How I Became Fluent In English
Updated: Dec 25, 2019
One can have two or more native languages. Although I identify Catalan as my preferred language, I grew up in a household that spoke Spanish. Today, however, my primary language is English. I began learning it when I was 5. Later, I started using it professionally after turning 18, and at home since age 30. I’m originally from Barcelona, but I’ve been living for almost three years in the U.S. as I’m writing these words.
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English was a compulsory subject at school between the ages of 6 and 18, but classes would never be more than 2-3 hours a week. Additionally, the teachers were not native, and the language of instruction was indeed not English. It was still my favorite subject and the one that I got my best grades in. In class, the students chiefly learned words and grammar rules, which didn’t even lead to a basic understanding of the language.
My parents, of blessed memory, then decided that I would attend English schools in the evenings. They had taken notice that English could be a valuable asset for my future. At first, I was mad at them as I only had time for myself and my friends over the weekend. Years later, though, I’m grateful as those extra lessons were crucial to master the language eventually.
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For ten years, I attended different schools whose teachers were native English speakers that only taught in English. That allowed me to begin thinking in English, which I believe is the key to conquering the language. The teachers were predominantly from the United States, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. The variety of accents that I was exposed to proved helpful as well.
My first teacher was a young woman from the Boston area that taught English to children. I remember that she often engaged us in learning by using board games. My next experience took place at Wornham School of English, which used the Callan Method – a teaching method characterized by lessons involving constant listening and speaking practice. That school was the first to introduce me to audiovisual content in English. The first two movies that I remember watching there were The Piano and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
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While living in A Coruña (Spain), I also attended two other schools: Cambridge English Studies and Speak English – School of English. All these schools trained me for the following Cambridge English Qualifications:
The A2 Key, formerly known as Key English Test (KET), which I passed at age 13.
The B1 Preliminary, formerly known as Preliminary English Test (PET), which I passed at age 14.
The B2 First, formerly known as First Certificate in English (FCE), which I passed at age 16.
Right after completing the B2 First test, I went to Cork (Ireland) for summer school with Interway. I stayed with a family in Carrigaline, a town in County Cork. I had the chance to visit other places as well: Cobh, Killarney, Youghal, Bunratty, Kinsale, Blarney, etc.
When I came back from Ireland, I completed high school. I passed the entrance exams and applied for admission to several colleges in Barcelona, Castelló, and Alacant. I decided that I’d study for a licentiate degree in Translation & Interpretation. Some schools require an additional English test if you’re looking to make English your primary language of study. I was accepted at three different universities. I chose Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).
By this time, globalization had been playing a significant role in putting me in touch with audiovisual content in English and English-speaking people. First, there were pen pals and the occasional summer friend vacationing in Spain. Then, there was the Internet, which included chats, forums, emails, blogs, and social networks. Traveling also became more accessible and affordable.
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I got most of my first jobs because I was able to communicate properly in English. That played a part when it came to practicing the theory that I had been learning in the previous years. In the meantime, I was learning translation in college. One might ask, “Why do you have to learn to translate if you already speak several languages?” My answer to that is the following: “Just like you have fingers and can use them to write, that doesn’t automatically make you a writer.”
Although I had gathered several years of experience by the time I completed my degree, I still felt that I had to fulfill myself professionally. I realized that no one in Spain was going to hire me just for translation purposes – unless, of course, the job included a handful of other administrative tasks. I was already there, so I began focusing my efforts on developing my career as a freelance translator.
In 2011, I founded the brand BPM Traducciones to provide language services to individuals and companies along with another business partner. The Great Recession in Spain prevented me from working full-time in this venture. I ended up emigrating to the United States to look for better opportunities in 2016. That eventually paved the way for me to create AM Language Services.
The fact that I could speak English also led me to find love. In 2013, I met the person that is today my husband: Edgar Amaya. Ever since, my day-to-day has been in English, especially after relocating to America, his country of citizenship – and soon mine. Having a native English speaker by your side and residing in an English-speaking country are most likely the best ways to become proficient in the language.
The article titled “The Native Speaker: An Achievable Model?” published by the Asian EFL Journal states that there are six general principles related to the definition of “native speaker.” The principles, according to the study, are typically accepted by language experts across the scientific field. A native speaker is, therefore, defined according to the following guidelines:
The individual acquired the language in early childhood.
The individual has intuitive knowledge of the language.
The individual can produce fluent, spontaneous discourse.
The individual is competent in communication.
The individual identifies with or is identified by a language community.
The individual has a dialect accent (including the official dialect).
I certainly meet all the criteria above to be classified as a native English speaker. Nonetheless, I feel that I’m still learning new things in English every day and that my Spanish and Catalan are better than my English. But isn’t a translator continually learning about his/her native language? That’s why I choose to identify as having native proficiency in Spanish and Catalan, and bilingual proficiency in English, even if nowadays I think and dream in English.
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Scientific progress has been made to determine ethnicity estimates via DNA tests. While results differ depending on the DNA testing company, they all seem to agree that I have between 2% and 10% British/Irish ancestry. Some of these estimates point specifically to Ireland and Scotland. While I have yet to find this in a paper trail, scientific evidence suggests that I had an ancestor who was 100% British/Irish. This person was likely born between 1740 and 1830. Not only is the English language in my heart and brain, but also my blood!