brecht’s plays, and I also translated the poetry of Gottfried Benn.

4. Norwegian, 3 months. When I was about 30, I visited a Norwegian girl friend for the summer. I tried attending a NSL class for adults, which had about 20 people from different countries. I dropped out because the teacher paid attention to those students who knew some Norwegian and I was bored, and instead exchanged lessons with a six year old daughter of my friend's friend.

5. Irish (Gaelic), 3 months. Some of my ancestors were Irish immigrants and I took an extension course at Harvard primarily to learn pronunciation so I could sing a few Gaelic songs in a band I had joined.

6. Spanish, since 1985. I lived in Mexico on and off for more than 10 years, and learned Spanish with the help of my wife at the time (now my “ex) and my students when I started teaching EFL and writing EFL texts. I am still learning. I was 44 years old when I started to learn Spanish and I remember that I thought that it was very difficult...too difficult! I thought: “I must be getting old!” But gradually I learned and actually I also learned a lot about teaching English because of these difficulties.

How about you?  Which languages have you studied and how did it affect you as an ESL teacher?




Impressive language learning experiences, Paul. You are clearly a polyglot! You mentioned learning Norwegian from a child. I think a lot of adults in our classrooms learn from children. Children are wonderful conversation partners who are not at all concerned about so-called "errors." Risk taking with speaking another language is likely easier with kids!

I studied both Latin and Spanish. Learning some Latin was helpful in understanding certain aspects of English. My Spanish was learned by interacting with Spanish speakers as well as through taking formal classes-- though I still have much to learn!

I agree completely with you, Paul, that learning another language is valuable preparation for teaching English. I would say that those who have learned English as a second (third, fourth, etc.) language are among the very best English teachers since they can share what has worked for them.

Would love to hear from others about their language learning experiences.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

Susan, this is like being in a club! I never thought of it like that. 

Here is some more information about the German course I took:

"The German Department at X High School offers courses at six different levels, from beginning through advanced and beyond. At all levels, current events, film, songs, poetry, and theatre enhance the study of: grammar, reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

During the school year, there is a weekly “language table” in the dining hall where students can practice listening and speaking skills. Beginners through Native Speakers are welcome to pull up a chair!"

         I  studied German many years ago in a program like this. The program was designed to teach speaking, reading and writing.  BUT....There were less than 10 students in each class!

The teachers were Americans who had studied German in college. But the director of the program was a German who had been in the Resistance against the Nazis and been wounded.

We read lots of books, mostly plays. I learned to be fluent in about one year.

I still have a copy of my first text, "Deutsch Fúr Auslander", German for foreigners. The lessons are arranged in a question - answer format. For example: Wo (vo) means where. In the text was a map of Europe followed by questions: Wo ist Paris? Paris ist im Frankreich. Etc. And we would read the lessons out loud. 

At the very first class, the teacher taught us a phrase that we were to use if we did not understand him when he spoke German: "Sprechen Sie langsam und klar, bitte" - Please speak slowly and clearly. And it is one of the first phrases I teach my English students.

So: I think that English courses could be designed like this, more or less. One difference is that English is difficult to pronounce for beginners, so I include a lot of pronunciation exercises.


Your German course sounds wonderful, Paul. You say it included "current events, film, songs, poetry, and theatre enhance the study of: grammar, reading, writing, listening, and speaking." These are such engaging ways to make language learning come alive. I especially like the inclusion of plays. I think having learners act out plays can be such a great language learning experience! One resource I've drawn upon for plays is the We Are New York videos since the transcripts are available online and there are role plays featured, too.

I also love that your course included poetry. I have been inspired by the Poetry Out Loud project. Following the basic idea of Poetry Out Loud, I've had learners memorize selected poems and create presentations to accompany their recitation in class. I would love for them to present to others outside of class at some point.

A class size of 10. That's surely not always possible -- but terrific!

