Learning English wasn't the easiest thing in my life nor the most difficult either. But I assure you, it was life changing!
When I was about 11 years old, I started having English classes at school (it used to be called 5th grade in Brazil, 6th grade nowadays). My Mum also decided it was time for me to learn English 'properly' and signed me up for a course at a well known English school called Cultura Inglesa. At that time, my Dad had a great job, he had a good salary and things were all right. But I HATED English!
I couldn't understand anything during the classes at Cultura Inglesa because all the other kids had started earlier so they could understand the teacher kinda all right. Important to say that the classes were all given in English (i.e. the teacher wouldn't say a word in Portuguese) so, my blank face was something constant during these classes. Meanwhile the English classes at school were so simple that I could just get by, without many issues. But even though, I HATED English 😠 and I kept asking my Mum if I could drop out. She – wisely – insisted that I should keep learning no matter what! I remember once crying when I couldn't do a homework because I had no clue how to use
how. I recall one of my older brothers saying: "How the hell don't you know this? This is so BASIC!" and obviously that was easy for him, he was the brightest of all the 4 brothers.
After 3 semesters like this, not learning much, battling with my Mum to allow me to drop out, doing okish at school, I finally convinced her and I dropped out of the English course 🎉🎉🎉 – at least this was my reaction at that time 🤦🏻♂️. That happiness didn't last for too long though...
I've managed to keep doing okish at school until I got to the 7th grade. I recall a day when I heard a couple of my friends speaking in English in front of me. And there I was once again with my good old blank face from the past. I kinda dismissed any sort of thoughts about that episode until one day, at the end of the English class, the teacher asked me to stay a little longer as she wanted to talk to me 😱
She came to my desk and said I didn't do well in the past English test and that I needed to do some extra homework to catch up. And I felt quite bad. Well, that's and understatement: I felt like the dumbest student in the whole classroom... probably the dumbest of the whole school! I was never the brightest of all students, but I used to do quite well on most of the subjects. But that event made me doubt myself, it hurt! If I had friends that could be speaking English 'fluently' just like the other day, why couldn't I do that as well? I couldn't be THAT dumb, could I??? I recalled seeing movies where only the dumbest students stayed after class to get 'extra homework' from a teacher so that was what was really playing in my head over and over again. The fact that it happened to me was really impactful... probably my EGO was what really got hurt that day.
After receiving a block of paper full of extra exercises, I decided it was time to learn English once and for all! So I took the situation as seriously as possible and I didn't mention what happened to my Mum, obviously. I had convinced her that I should drop out of the English school so, it was my responsibility to fix the issue. So I prepared for a LONG weekend of study.
I recall sitting in front of my desk and thinking: "I'm going to learn this TODAY, no matter what!" and so I did it. Opened my English book and started going through the grammar. Once I understood the verb to be and simple present and simple past tenses, the rest was a breeze! Seriously, for the very first time things made sense! For the very first time, I could read and construct the sentences properly. Obviously, I knew some basic words in English but the grammar was what really blocked my learning path all that time. And once I got it, everything else got in place and all I needed to do was to study/memorise vocabulary. I took the exercises and started nailing each one of them and I felt like a rockstar!
On the following week, I returned all the exercises to my teacher and I nailed most of them! I obviously made some mistakes but compared to my poor performance on the test, I did pretty well! I think my teacher only dismissed the idea that someone helped me after the following test which I did pretty well. I can't recall the grades I got on those tests (the failed one and the following one), I just recall that the English subject became quite 'easy' from that moment on. But that meant I knew how to read and write in English... speaking and listening were not there yet. And that's when life comes and slaps me hard in the face...
Life IS ironic
English became easy at school and, to be honest, even when I was terrible it wasn't that difficult to get by. But now I KNEW English and for the very first time in my life, I realised that learning it properly was empowering and would bring me some benefits, for sure! That's when I went back to my Mum and said that I wanted to enroll again on that English course! This was on the following year, when I was on my 8th grade. I simply recall my Mum saying that we couldn't afford it anymore.
My Dad had retired quite early in his life and he invested our family savings on some businesses and we simply couldn't afford the English course anymore. That wasn't really what I was expecting. The fact is that it felt like life was showing me that I had wasted one year and a half slacking on my English course and it was all my fault that I didn't invest in learning English properly when I had a chance. It took about 2 years before we could afford my English course again and that lasted only for 2 semesters. By the time I went back, I did a test and managed to skip several levels due to my own studies. But only 2 semesters didn't really do much. I've learned a bit more, but not enough. And then I was back again, only with the ordinary English classes at school...
Just get a job, dude
The fact is that I was a teenager that made a bad choice and now was paying the price for that bad choice. But this didn't stop me and I kept studying, even if it was on 2 mere 50min classes a week at school. That was it until I finished secondary school. And instead of going to a university, I decided to get a job by myself and on the day of my birthday, in 1999, I went to an English school near my home, applied for kind of an assistant teacher position and landed my first real job 🎉! So, yeah, English opened my first professional door! One of the perks I got was to attend the English course – the advanced levels – for free while I was working there! And I managed to complete all of them and 'graduate' 😉, not bad at all, right?
I worked at that company for about a year until I got fired for the very first time in my life (that's a long story and maybe it deserves its own post). By that time, I was attending a preparatory course (known as cursinho) to be able to take some tests (know as vestibulares) which give you access to the main public universities in Brazil. Once fired, I concentrated on my studies but the tests came and I didn't score enough points to get into any of the courses I wanted 😢. So, I was jobless and my parents didn't have money to pay for a private university 😭😭😭.
So, just like the previous year, I decided it was time for me to get a job and then, early in 2000, I landed my second job as an English teacher (instructor, to be more precise as I didn't need a university degree) at another English school, even closer to my home 🎉🎉🎉! English opened my second professional door! I would give entry level English classes to kids and adults. I worked some evenings during that year while attending cursinho during the day. I had to balance studies and my professional English teaching career, which was a great lesson for life as I wouldn't spend afternoons slacking at my couch, watching TV, as I used to do during secondary school. And concentrating on my studies was really important because, as I mentioned earlier, my parents were having some financial issues and to be able to pay for this cursinho I was getting help from a couple of friends. That gesture is also something that changed my life and became an example I will carry to the end of my days. I'll be eternally grateful and I try my best to follow their example whenever I can. But I digress...
University, here I go
In 2001, I passed 2 of the 3 tests I took and I was able to choose which university I wanted to attend! Btw, I nailed the English section of both tests 😉 and started studying Biology at University of São Paulo. I chose to attend the evening course so I could work during the day (because someone needs to pay the bills, right?) and I kept teaching English some mornings and afternoons until Jan 2003, when I quit that job.
During my undergraduate course, English got me some other gigs. I got jobs with translation and even an 'acting job' for an English school that would have Bootcamps where the teachers would play a role in a full weekend engaging and immersive story. I used to be a Sheriff, wearing a uniform like the American stereotype ones 😂
Knowing how to speak in English also allowed me to communicate with a lot of guest scientists at the lab I used to work during my undergraduate and postgraduate courses. In fact, one of these guests became a friend of mine and my French teacher! We used to speak in English at first but when he decided to live in Brazil, we agreed I would teach him Portuguese while he'd teach me French 😉. Indirectly, learning English helped me learn French (which I'm still not good at though) and Spanish (I took a course for 2 semesters and I managed to learn enough to be conversational).
Among other advantages, I was also able to attend some classes with international lecturers (specially during my Master's degree) who would – obviously – teach in English. Most of my classmates wouldn't be able to attend for lack of English skills. It allowed me to read a lot of technical documentation when I got my internship at the IT department at the Bioscience Institute and, later on, when I got my first technical job as an IT Technician at the Mathematics and Statistics Institute (that's also worth a post).
Fast-forwarding a bit, in 2009 my wife got a scholarship to do her PhD at the Imperial College London university. So that year, I quit my IT job, finished my Master's degree and we packed our stuff and moved to London in September! That's another long story in itself but the important thing is that my wife encourage me to change careers. I got hooked with Flash (yeah, that one that Steve Jobs killed with this letter) after doing a Web Design course back in 2002 and I was producing some minor Flash games in 2008 and 2009. And as we were moving to a new country and I didn't really have any job, my wife encouraged me to at least try to get a job with Flash. But that was not my first option: I applied to a MSc in Science Communication at the Imperial College London university, got accepted (with flying colours) but the fees were so high – and without any possible funding for Non-EU citizens – I couldn't even consider it. Then, becoming a Flash developer kinda became my first option 🤔.
Therefore, I studied Flash and ActionScript a lot in 2009 and early 2010. I also studied HTML and CSS to try to get a job in this new area. And for that, I had to watch several tutorials and read several articles to learn how to build websites and Flash games in just some months. Remember, I was a Bachelor in Science (Biology) with a Masters in Science Teaching, trying to get a job as a Flash Game/Web developer... in a foreign country!
You've got this
I applied to so many jobs and didn't get replies to 98% of them. I got into a couple of interviews and after months studying by myself, I managed to land a web developer job in London, competing against a lot of English speaking native developers 🎉🎉🎉! That was probably my greatest professional accomplishment until that moment! And, yes, English was a huge part of it. If I didn't know how read, write, speak and understand English, I would probably never had gotten a job like that. And that job changed my whole life, forever! I found out that Web Development and Software Engineering are things that amaze me and keep me hooked all the time! I still spend a lot of my free time learning, building things and teaching other developers. And guess what: I teach most of them in English 😉
I worked for that company for years, even after I moved back to Brazil. I managed to open my own company here in Brazil and kept working for them as a contractor. Last year, I terminated the contract and got a couple of new ones: one for a company in US and another one also in London. I also joined a great international contractor's platform and being fluent in English was a requirement!
Well, that's my story and how learning English changed my life. It wasn't the solo driver of my life but I can assure you that I owe a lot to this knowledge. My English skills are ok nowadays. I recall some of the grammar and sometimes it's just a gut feel that something sounds right or wrong. I don't need to stress too much about it (unless I need to do an English test to, let's say, get a visa somewhere hehehe) and I'm way more relaxed with writing (you'll probably spot some terrible mistakes here and there on this article).
I also would like to point out that I owe a lot to my parents – specially my Mum – for pushing me to keep studying and providing resources for me to do so (even when we were kinda broke). I also owe a lot to my English teacher, Débora, who asked me to stay after class to give me extra exercises after doing so badly at a test. I never managed to thank her in person, only in my mind, sending good vibes to her whenever I recall or tell this story. I hope to meet her again at some point and thank her in person 😉
It was a bit of a long story, I know, but I always felt like it should be written down. Even if it's for my own future reference 😬