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If you don't know this, you won't be able to learn a second language.

Five years ago, it seemed to me that mastering English was a daunting task. I could read it, understand many grammar rules, structure simple sentences, but I was unable to understand it orally, much less speak it fluently.

As much as I studied it, it was as if my ears refused to listen. All I could perceive was a noise and isolated words that made no sense to me. Many times I turned on the Orlando public radio, which my teachers recommended as an excellent tool for practicing my LISTENING, but after a few minutes it only made my head hurt.

On many occasions, I read aloud in front of the mirror to practice my SPEAKING with no encouraging results. I felt that my lips and my tongue were taking opposite directions, they did not agree, so I ended up biting my tongue every so often. I felt awkward. No sound in English sounded natural when it came out of my mouth.

What was wrong with me? Why did English seem easier when I was reading it silently than when I was trying to read aloud, listen or speak?

The difficulty of a language is inversely proportional to the motivation to learn it, Reg Hindley

Some friends said that I was not thinking enough in English, but what does it really mean to think in English? I could understand the theory but I couldn't force my brain to think in a language other than Spanish.

Others advised me to have patience. They said that little by little I would master English. But I wanted to learn it fast. I needed to learn it fast. On the one hand, as a mother, I felt that the more English I knew, the more I could help my children in school, and as a teacher, I felt that it was a great responsibility to master my second language and then be able to teach also in English.

Over time I understood that if you don't have patience and respect your own natural rhythm of learning, such a thing as thinking in English would never happen. So I decided to take it easy by observing how my children learned English too.

My little girl, five years old at that time, was able to speak and read in English according to her age in only three month. That made me reflect on the way she was learning, and the way I was. For my daughter, learning English was like a game. At the beginning, she repeated like a parrot what she heard, even if it made no sense, she was not scared, learning English was like an adventure. She was the perfect example that patience and fun are key elements in learning.

For my oldest son, who was ten years old at the time, English was not an adventure, it was a nightmare. He didn't even want to make any effort to learn it. He just rejected it. But within six months he was communicating fluently with his teachers and friends at school. His teacher, although she did not speak Spanish, was patient with him and respected his learning rhythm. She observed and analyzed what were my son's strengths as a learner, and the areas where she should focus her teaching.

Additionally, the teacher took the time to talk to me, of course through an interpreter, but communication at the end. At that meeting she clarified my doubts about what does mean think in English. To learn to think in English, or in this case help my son to do it, I had to reinforce at home all the knowledge that he learned at the school, but in SPANISH. Yes, as you just read it, in SPANISH. The teacher advised me to forget about English, that she would take care of that part, my mission was to reinforce my son's native language, his Spanish skills.

That was, if the teacher gave fractions at school in English, I had to explain the same thing to him in Spanish at home, or if there was a reading assignment, I had to translate it, analyze it in Spanish, and then leave it alone for him to complete his homework in English, although it was not perfect. The goal was he started using the English that he was learning little by little. I remember I thought maybe I had to do the same to myself. Thinking in Spanish and then try to think the same with the English that I had already learned up to that point. It wasn't perfect at first, but it was a breakthrough.

By helping my children learn at school, I learned patience as an English learner, and I was finally able to think in that language too. Of course, that didn't happen overnight, but I can guarantee you that the more motivated and relaxed I was, the easier it was to understand someone speaking in English and trying to keep the conversation.

This motivation applied equally to my children. My little daughter mastered English faster because she was motivated to do so from the beginning. For my son, the process was slower because at the beginning there was nothing of motivation, only rejection: however, the excellent intervention of his teacher lit that spark little by little, and after a while, his motivation increased as well as his learning, thus overcoming difficulties.

For me the road was longer, because for a long time I was pushed to me so hard instead of motivating myself. The pressure only increased the difficulties in pronunciation and listening comprehension, while when I paid attention to the way my children were learning English, and began to relax, the motivation increased and opened up a whole world of new learning opportunities.

So if today, you find yourself in a situation similar to mine, whether in the United States or in another country where your children must receive classes in a language other than Spanish, do not despair, just look for such a powerful motivation to guide you and help you and your children overcome the difficulties of the new language.

And if you can't find that motivation, tell me your story in the comments, I'll be happy to help you find it!


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