My Learning Experience – Learning English
My efforts to learn to read, write and speak English have been significant challenge in my life. When I first came to United States from Hong Kong about 12 years ago, I could speak, read and write almost no English. Today, although I still have much to learn, and I struggle every day, I have made a good amount of progress.
I grew up in a small village in mainland China. No one I knew spoke English. I wasn’t exposed to English through books, magazines or TV. I spent my teenage years in Hong Kong. Although English is common in Hong Kong due to its history, I still couldn’t speak, read or write much English after graduating high school. But living in Hong Kong exposed me to Western culture through movies, music and other media.
I began working at entry level jobs after high school. But I wasn’t fulfilled. I was always more outgoing and adventurous than other Chinese women, even back to my days in the village in the mainland. As time went by I felt stifled by the culture and my career opportunities seemed limited. I was drawn to the freedom and the opportunities the U.S. offers, especially for women. I began thinking what it would be like to live in the West, the United States. But it seemed impossible, only a dream. I continued to work and save my money and think about another life.
Then, in my early 20s, I decided to finally go for it. I would move to New York City. It seemed like the center of everything and was the only place to go. So I took my savings, borrowed some more money from my family, and set out on my journey. I was determined to make new life for myself in New York. But I didn’t want to end up speaking only Chinese and living in Chinatown. I wanted to be strong American woman, I knew that learning English was very important for success.
It was very difficult and lonely at first. I lived in Bronx. It seemed like another world and another culture. It was different than Hong Kong, there was a lot of crime, the streets and subway were dirty and often scary. Without speaking much English it was difficult to make friends. I was far from Chinatown or Flushing, so it was difficult for me to even make Chinese friends that could help me.
I didn’t have a teacher at first, so I tried every way I could to learn English. One way that was very useful was listening to radio and watching TV, mostly news. The people spoke more clearly and easier to understand than English I heard people speaking in my neighborhood. Still, it was difficult. I picked up one word at a time, and looked them up in the dictionary. I would also try to write down the words and remember them. I made a goal of learning at least 20 new words every day. I tried to speak like the newscasters.
After a while I made friends, and they were another way I learned English. I would ask them about the words I heard on TV and radio. I would also learn a lot just from spending time with them and listening to them speak. My very good friends were patient with me and helped me a lot.
After a while I realized to be successful in the U.S. you have to go to college. But I knew it would be very difficult because of my English. So I decided to major in accounting because it didn’t require as much writing as others. Even studying accounting was difficult, but I was good in math and working with numbers was familiar and gave me confidence. It also helped me learn English. I learned English in my other courses too, and took English classes, which were wonderful and very helpful.
I often became discouraged. Unlike my friends, some people were impatient with my lack of English ability, whether on campus or in daily life. In one way I could understand their feelings. But on the other hand they seem narrow minded, as if they had never been to another country and had to struggle with new language. I realized I should avoid these people because they made me feel depressed and lose my ambition.
Sometimes it felt as if I’d never be able to get through college because of the language. Sometimes I just wanted to quit and go back to China where it was more comfortable and I had my family. But I had a goal of becoming an American citizen, speaking English and making a life for myself here. Those goals kept me pushing myself to keep learning English.
After a while I was able to get a job as a bookkeeper. So I was working and going to college, which was more difficult and exhausting. But having a job gave me confidence and slowly I was getting better at English and making more friends. Day by day I noticed myself getting better. The little successes I had gave me the energy to keep going.
After graduating college I was able to get jobs as an accountant. My accounting skills were more important than my English ability, although my English continued to improve. My growing circle of English friends and co-workers really helped too.
Last year I decided to apply for U.S. citizenship. I had to study the U.S. history and show that I had basic English ability. Learning history helped me understand American culture better and helped my English too. The English part of the test turned out to be easy, and I passed the history test too and became an American citizen. Although I have a long way to go, when I look back at my ability when I first came to the U.S. compared to now, I feel a sense of accomplishment. But I’m not satisfied. I want to continue to learn English so I can achieve my next big goal of leaving accounting and working in sales and marketing. The key for selling is communication. I know that English is very important for this type of job which is why I am taking this class and other English and writing classes.
