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我的英语学习之路 -- 从清华剑桥, 美国教授,到养儿育女 [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2014-5-4 07:37:28 |Display all floors
This post was edited by LoneAcorn at 2014-5-4 13:35



In this thread, I will share with you my 30 some years of experience in studying English, started in the late 70s, as a high school student in one of the poorest towns in China, continued in Tsinghua and Cambridge, and then as a professor in the United States teaching my Chinese postgraduate students English, and finally as a dad watching my two kids growing up into their college and high School years.


One word of wisdom for all learners: however good your English sounds like, however well you write, if you cannot think in English and cannot use the simplest few words to express your idea, then you have not learned English yet. Next time when you speak, pay attention if you can correctly use the few words like she he her him, do did does, has have.

1. 踏上英语旅程的死路



1980年秋,我跨出上图中的门坎,坐了一整天的长途车到省城,然后再坐两整天的火车到北京。当我踏上清华大学校园,加入了80 级的2000新生时,北京的天空特别清爽,我觉得我几乎可以飞入兰天。


按考分,我和90名分数最低的新生被分配到英语C班,其它学生到B 班,或A班。


到了11月,天气已经变得寒冷,教室外面的天空似乎永远恢沉沉的。在那个年代,标准的英语学习方式是记住尽可能多的单词和语法规则,然后把精心挑选的教科书背得烂熟,恰如在高中背古文一样。早餐后读,晚餐后读,睡前还要读。我们随时随地都在读。校园的每一个角落都充满朗朗的读书声。除了背书,更多时间花在背英语单词上。单词卡,正面英文反面中文,人人随身带。

平均而言,我学英语,比所有其他学科加起来,花的时间还要多。


一年后,外面的天空一样的无味,老师解释语法规则的声音变得越来越象吹眠曲。在我的白日梦中,我可以看到我将来绝不可能学会阅读,写和说就不用提了。


English Version


1. My Journey into English World

In the fall of 1980, from one of the poorest towns in the poorest province in China, I took a bus to the provincial capital and then boarded a train bound for Beijing. The train traveled at a great speed, faster and more powerful than anything I had ever experienced -- so powerful that the mountains on either side seemed to have moved out its way and rushed back into the distance. After only 48 hours, it had crossed the entire country and arrived in Beijing.


As I stepped onto the campus of Tsinghua as one of the 2,000 freshmen, the sky over Beijing was particularly clear and I felt I could almost fly into it.


I was assigned to a level C English class as one of the 90 freshmen with the lowest English test scores on the National College Entrance Exam. The majority of students were assigned to level B and the top few to level A.


Our English teacher, a very nice gentleman in his late forties or early fifties, studied Russian in his college years, but switched to teaching English after China's relations with the Russians soured. He would read from a textbook in English and then explain the text to us in Chinese. It was plain that, other than reading from the textbook, he could not speak English.


By November, the weather had turned chilly and the sky outside our classroom seemed perpetually grey and dull.


In those days the standard way of learning English was to memorize as many words and grammar rules as possible, and to read a few carefully selected texts and memorize them by heart, exactly the same way as we would memorize classic Chinese texts in high school. We would read our textbook in the morning before class started and then read more in the evening after dinner; we read the text whenever and wherever. You could not escape from the energetic reading that permeated the entire campus. We would also write English words in a small deck of cards, one side in English and the reverse in Chinese. I would carry that deck of cards with me all the time and read each English word out loud and try to guess its meaning in Chinese, or look at the Chinese and guess the English word on the other side. On average I spent more time learning English than all other subjects combined.


A year later, the sky outside of the English classroom was just as dull as ever and the voice of our teacher explaining grammar rules was getting more and more soothing for afternoon nap. In my daydream, I could see I would never learn enough English to read, let alone speak or write.


(to be continued)

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Post time 2014-5-4 13:35:22 |Display all floors
I will continue my post when I am convinced that my post has passed the censorship. I am still not sure what I can or cannot post. I have no interest in breaking the rules, but only if I know what they are!

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Post time 2014-5-4 23:44:32 |Display all floors
This post was edited by waveheatin at 2014-5-4 07:51

2. 垃圾箱里升起的希望

一天,收音机里一个令人吃惊的声音把我从白日梦中吵醒: “把你的字典扔进垃圾箱”。 “快读!多读!多猜!” 至此为止,我已经用传统的英语学习方式奋斗了一年多,毫无进展。无奈之下,我决定试一下。


我从图书馆借了很多英文书,只要这一本的故事变得没兴趣,我就扔掉,捡起下一本。就这样,我通常会在几天内读完一本书。一学期共读了30多本。几个月后,我对英语的感觉变了。英文已逐渐渗透到我的身体。自那时起我从未摸个英汉字典,也未背过单词卡。如果我必需查字典,我用英英字典。

具有讽刺意味的​​是,在我扔掉字典,单词卡,和语法书后,我的英语考分反儿提高了。不久,我从C班跳到B班,期末考试得分最高。我也赢得北京高校英语竞赛一等奖。
English Version

One day a startling voice from a radio woke me up. “Throw your dictionary into the rubbish bin”, screamed an English man to his listeners. “Read rapidly and read a lot, and try to guess the meaning of a new word in its context.”

At that point, I had already struggled in the traditional way of learning English for more than a year and had m​​ade little progress. In desperation, I decided to follow the advice of that crazy English man.

I started to check out a lot of English books from the library with titles that seemed interesting, but would throw a book away as soon as I l​​ost interest in its story. In that fashion I would typically finish a book in a few days and in all I must have read more than 30 books that semester.

In a few months, my feelings for English changed. No longer an alien that I had to wrestle with, the language had gradually infiltrated into my body. Not once since then had I touched an English-Chinese dictionary, and best of all, not once did I have to memorize those dreadful decks of cards with English words on one side and their Chinese translations on the other. If I did have to look up a word in dictionary, I used an English-English dictionary.

Ironically, after I threw away the dictionary, the deck of English cards, and the grammar book, my test scores in English class actually improved. Soon I moved up from level C to level B and at the end of that same school year I scored highest in my English B final. I also won the first prize in a city-wide English competition with participants from all colleges in Beijing.

Needless to say, my method of studying English had saved me.

More than thirty years later, on a train to my hometown in south west China, as I was conversing with my son in mixed English and Chinese, a young man approached us and asked how I learned English. He told me that he was struggling through exactly the same thing I had thirty years ago at Tsinghua. At that moment I realized that I should share my method so that more people would not have to go through what I did years ago.


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