Finally, you teach learners very early in the process how to ask speakers to speak slowly and clearly. This is so important. We can also focus on other communication strategies such as "Please repeat." "How do you spell it?" "What did you say?" etc. "WHEN did you say you came to the US?" -- asking the question this way, let's the conversation partner know that he/she understood most of what was said.

Thanks for telling us more about your language learning experiences, Paul. 

Members, tell us about your experiences learning another language -- including if that "other language" is English.

Cheers, Susan 

I've enjoyed reading about your teaching and language learning experience. I am a non-native English speaking ESL teacher. German is my L1, and I studied Latin for 5 years in high school in Germany. I've learned Spanish informally from my students and podcasts since then. However, I also have learners from various other L1 backgrounds and I always make it a point to learn a few simple phrases in their language ("hello" and usually "I'm proud of you" gets a lot of smiles when they finally recognize what I'm trying to say). 

I'm told that I have native-like pronunciation although I did not move to the US until my late teens. I started learning English in school beginning in 5th grade. I agree that practicing pronunciation is important from the very beginning; however, I don't think we should put English in the "most difficult language" category. It's not phonetic, has terribly confusing spelling conventions, and connected speech makes it tricky to decode when listening, but grammatically it's comparatively simplistic. What I do think is lacking is for native speakers to realize HOW certain sounds are formed. I had to discover for myself that there are different ways to make an L sound (L in light vs L in full, which is different from L in German (straight tongue) or even in Spanish) for example. But to teach someone to make a dark L (ending L) sound, you have to know that the tongue muscle moves backward, almost closing your throat. Once you know the mechanics, it's a bit easier to attempt to say the sound (still takes lots of practice!)

I now use the Color Vowel chart as a visual reference for vowel sounds (they have a few free resources and more that can be purchased) and I do minimal pair practice as Paul described in another thread with both vowels and consonants. I also point out the difference between the spoken sounds (linking) and the written words. 

Danke, Kat, entchulidigen sie, but I do not remember much German. I think maybe if I lived there for a few months....mmmmm.

Please send a reference about the color vowel chart. For beginning students I usually focus on making the sounds of consonants, in particular G/J, V vs R, W vs V, and Th...The pronuciation of short i and short e is also important.

The method I use is classroom participation, at first slowly and with a lot of humor. I use the alphabet, numbers and greetings.

My first and only rule is - no making fun of others in the class when we are practicising English pronunciation.

I emphasize that everyone has the same problems, and that it takes time and pracitice. A little bit everyday adds up to a lot!

 I tell everybody the funny stories of how I learned to pronounce Spanish, especially RR.

Gradually the students begin to pronounce better and to speak or read out loud with confidence. Then the major part of my job is done.

Hi Kat, Thanks for sharing your experiences as a language learner and teacher.  As you have done, we teachers can definitely work on learning some useful phrases in learners' languages. I agree with you that English grammar is relatively easy. The pronunciation and spelling are usually the most challenging aspects. 

Cheers, Susan

Susan, Yes! ESL teachers can and probably should learn some useful phrases in other languages, especially those of their students. I recommend that - at least for beginners - teachers use bilingual material: texts, websites, dictionaries, etc.

I teach all beginners the following Basic Vocabulary for three months:

The alphabet, the numbers...up to one million!.., greetings and salutations, food, directions, parts of the body, days and months, the family the school, question words - how to ask...and answer,  the present tense of "To Be", colors,  etc. Plus I always teach about 500 cognates! 

We all can learn basic vocabulary of any language our students speak. Here is a sample of my bilingual/phonetic dictionary:


Palabras communes--  Por Paul Rogers

    Note: at the suggestion of a friend, I did not separate the book into two separate parts, English to Spanish and Spanish to English. 

A a (ei) a (esp). - un, una (ing.) - to, at

abajo - down

abierto - open

able (ebal)- capaz

about (abaut) - acerca de, casi

abre - open

abierto - open

abrigo - coat

abril - April

abundante - abundant

acabar - reach

accept (aksept) - aceptar

accidente - accident  

aceituna - olive

actividad - activity

actor - actor

add (ad) - sumar

etc.etc. up to 500 words