You don’t need to be poor to learn new skills fast. But, it helps.
At 14, I was learning English. Scarce means. Plenty of enthusiasm.
Each day, finding a new way to advance.
Building my own Approach to become fluent in English.
At 10, when my mother died, the future of this youngest of six boys couldn’t be more uncertain.
Or, predictable. In a predetermined way.
To call this a time of few opportunities or alternatives, wouldn’t begin to describe it.
Still, at 12, against all odds, I picked my pieces.
I had to make some money to help my family, somehow.
So, I started cleaning the back yard for the lady next door.
And sold horse manure to a local farm.
Since then, I grew accustomed to looking at every stumbling block in the way, as the prompt to create an alternative.
Beginning to pave the way to new opportunities.
At 14, my dear father started to teach me English.
I’ve been fortunate to be introduced to the English language so early.
By a truly passionate and accomplished language teacher.
He devoted his life to perfecting the half dozen languages he mastered like few. And lectured like none.
My dad guided me through the first lessons with dedication, enthusiasm, and endless love.
I can say now, it’s been contagious.
To complement his lessons, he used to buy me new English books very often.
I was fascinated from the very beginning by the English language. And always worked with genuine enthusiasm. Devouring every new book, I could get my hands on.
Even so, our differences in preference didn’t take long to show.
My father liked to study language theory, mostly. I preferred to listen to American songs and watch films.
The first cry of independence.
English grammar alone was mostly an uphill battle. But, the grammar routine was a ride in the park compared to English phonetics. Sometimes, I’d try to reproduce the sound of a semivowel 55 times. And it was never right. So, in a few weeks, I decided to go on my own.
The Escape From Phonetics Fanatics.
To this day, the simple mention of English phonetics teleports me to the world of My Fair Lady, the screen adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.
I see myself as a male reincarnation of Eliza Doolittle, portrayed by Audrey Hepburn, the girl who was submitted to endless sessions of English phonetics by the most relentless perfectionist in the world.
The unforgiving Professor Henry Higgins, masterfully interpreted by Sir Rex Harrison.
Driven by passion, not constrained by a set of rules.
Soon, I’d spend most of the time doing just what I liked most.
I’d spend as much time as possible, listening to American pop songs.
And writing all the lyrics I could get my hands on from my favorite singers, like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Pat Boone.
No subtitles. The best way to advance your English comprehension. And fluency.
Immensely motivated, I used to go to the movies at least once a week, to watch American films.
Whenever possible, I’d go to the balcony and position myself in a way that the subtitles were blocked from view.
By following my intuition and creating my own means to study and practice English, I was having a lot of fun.
Was also naturally building the essence of my Concept for studying and practicing foreign languages based on deliberate practice. Although unaware of it, then.
Accelerating the pace to English proficiency.
At 20, I worked as a commercial correspondent in English and Portuguese at Custodio de Almeida Advogados, a patent office in Rio de Janeiro. Twice a week had to send standard letters to a list of regular clients.
To advance my English, I started writing a personalized letter to each recipient.
By taking this initiative, I refused to work like a robot. And accelerated my fluency in English.
Crossing borders for the first time.
Always eager to move ahead, I was constantly looking for new ways to grow.
2 years later, when I learned Pan American Airways, in Rio was hiring new Sales Agents, I immediately applied.
And was accepted for the most exciting job of my life.
It was also the ticket to practice languages, meet interesting people from different countries and study abroad.
At Pan Am, I attended workshops in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and New York City.
Pan Am allowed employees to fly for free to different destinations. As long as we didn’t miss a day’s work.
This meant a few trips within the country on weekends and international flights on vacation.
In less than 2 months, I was promoted from the Reservations to Sales Agent to work at the front store.
I helped passengers in English and Portuguese.
A year later, was also helping passengers in French and Italian.
In addition to 2 promotions, also won a few prizes for sales performance.
Once more with feeling. A lot of it.
When I was studying basic German, at home, my tape recorder was my favorite companion.
To listen to songs. To learn with Linguaphone. To exercise pronunciation. This way, I advanced comprehension, vocabulary, and my writing skills.
After a few weeks, I applied to a summer class at Goethe Institut in Rio de Janeiro.
One day, Monika Hackstein, my teacher, casually said: if you keep your high grades till the end of this course, you can win a full Scholarship to complete studies in Germany. It got me fired up. I immediately accelerated my intensive learning even more.
Curiosity and passion leading the way.
The final exams at Goethe Institut have always been a tough nut to crack. Even for a native German.
The oral part is the hardest.
I was learning, and practicing German intensively. But, following my own passion.
So, was taking the whole thing, lightly.
On the day of the exam, at the oral session, I was greeted by 2 unsmiling, middle-aged ladies on the bench.
I could almost hear: “Silence! The court is in session.”
Still, I naturally managed to turn the whole thing around.
Before leaving the room, the 2 ladies, and I were relaxed, and chatting, informally. As if at a party.
Welcome back to the Multilingual World.
I passed the exam of Basic German, and won a full Scholarship to study Intermediate German, in Munich, Germany.
According to the Principal, this was the first time since 1956, that Goethe Institut, Rio de Janeiro granted the top score
to a student of German language.
I don’t say this to boast. Just want to show you the importance of being prepared.
And be always willing to try a bit harder.
In 2 weeks, I flew to Munich, Germany.
On the next morning, travelled to Prien Am Chiemsee, in the South, where I completed
Mittelstuff Zwei (Intermediate German ).
Accepting one more challenge. This time, testing unknown boundaries.
Had just arrived in Priem Am Chiemsee to follow my Scholarship at Goethe Institut in Germany. I’d stay there a full year with afternoons free. Needed a part-time job.
Tried everywhere for 3 days. Nothing. It was obvious no one would hire me. Not even to clean toilets, if I so wanted. One day, I saw an ad in a store: “Need a girl who speaks German and French to work as a secretary.”
Went to see Rolland Milleli, the owner. He asked in French: when can you start?
Right now, I said.
Cassar & Milleli offered luxury summer homes for vacation in Saint-Tropez. After a few days, I started to participate in the production of advertising material in English, French and German. At the end of my term at Goethe Institut, Rolland offered me a career in his firm.
My stay in Germany turned out to be the most educational and enriching experience of my trajectory on this Planet.
A humble kid on a fortifying and enriching journey.
In the beginning, didn’t have too many opportunities or alternatives.
One day, I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself because of the initial lack of formal education and a few limitations.
After all, my strong disposition to work and intuition never failed me.
Armed with these powerful allies, every new obstacle became at once, an incentive to create an alternative.
The golden visa to a New World.
My dedication to the English culture has been a natural process, and the most important choice of my life.
Using my own Approach of Intensive Language Practice, I became fluent in English, French, German, and Italian.
Even before I began to study Italian, I was already learning it. With all of my favorite Italian songs.
I wrote more about it in this article: