learning English saved my life!

Adele Aava
4 min readMar 17, 2022

by Adele Aava

I didn't know I was building a mansion; I just laid the bricks!

I started learning English when I was a teenager. Living in a small, one-horse town in The Middle East that had nothing going for it, I barely had a better thing to do; there were not many bookstores or proper libraries around and computers, smart phones, and easy access to the internet was considered a luxury. Even if you had them, there were not many options available to choose from; so, finding the meaning of the new words, phrases and idioms you came across, was not a piece of cake.

A very small language community- which we tended to call an institute, out of the subconscious need to soothe our lack of access to learning facilities- was all I had to count on, and since I had a flair for art and languages, it suited me anyway.

My only educational tool was a bulky hardcover, English to English Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, which I carried to the institute nose-in-the-air, since I was an elementary student who had the nerve to use higher-level reference books ever since she got the ball rolling.

At first, it was a swine to get used to looking words up in a big dictionary like that; you had to spend a lot of time looking for the right index and finding the word you wanted among hundreds of others, and when you finally did, it was just the beginning!

There was an entry under which stood stacked multiple definitions arranged in numbers, and the headache was, you would not find the one appropriate to your context, before you read them one by one! and to rub salt into the wound, found even more new words in them, which tripled the complication; now you had to check those words to see what each explanation under the previous entry says, and after checking a whole list of headwords in your dictionary, maybe you were lucky enough to have learned the meaning of the new word you bumped into in the first line! of the passage you had started reading just a few hours ago!

It took me DAYs to finish a few paragraphs of written English, as I never compromised to use a bilingual dictionary- the shortest easiest way for a language learner to expand their vocabulary. I did get disappointed at my significantly slow pace of progress from time to time…

Adele Aava

Author, translator, singer and voice trainer, serving food for thought and desserts for fun.