How did you learn English? What were some of the challenging aspects of being a native Russian speaker and learning English?
Thanks for asking, anon! I love telling this story!
As many Soviet kids, I started learning English when I was 10, 4th grade (in different schools the choice usually was English/ German, or English/ French). Soviet schools were horrible in teaching foreign languages - no authentic materials whatsoever, not even lyrics for those pop rare rock songs that were not strictly banned. As you can imagine, there were no native English speakers behind the Iron curtain. All we had were boring textbooks written by Russian speakers.
When I was twelve, I started listening to British rock music. The Iron curtain became pretty rusty - there were bootleg vinyl LPs in semi-legal music shops, newspapers and magazines for youth started printing lyrics of the most popular English pop/ rock songs. I bought an album “The Beatles: the best songs, complete scores, and lyrics”. I spent the whole summer translating those lyrics, playing the songs on a piano and singing alone. When I went back to school I quickly realized that I spoke better English than my teacher.
Luckily, my teacher realized that too and suggested me to go to another school where the best English teachers in the city were teaching the most talented kids. It was an experimental educational project - and a gulp of fresh air for me. Finally, learning stopped being boring. My new teacher was really good - she studied in Moscow and actually had some experience talking to English native speakers. God knows how she managed to bring us authentic books and newspapers. We had a strict “English only” rules on her lessons. And she prompted us to speak English as much as possible. By graduation, I was not fluent yet (I thought I was, though - I could speak), but the most important thing - I overcame the language barrier, that invisible wall that prevents non-native speakers from expressing their thoughts in the language.
My English deteriorated slowly during the six years at the university. I studied linguistics and the Russian language, and my English classes were quite useless. But I still tried to read in English, listened to a lot of English songs and tried to watch movies.
And then I got a job offer from a large international company where English was the only option. This is when my English became really fluent. And a few years after that were qualification exams (IELTS) for immigration to Canada and the immigration itself.
Every time my life circumstances change, I feel that my English made a quantum leap. When I moved to Canada I learned a very important thing: how to communicate in English. What do people say to each other when waiting for an elevator? What do you say to a cashier in a supermarket? How do you explain to your doctor what’s wrong with your stomach? All those things come from experience. And yes, many little grammatical nuances have become natural to me. Of course, my English is not native-like, but it was good enough for working in an English speaking company even before I moved to Canada… I strongly believe that for successful language acquisition one must have a pragmatic purpose. You simply need to need your target language! You either speak that language or lose everything.
As of challenges… Everything that makes Russian and English different are my challenges: articles (Russian doesn’t have any), word usage and combinatorics (what word can and should be used together with this or that verb, for example - to make a mistake but to do dishes etc).
Sorry for being so wordy, but I really love learning languages, and English is my best adventure so far :)