I have since taken several learning styles tests. The results confirm my experiences in learning English over the years. The tests they showed that I am mainly a visual learner – I learn by seeing and looking. The test said that second I was a kinesthetic learner and then an auditory learner. As I have described above, in learning English has been easiest for me to see and try to write the language using written materials. This also confirms why it has been more difficult for me in learning English by hearing and speaking. I have spent a lot of time trying to listen, hear and speak English because it is so important for learning a language, and it explains why this was always very difficult for me. So in my case, the learning styles test is accurate.
There have been many articles written by scholars on the topic of learning styles. I read four of them. The first was “Classroom Styles,” by Robert J. Sternberg, published September 27, 2011 in Insider Higher Ed. The author states there is “compelling evidence for the existence of diverse styles of learning” but admits that not all psychologists and educators agree. The article discusses variety of factors that impact how well students learn. Sternberg states that there are 13 different styles of learning including the “legislative” style (people who like to come up with their own ideas and do things in their own way), “executive” style (people who prefer to be given more structure and guidance or even told what to do) and “judicial” style (people who prefer to evaluate and judge things, especially the work of others). Sternberg then discusses that students, professors and schools all favor or reward these different ways of learning. Thus, a student may have his or her own particular style of learning; a professor may teach based on his or her own learning style; and schools may favor or reward certain styles of learning depending on the schools’ policies and culture. All three of these preferences can affect how well a student performs in a particular class at a particular college.
The second article I read was “Learning Styles and Strategies” by Richard M. Felder and Barbara A. Solomon. The article discusses and compares four sets learning styles. 1. Active Learners – people who “tend to retain and understand information best by doing something active with it” such as discussing or applying it or explaining to others, and Reflective Learners – people who “prefer to think about it quietly first.” 2. Sensing Learners – people who like learning facts, like solving problems using well established methods and are practical and careful, and Intuitive Learners – people who “prefer discovering possibilities and relationships” and are good at grasping new concepts and abstract ideas. 3. Visual Learners – people who remember what they see, such as pictures, diagrams, charts, time lines, films and demonstrations, and Verbal Learners – people who “get more out of words—written and spoken explanations.” 4. Sequential Learners – people who “gain understanding in linear steps, with each step following logically from the previous one,” and Global Learners – people who “learn in large jumps, absorbing material almost randomly without seeing connections, and then suddenly getting it.” The article discusses that most people have combinations of these four sets of different learning styles, but most people are stronger in one style compared to the other. The article recommends that students in courses that are taught using a style different than their natural style should compensate by using their natural learning style when studying on their own.
The third article I read was “Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students,” by David Glenn, published December 15, 2009 in The Chronicle. The author main point is that contrary to opinion of many psychologists and educators, a new study by four psychologists says there is no evidence of any benefits of a teacher matching his or her instruction to the learning styles of the students and that teachers should not attempt to do so. The study asserts that “no one has ever proved that any particular style of instruction simultaneously helps students who have one learning style while also harming students who have a different learning style.” It’s a “waste” of time to try to determine the learning styles of students and match that to instruction. Instead, the study says that teachers should match the instruction to content of the course. Some concepts are best for hands-on work, others for lectures and others for group discussions. But the new study has been criticized as not in-depth enough and did not considering all of the other studies in the area. Even one famous professor in this area who agrees that the new study is not in-depth enough, David A. Kolb, professional of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University, also agrees with the main conclusion of the new study that there is no evidence so far that teachers should tailor their instruction to the students’ learning styles.
Fourth, “Using Learning Styles to Adapt Technology for Higher Education,” by Terry O’Connor, of Indiana State University. The author says that teachers and universities often offer students only a narrow choice of learning styles and that a larger choice of styles will help more students be more successful. The author discusses different types of learning styles and says that teachers also have their own learning styles that affect the way they teach. The main goal is to increase the types of learning and teaching styles so that more students have a better chance of academic success. The author then says that technology can assist in increasing the types of learning styles available to students. The technology should not only be used to do electronically what we have done before off-line. Instead it should also be used to take advantage of the characteristics of each type of technology. For example, basic software programs that offer encyclopedic collections, drills or demonstrations can be “learning centers” for students. Presentation software such as PowerPoint can add visuals that help left and right brain thinkers. E-mail, such as listservers, can extend the discussion beyond the classroom and bulletin boards can increase the interaction between students or between students and the teacher. Database programs can assist students in illustrating various scenarios.
Thinking back on the way I have learned English over the many years, it is clear I am visual learner -- I learn by seeing and looking. I had the most success when reading and using written materials. I enjoyed reading books, newspapers and magazines and I found that I was able to retain knowledge, information and even pronunciation when using written materials. Of course I also understood that it is very important in learning language to be able to speak and listen. So I spent lot of time trying to develop these skills, and used variety of sources, including television, radio and my friends, but it was very difficult for me.
When I studied learning styles and took the learning styles tests they confirmed my experiences learning English. I am mainly visual learner. The results explains why I have had most difficulty hearing and speaking -- because I am weakest as auditory learner. I am somewhere in the middle as kinesthetic learner, which also makes sense, because I am an active person and enjoy learning and experiencing things by doing and participation.
As I continue my college studies I now understand that when studying a subject that is most easily learned by using auditory skills or when completing a project or task that is auditory, I must make extra effort and take extra time on my own to try to learn material using visual methods I am most comfortable with and then try to learn using auditory method. I also learned that I will probably have the most success in courses where the subject matter is best learned using visual methods.
Felder, Richard M. and Soloman, Barbara A., “Learning Styles and Strategies.” Ncsu.edu. North Carolina State University, undated. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.
Sternberg, Robert J., “Classroom Styles.” Inside Higher Ed. Inside Higher Ed, 27 Sept. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.
O’Connor, Terry, “Using Learning Styles to Adapt Technology for Higher Education.” Indstate.edu. Indiana State University, Undated. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.
Glenn, David, “Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students.” The Chronicle. The Chronicle, 15 Dec. 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.
Edmundson, Mark, “Do Sports Build Character or Damage It?” The Chronicle. The Chronicle, 15 Jan. 2012. Web. 09 Feb. 2012.
No author, “Learning Style Inventory.” Pennsylvania State University. Web. www.personal.psu.edu/bx/11/LSI/LSI.htm. 09 Feb. 2012.
No author, “Memietics Learning Style Questionnaire.” Learning-Styles-Online.com. Advanogy.com. Web. www.learning-styles-online.com. 09 Feb. 2012.
Some experiences we wish wouldn't have happened to us
One day as I was struggling along the teacher said, "Stand up. Do you mind reading out loud?"
Now, there I was with 35 kids looking at me, and I came out with "No, I don't mind." Of course I wanted to scream, " What do YOU think you stupid B.....?!!!!"
She should have taken me aside privately to talk about it.
It'd be easy to say I was made a stronger person because of it, blah, blah, blah.... But frankly, I wish she would have just skipped over me and spared me the constant humiliation. (Bernadette Repisky, September 2, 1999)
back in india in the eighties where stuttering was pretty much unknown. i used to have a teacher for my native language (tamil). my fluency in tamil was a lot less than in english. this person, knowing that i was a stutterer used to call on me to read aloud in class. i used to virtually struggle with every word in front of a class of 40. he used to condescendingly say "we need a 8 hour class to get this done this way" and would ask me to be seated while asking another person to read. his insensitivity shocks me even now. the embarrasment and humiliation i felt at that juncture should have been felt to be beleived. thank god, my class mates were understanding. its events like this which causes stuttering children to retreat further into themselves. (Balaji Krishnamurthy, September 3, 1999)
After my first severe block early in the year of my first grade, I started into therapy with a public school SLP. After that, I was never called on in class. However, my family moved and I entered 6th grade in another school. My teacher called on me frequently, often visibly showing her frustration with my stuttering. A couple of times at least, as far as I can remember, asking me why I couldn't say such and such a word. As horrendous as that was, my worst experiences in class lay ahead of me in high school. I was a student at Lenox School, a private sectarian secondary school. I started there in 8th grade. Right from the start from upperclass students, I was receiving taunts and other ridicule. There was another person there a grade or two above me who received teasing at a level I've seldom had. To this day I am still somewhat ashamed that I never established contact with him, never told him I understood, never offered my friendship. The next year he didn't come back. The abuse I experienced never let up. But, never from my classmates, only from upperclassmen or the faculty. I guess the last severe abuse occurred in my junior year at a special event celebrating the year's athletic seasons. The lacrosse coach for the varsity team, for which I had served as a kind of all-around lackey, imitated my stuttering before the whole school. I walked out of there that night absolutely devastated and in tears. But I knew then as I know now, I am more than my speech. These teasers are only reflecting on a external behavior. If I had ever believed that my speech is a complete reflection of what I am I would have committed suicide. I hope younger stutterers will take this to heart. Whatever others may say of your speech in a negative way, they don't know you and what they say is no reflection on you. Never let go of that inner sense of your worth. (Jonathan Bashor, September 3, 1999)
My school experiences... I know times have really changed for the better. When I went through school the teacher used to whip the palms of our hands with a ruler because we "wouldn't talk right", in the second grade. It didn't take long to become a mute. All through middle and high school some of the teachers would be sure and bring out the fact that there were people in the class we could make fun of . One gym teacher used to mock us. He would whip us with a paddle and raise us off the floor. He was a really sweet guy. I graduated in 1963. (anonymous, September 3, 1999)
My stuttering increased dramatically in the 5th and 6th grades. That is also the 1st time I "remember" stuttering even though I found out just 3 years ago (from my parents) that I was seeing school SLP's from 1st grade on for stuttering.
I, unfortunately, had many bad experiences with teachers and SLP's alike while in grades 5-12. Grade school teachers actually made me relieved most of the time - even though I now see it as something that made my severity worsen. They would go around the room most of the time for any sort of reading - the phrase "OK, let's go around the room" sent shivers throughout my body. Of course, I would scan ahead and see what paragraph was going to be mine and then scan the paragraph to see what words I would have the most trouble with. When it came to be my turn, I would almost be crying with fear and tension and - what do ya know - I almost always had a big block on the 1st word whether it was a hard one or not. After several seconds of this (an eternity to me back then) the teacher would just call on the next person to "read for me."
I had been a straight A student from 1st through 6th grade. All of a sudden, My sick days skyrocketed = there were oral assignments those days. And, since I never raised my hand again (until the 12th grade) and never did oral assignments or most written ones because we went over them the next day orally - my grades plummeted. I'm convinced I passed a couple subjects just because the teachers felt sorry for me.
Through all of this, stuttering was never talked about. Not one of my teachers or SLP's discussed stuttering. It was literally the forbidden topic of total shame. My parents had been told by the SLP and my pediatrician to never talk about stuttering because it'll go away. By the way, I went to grade school from 1981-1989 - so, this isn't that long ago. So, if I had one thing to tell teachers about students who stutter is to talk about the stuttering with the child. Make it a topic of conversation that is not taboo and does not bring shame. Have meetings with the school SLP (who hopefully is educated about stuttering) and the child to work things out, so the child can participate in class without the fear.
