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How I felt immersed in a sea of English

First of all you must know I’m an evening class student who attended the so-called “First Course”, one of the courses which every year teachers schedule to get students prepared to take their Cambridge Certificate exams. This is the reason which lead me to meet Ms. Laura Ridolfi, the English teacher who is also one of the deputy-principals of ITT Allievi-Sangallo. I cannot hide the fact that words like “teacher” and “deputy-principal” were the worst words to combine with my hamletic doubt: “Should I speak or not? Will I be be strong enough to hear my voice growing faint before I start to speak?”

Do you want to know why I was so puzzled and insecure?

Control, power and judgment were the most terrible words which had had a bad influence in the past. When I was a kid language learning was based on this triad – control, power and judgement- and that’s why speaking out loud was a continuous mistake evaluation. I would start a sentence, then I was interrupted in the middle of it by a teacher who didn’t let me finish my own thoughts. Certainly, the old system knew how to examine: “Carmen, you have to study more, I know you don’t study!!” Those kinds of feelings sentenced me, pointing out that finger at me, pleading me guilty, without giving me the chance to learn from my mistakes and grow up. I had been fully immersed in this way of learning languages for years. It was like navigating through a maze of words and expressions, automatically decrypted by a computer. It felt like I had committed crime without a body of evidence, overwhelmed by confusion, misunderstanding and rage. I felt angry not only towards English but also towards myself, worn out by that dreadful sensation that I couldn’t learn anything at all. Doubt had taken power over me as I struggled to find the right words in this arduous linguistic journey. Most of our lessons were based on tons of grammar exercises, one way conversations, repetitions by heart of someone else’s words with no regards for what this beautiful language represents: the best way to communicate with everybody all over the world.

It was a utopic knowledge, which was given only to the “best in English”, excluding the worst ones, and in this kind of dichotomy you had to untangle the knots by yourself and pray not to grow weary of hoping in a better future.

​Today, as an adult and as a student, I luckily experienced and witnessed another way of learning English.
It was not what I was prepared to see, it wasn’t a set of prescribed grammar exercises where I could fill the gap or dozens of exceptional textbooks I could work through. “Speak, listen, respond, communicate” were words which gradually started to get a very important value, a brand new approach where all of us could learn from mistakes without judging anyone. This kind of attention, that Ms. Laura Ridolfi gives to her students, makes them feel at ease, because there’s no pointing out at you, there’s only a focus on the skills you can achieve by speaking. Listening other students talking in spontaneous conversations, taught us that everybody’s opinion is important and when someone didn’t talk, the teacher helped him talk, pulling out the best of what the student thought at that moment. Everybody knew how to express themselves in English and words such as “I don’t know” were out of question!

Even though English is full of grammatical nuances and exceptions, we were all able to learn at an excellent level without being pestered with exercises one on top of the other in order to make ourselves look good in front of others. We sounded good practicing, but the most important thing was that we could learn from each other, discovering words that we hadn’t heard before.
My mates taught me their juvenile slang (I felt so young when I got the meaning of the word ‘cringe’!) and we were all unique and responding. Notwithstanding our hesitance, we all gained a sort of unspoken courage which we were able to grasp from our teacher’s eyes.

​To conclude, if you want to swim in the fascinating sea of the English language don’t forget that communication itself IS a linguistic immersion, and being sociable and kind to each other is what our cultural heritage gives us as a prerequisite for learning to speak to strangers.
For this reason, here is my advice to you, shy and hesitant language learners: never stop chatting whether you are attending a class or just passing through the school corridors, never stop smiling to other people trying to understand what they say, never stop being curious and eager to learn new things, and above all never mind your possible mistakes: nobody cares about them!

Di: Carmen Heisu 5SMSI – A.S. 2023/2024