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Learning a foreign language is a highly rewarding experience. Through the acquisition of a new language, one unlocks more than just different vocabulary and grammar concepts; suddenly, the number of people that you can interact with vastly increases more than it would any other way, and you are given a pathway to learn more about the culture(s) that is associated with the language. I’m thankful to have spent just about my entire life learning languages in one capacity or another. Upon reflecting back on my life relating to languages, I realized that I have gone through roughly three phases while learning: native exposure, mandatory classroom exposure, and voluntary exposure. Throughout, I will speak about what stand out to me as the hallmarks of each phase, as well as some of the issues that I feel I encountered during each of them. Native Exposure The languages that I came to interact with due to native exposure were ones that started at home. My family is of Nigerian decent, and thus speaks two native languages: English (Nigeria’s official language, as it was colonized by the English) and Edo (spoken by Nigeria’s Benin ethnic group). Therefore, I was exposed to both of these language from birth. In some ways, this form of learning happens informally; before one enters schools or takes on any formal learning of a language, they learn by listening and mimicking the sounds of others around them. During this stage, there is no writing involved: we learn by repetition, association and context clues. Reflecting on this period, I can however see ways that those around me did things that did not encourage long-term language retention. This is particularly the case with Edo; my parents predominantly used it with me when they were giving commands or reprimanding me. Thus, I rarely engaged in any natural two-way conservations in Edo (except with my grandmother, but throughout my upbringing she rotated between living with us, other family members in the US, and in Nigeria). Not only did this not allow me to grow my vocabulary or really use the language, but I feel that it actually deterred me from wanting to interact with the language at all, since it was most often associated with slightly negative situations. Mandatory Classroom Exposure In my middle school in Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA, all students were required to take at least one foreign language. This requirement was built upon in high school, where every student had to pass up through the second level of a language (or test out of it). I was actually personally delighted by this opportunity, as there was a language I had done some self-teaching with, but wanted to learn more of: Spanish. Starting from the 7th grade, I ended up taking Spanish every year of school up through high school graduation. The experience I had learning in this mandatory classroom environment was very different from my previous interactions with language. One obvious difference: the use of a textbook. For much of my Spanish language instruction, the textbook was the main source of learning. This way of learning also occurred in a much more structured way than my previous language learning phase. Books were divided into chapters, and each chapter catered to a specific topic—classroom, food, the outdoors—from which the vocabulary and grammar was derived from. And rather than having multiple sources around me whom I could look to for guidance, I had one (my Spanish teacher), whom I only saw for a set amount of time per day. So naturally, language acquisition through these means occurred at a slower rate. One particular thing that stands out to me as being not-so-helpful in the language learning process was having to do direct-translation assignments. There were assignments in which we were given, say, a passage in Spanish, and were instructed to translate it into Spanish. If anything, doing it the other way around would have been more useful. But in general, I find that trying to translate every little part of a sentence is not the most effective way to teach languages. Voluntary Exposure This is the phase of language acquisition that I am currently in. While it actually incorporates aspects of both of the prior phases I mentioned, it stems from a very different place. For the most part, the former two phases were initiated by forces outside of my control; whereas here, I have actively sought out language acquisition. For me, I found languages to be a great tool not for just simply communicating ideas, but also forming relationships, and basically making the world seem smaller than it really is. At the moment, my primary language of focus is Korean, but I have intentions to continue improving my Spanish and Edo, as well as start learning German. The means of learning that I have found to be most effective for these purposes is direct immersion—meaning being placed directly in a society that predominantly operates in the target language. Of course, without anyone forcing me to learn the language, it requires constant motivation, which can be difficult to maintain over time. But I’ve undoubtedly had the most fulfilling experiences with foreign languages during this last phase, and I intend on making it into a lifelong goal of mine to voluntarily engage with new languages. Having been a lifelong language learning, I am sympathetic to the position that my EFL students will be in. Because of this, I am highly sensitive to the needs of students, just as many of my best language mentors were to me. I hope that my background and experience as a perpetually learner and student will only make me that much better of an English teacher.