In Saudi Arabia, while I was studying for my Bachelor’s degree of Art in Islamic Studies, it was obligatory for us to learn English language as a required subject for four years. When I heard that, I felt happy and I thought to myself, “Oh finally I will accomplish one of my goals.” Unfortunately, the schedule for this subject, during every semester, was a day a week for two hours. During these two hours, the instructor taught us only the basics of English grammar, such as how to use prepositions in a sentence and the basic sentence structure, which was repeated every semester, instead of developing the students’ knowledge further beyond this scope of basic grammar. “A variety of techniques are useful as we assist students in preparing to demonstrate their learning and then to evaluate their own learning” (Banikowski, Oct. 99, pg.11).
I agree with this statement, but the instructor who taught us these four years, did not implement any kind of techniques, such as writing, despite the fact that “the very act of writing causes the brain to process that information more in depth” ( Banikowski, Oct. 99, pg.11). Due to the fact that I did not acquire any of these techniques, it was very hard for me to demonstrate what I have learned, although the same information was repeated every semester. Thus, I believe basic grammar is not enough to learn a language. Also, I believe that speaking and writing are a very important part of learning a new language, but sadly, we did not learn that at the university. In the end, I graduated with some benefits, but I did not achieve my goal during these four years, which made me very dissatisfied.
Moreover, after graduation, I was determined to register at the Learning English Language Center for two months. When I attended the first class, I was extremely glad, because all the teacher staff was from Britain, and the schedule was three hours a day. We had one hour of learning English grammar and two hours of conversation with each other, while trying to use grammar through this conversation. One day during conversation class, I remember the topic was about cheating, so I tried to tell the teacher a story about someone I knew, but I felt frustrated when I had to tell that story, because I had a very small vocabulary of English language. Consequently, the teacher misunderstood my story and I did not have the means to correct her misunderstanding. That was when I decided to be quiet during every conversation class.
Banikowski claims that “educators want to enhance students’ ability to commit important knowledge and skill to memory” (Banikowski, Oct. 99, pg.6). Regrettably, this teacher did not try to encourage me to talk more and to enhance my ability in this conversation class. For instance, when I was quiet during class, the teacher did not ask me questions about any topic we talked about, such as what I thought about it, if I had anything to add and similar, in order to motivate me to become engaged in the class. Finally, after this these two months’ course was finished, without reaching to my goal yet again, I did not try to learn anything further about the English language.
Additionally, after one year without any attempt to reach to my goal, I got married and I came to the United States with my husband. Fortunately, coming to the United States gave me an opportunity to study the English language and accomplish my goal. Thus, I decided to register at the Spring International Language Center, where I did the placement test, which included all the important notions of learning a foreign language: grammar, writing, reading, and speaking. According to Banikowski, “once information is stored in long- term memory, it remains there permanently but may be extremely difficult to retrieve in some cases”(Banikowski, Oct. 99, pg.4). Naturally, that happened to me when I did the placement test, I answered many questions about grammar and reading based on my knowledge of the university and Learning English Language Center, but I did not do well in the writing part, because I did not have prior knowledge about it.
This center had six levels and the period of each level was nine weeks, but I started from level two. This level was divided into three classes, 45 minutes for grammar, two hours for writing and reading, and two hours for conversation. During the first class, at the beginning of my studying, I could not describe my emotions on that day: happy, nervous, afraid, I was all these things. Then, I calmed myself down with a little dance and I said to myself, ”Yes, I cannot believe it, I have almost reached my goal and I will be able to converse with anybody easily.” There, I learned different things, such as numerous new words which helped enrich my vocabulary, the basics of writing an essay, and I was encouraged to talk.
Also, one day, when I was on level three, I received significant news which was my pregnancy with my first baby, as the blood test proved that I was 6 weeks pregnant. Everybody knows what happens during the first three months of pregnancy. Due to my condition, I faced some challenges on this level. One of them was that, every day the reading teacher gave us articles to read as homework and the next day we were to discuss them. However, when I had to read an article that needed my full attention and focus, in trying to understand it, I could not complete even one paragraph of it, because of the headache and vomiting, which happened to me on a daily basis.
During this challenge, I got some help from my husband who would read the article in a high voice, and if I could not understand some sentences, he would translate them and tell me the meaning. As Banikowski informs us, the “failure to retrieve occurs we can’t locate information stored in long-term memory because we learned the information at a rote level or did not have sufficient retrieve cues to point the long term memory search in the right direction” (Banikowski, Oct. 99, pg.13). Hence, the discussion was difficult for me, because I could not retrieve a lot of information that my husband read to me. Also, I could not remember the meaning of some sentences.
In addition, on this level, I remember a day when we had a presentation, which required each student to talk about a real story that happened to him or her. So, I wrote my story and I did a lot of practice the night before the presentation, but when I presented my story, suddenly, I forgot it and I stopped talking. I just kept repeating: “and aaaa.and aaaaaaa” for one minute, then I left this part of the story and I continued with the rest. After this presentation, I decided that if I have a presentation, I will read from my paper faster to avoid making the same mistake. “Insufficient practice also can negatively impact memory” (Banikowski, Oct. 99, pg.13). This means that “cramming the night before the test might get you through the test, but you probably will not integrate the information well into your long- term memory” (Banikowski, Oct. 99, pg.13). I strongly agree that insufficient practice caused me to forget some information in the story and that lead to a difficulty of understanding the story.
Over and above, when I was on level four, my conversation class teacher was wonderful, because he was encouraging us to talk. For example, when someone was quiet, he would say: ”Do you have anything to add? I did not hear your voice today!” Also, when we made a mistake, he corrected it by using ways to avoid embarrassment for any student. Banikowski believes that “using contrast can assist in arousing attention or refocusing attention” (Banikowski, Oct. 99, pg.7). Therefore, this instructor was using novelty and changing the tone of his voice, inflection, and accent to make us pay attention to him.
Also, “emotions give as a more activated and chemically stimulated brain, which helps us recall things better” (Banikowski, Oct. 99, pg.7). Thus, this instructor created emotion that led the creation of a positive relationship between the instructor and students, and that was the driving force to actively participate in class. “A variety of techniques are useful as we assist students in preparing to demonstrate their learning and then to evaluate their own learning” (Banikowski, Oct. 99, pg.11). Consequently, this instructor was using several strategies to demonstrate our learning, such as using argument strategy by dividing us into two large groups and giving each group a different topic to think about. We used this strategy during every class to do sufficient practice and prepare for the final test.
I liked this level and I enjoyed studying with this teacher despite of my pregnancy. Because of this instructor, I began to talk with people in the right way, and I was not quiet if anybody misunderstood my point and I tried to explain my story further, to help them understand. Thus, I completed levels five and six successfully, which means that I have achieved my goal.
The road to achieving my goal of learning how to speak English properly in any given situation was long and hard, wrought with difficulties and problems. However, as it is always in life, one must stay strong and continue on, no matter what happens. This is what I did. I continued struggling, learning and developing my language sills, until finally, all my hard work paid off and I can finally say that my goal is achieved. I can speak English and feel comfortable no matter who I am talking to and no matter what topic we are talking about. This makes me feel like a true winner.