When I was a child, I would envy the kids who, at the early age of six or seven, would already know what they wanted to be when they grew up. Me, I was lost. I often wandered about being a fireman, a milk-delivery man, superhero or even a ninja. But to my mom it was very clear. She always told me that my profession would be in the line of communication.
As a baby, I would start saying “mama” or “papa” when I was just six months old, and those phonemes evolved into full words and even two-word sentences right after my first birthday, unluckily for my parents, one of those words was the Spanish equivalent to “Sl#t!” (all thanks to my oldest sister). Before I turned two, I was having the cutest and funniest conversations with my nanny, who said I really liked to have arguments with her.
Years went by and along came the bedside stories my dad would tell me every night. That was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with books I developed over the years. But I will illustrate this subject fully later on.
In primary school era, I was introduced to two things that would shape the foundations of my process acquiring English as a 2nd language.
The first one was, I believe, the most meaningful one for me. My grandfather and I had a very close relationship, he was a very soulful man, full of spark and had a strong devotion to music, jazz and blues to be more specific. I was his sidekick, I’d follow wherever he’d go and do whatever he’d do. We often spent the warmest afternoons in the patio of his house, were we’d listen to the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck, Dexter Gordon and many more while he would smoke his pipe in the sights of a seven-year-old boy just fascinated by these men and their ability to communicate so much raw feelings without even saying a word. I was hooked. My brain couldn’t quite understand how this worked, I knew music, kindergarten music and let me tell you, that old McDonald and his farm had nothing against these guys.
Thus, begun my interest in communication without me even knowing. But my grandad had an ace up the sleeve.
I remember one late afternoon at his house, he pulled this vinyl disc and carefully placed it under the pick, Mannish Boy from Muddy Waters started playing. I started tapping with my feet and closed-eye banging my head to a gritty guitar and a heavy sounding drum, all I could understand were these guys screaming “Yeah!” in the back since I couldn’t figure out a word Muddy was singing. At that moment I faced an obstacle, the barrier language, somehow it wasn’t enough for me just hear him, I wanted to understand him. I wanted to learn this man’s language.
You could ask anybody who knows me, once something gets in my head, there’s no stopping me until I achieve it.
I had my motivation. I had my passion. I had the dedication.
My parents were sending my two older sisters to an English academy, to which I refused to attend a few months earlier that year because I wanted to take Tae-Kwon-Do classes. I didn’t know at the time of making that decision that it would be more useful to me to take those classes rather than learning how to break wooden boards. The academic year had already started and the Academy couldn’t allow me to take a class up until the start of the next year.
But that didn’t stop me, I was reluctant in my desire to learn the language. So, I started grabbing my sisters’ textbooks. Would go through those vocabularies consisting of new lexical items for me, grammatical rules I hadn’t even learnt in Spanish, but, in a way, I was using the grammar-translation method.
I would then ask my sisters to tell me what they had learnt in class and even go as far as offering to their academy homework. They were so happy about it. They actually had little interest in learning English.
The academic year had gone by, it was the month of March and I had turned eight. It was time for me to begin my classes. I remember being so hyped. Until the actual class started and the teacher began going through ways of saying “Hi, my name is …”, colors and numbers. My enthusiasm fell to the floor, I already knew all that and wanted more. That day I came home and told my parents I didn’t want to go to the academy anymore.
So, I would return to my old ways of learning. My sisters’ textbooks and music. Trying to copy the speech sounds I would listen to in records and go through vocabulary.
When I was around ten years old, I could speak English better than my sisters. In addition to music I introduced the habit of watching movies in English forcing myself to avoid reading the subtitles. Luckily, in Argentina they didn’t dub movies. Found myself surrounded with the language. A form of cognitive-code approach, going through habits and being exposed to examples.
This was the time I began going through the PPP model as well, I was presented with a topic, would practice trying to sound like the guys in music or movies, doing my sisters’ academy homework and tried to produce content of my own. It was very helpful that I had a very vivid imagination, so, I would make up conversations between two or more people in my head since I thought my sisters weren’t at my level and had no interest in practicing with them.
In high school that changed. The very first day of it, I found myself seated next to a North American guy who had just moved to Argentina and didn’t speak a word of Spanish. Bingo. I won the bloody jackpot. He was surprised when I started speaking English to him and also very pleased about it. A multicultural and both-sided profitable partnership had begun.
We became friends and started spending a lot of afterschool hours together. Surprisingly enough, he was into music as well. Thus, we had another anchor point to our friendship.
Thinking about those days now, it’s evident to me that we used the language transfer method a lot, when he would ask me to help him with his Spanish and in the same way I would be learning more English since I would try to explain to him the rules of my mother tongue in his.
Roughly, this is how I learnt to communicate in a language that was not my own. Putting myself in situations where I’d be surrounded by it, through passion, motivation, my love for music and the will to express myself.