During some very good therapy in college, I decided to become a member of a very select group - a speech-language pathologist who also stutters. I just graduated with my master's degree in SLP this summer. (Andy Floyd - Wid4@AOL.COM - September 3, 1999)
In the ninth grade (which was still considered junior high back then), I was fortunate enough to have an English teacher who was very compassionate and caring towards my stuttering. She did everything in her power to make me feel comfortable when I had to recite in front of the class. I can remember giving an oral presentation and she told me that when I got stuck on a word, I could write it on the blackboard. The first few times that I did this, it was kind of funny, I joked about it. The further into my presentation I got, the more the blackboard filled up with words which I was unable to say. The more I wrote, the more embarassed I became and the worse my stuttering became. What had become an attempt by this caring teacher to help me in the best way she knew how, had become a complete disaster. Actually, I think that the teacher felt as bad as I did. After class, we had a little talk about what had happened and what she and I could do next time I had to speak in the class. By the way, this occurred at a time when I had not had any speech therapy for about five years, and I was ill equipped to really handle the situation at this time. (Bernie Weiner - Berniewin@aol.com - September 3, 1999)
The first week of school, it is the same each year. New people, new classes, new teachers, and the same fears. The fear of not being able to speak fluently in front of the class, and of how my fellow classmates will react to my stuttering. Some people think that because stuttering is strange, because the PWS (person who stutters) is strange. Last spring, I remember the first day of English 207. I registered for the smaller, writing intensive lecture. We had the usual get in a circle 'introduce yourselves and your hobbies' to the class. Speaking in front of a group of people is scary for people who stutter. Our pulse increases, our knees may shake, our body sweats,and our minds race with thoughts of fluency (ie., 'Damn it, I know I'm going to stutter and make a fool of myself in front of the whole *^&&%%6! class.). We think to ourselves, 'I'd rather be skipping class than embarrassing myself with my stuttering on this first day of class because I have to speak to a bunch of peers who don't know how to listen to a stutterer. 'M-m-m-my name is P-P-Paul.' And I continued to stutter through the remainder of my as brief as possible introduction. I hear laughter from several classmates. I dare not look up and see their faces. That would be too painful. Awareness is painful. I sit in embarrassment. I am thankful that the first day of class with 'speaking circles' is finished. (Paul Engleman, September 3, 1999)
I've had some bad experiences with my teachers, telling me what jobs and other things in life I COULDN'T do, but the worst was my geography teacher. I wasn't good in geography and because of the way she always treated me, my enthusiasm was not much. She mocked me, laughed at my work in front of the others and when I really did a good job she said aloud "I didn't expect that from you". She loved to check my homework by making me come forward, asking me questions, knowing I had two choices: saying I didn't know or stuttering. Even my father talked to her, but the situation really went bad after that. Why? When I met her at a high school reunion 10 years later I asked her why. Once again she gave me that condescending smile and told me she was a left-winged politician and my father a right-winged.....
Even as an adult I worked hard for my presentation in Swedish class. I asked her if I could do my presentation only in front of her, which she accepted. I did my very best, presenting not only written material with history and backgrounds, but pictures, overhead, tapes and a lot more, but was I nervous and I stuttered like crazy! When I was ready I was relieved and proud of myself, knowing I would surely get an A. Then she told me I went overtime and I got a C! I explained to her that half of my time was repeating words and that I even clocked my presentation at home, but no mercy. I had to think of that before........ (Anita Blom, Sweden, September 9, 1999)
I remember experiences in grade school where stuttering was simply something I did not talk about with my teachers. They never brought it up to me either. It would have been helpful if they had. I was in the third grade when I finally accepted that I had a speech problem. My teacher wanted to put me in the middle reading group, while I thought that my abilities indicated that I should be in the top reading group. I asked my mom what the word was that I did (stutter), and I talked to my teacher. I don't remember what her response was, but I think I stayed in the middle reading class. When I was in the seventh grade, we were required to give speeches in class. I had to give speeches even though I stuttered. At that time I did not know that I could talk to the teacher about getting out of it. So I did it anyway. My stuttering at that point was more repeating sounds. Throughout that year and the next, I was mimicked by some boys who lived in the same housing complex as I did. I quickly learned to try to avoid talking around them. That year my speech started changing to more blocking than repeating sounds. (update - Recently I got an e-mail from one of the guys from junior high who had teased me. He apologized for teasing me, and said that he admired me so much for giving speeches even though I had a stuttering problem. He told me that he had been petrified to give speeches and continues to be afraid to give speeches in public.) (Sarah Henderson, September 20, 1999)
Okay, picture this. My entire sixth grade class sitting in the cafeteria split into reading groups. Anyone else remember when reading groups were named after "birds?" This would have been in 1971-72. I loved my 6th grade teacher, she was old, strict but had a heart of gold. My group was at one of the tables reading silently, the group up front with the teacher was discussing the book that they were reading, a book about someone with a handicap. All the sudden I heard the teacher start to explain the word handicap to the group. Yep, you guessed it, she used me as an example. I remember feeling crushed and so hurt. I never thought of myself as having a handicap. I knew I stuttered, so did the rest of the school but a HANDICAP? I never quite thought of my teacher in the same way after that day. (posted to Stutt-l, July 22, 1999 by Sally Butcher)
I went to at least five different speech therapists in different public schools (my Dad was in the military so we moved around a lot) and I truly liked all but one. When I was in either 5th or 6th grade, my speech therapist told me that I stuttered because I wanted to, and that the reason I couldn't stop myself from stuttering was because I really didn't want to. And even though I initially thought she was crazy for suggesting something like this, I actually began to believe what she told me, and so did my parents. Thus, when I stuttered at home, it wasn't uncommon for my parents to criticize my stuttering and remind me that I could stop if I wanted to.
This woman did cure me of a problem I had with making eye contact with people when I stuttered, but that later resurfaced. When I sat in her speech room, I remember thinking, "I guess I'll do what she wants and think like she wants if it means I can get rid of my stuttering," but outside her room I really didn't believe or practice the skills she taught me in therapy. For example, she wanted me to ask my English teacher to tally the amount of dysfluencies I made on a daily basis and then bring that record to speech. She wrote a nice letter and designed a tally sheet, both of whhich she put in an envelope and gave me to deliver to my teacher. I ended up hiding it in my English folder and lying to my speech teacher that I had indeed delivered it, but that I just forgot to bring it with me to speech every week so we could review my daily dysfluencies.
Eventually, everyone found out about my deceptions--my speech therapist, my English teacher and my parents. My parents had a conference with my therapist--which I got to sit in on, too. While they were arguing--and I mean ARGUING--about what was best for me, I somehow told them all that 1) I no longer believed that I caused myself to stutter and that 2) I no longer would be needing any more speech therapy, ever again. The three of them asked me, "Then how will you learn to stop stuttering?" and I think I told them, "I'll do it myself," but I don't think I really believed that. And I did not return the next year to speech therapy even though two women doing screenings came calling. I didn't return to speech therapy until I was a junior in high school--which, thank God, was a very positive experience. (originally posted to Stutt-L on 31 Mar 1999 by Will McGee)
First embarrassing moment: In my elementary school, we often have to yell our grades on homework and quizzes outloud for the teacher to record in her book. I had trouble, especially with the numbers in the 90's. I was a smart student and hated getting A's and B's because I stuttered on those scores. One day, my teacher got tired of my quiet voice, not knowing that I was trying to hide my stuttering. She told her T.A. to go outside and listen for a number that I would yell! Yes, the entire class was watching. The teacher told me a number and I said it as loud as I could. The teacher orders the T.A. to come in. "What did you hear?" "23?" says the T.A. "Go back outside." The T.A. goes outside and the teacher turns to me and says, "She probably heard me say that one." Oh! The hurt! Oh the pain! Yes, this goes on with the teacher whispering numbers to me for me to yell out! For once I was smarter than the teacher knowing it was all futile and just a time of humility in front of the class! She was trying to break me out of my shell but really she can't accept the fact that not all people can be loud-talkers.
Second embarrassing moment: This was in the fifth grade. Actually this is a common experience always coming back to me. It is reading time and we're taking turns reading. I remember it came to my turn. The first word was "would." Would?!?! I can't say that! It got embarrassingly quiet when it came to my turn. I was busy whispering, "W-w-w-w-w-w-" I got angry with myself because it just wouldn't come out. The teacher finally yelled at me to start reading. Augh! The blind world we live in....
by Jenny Woo, age 17
Posted to Stutt-L on February 1, 2004: "A teacher was reprimanded today for yelling at a CWS for wasting the class�s time when she struggled on a word. Ironically, the word that she was stuttering on was Moses. The school responded by switching the student to another classroom. Unfortunately, she will still have that teacher for 2 subjects."
section added September 3, 1999
last modified February 3, 2004