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How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life Paperback – August 21, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic; English edition (August 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426200978
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426200977
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #748,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Veteran travel writer Miller (On the Border) has put together a substantial volume on language, knowledge and cultural assimilation, gathering essays and excerpts from more than 50 authors, poets, professional athletes and musicians, doctors and politicians who took up English as a second (or third, or fourth) language. As PBS correspondent Ray Suarez notes in the foreword, for many "the need to learn English was accompanied by wrenching personal circumstances: exile, illness, economic migration, family dissolution," but it was also "a proffered ticket to... the modern and changing world." In a piece from 1982's Hunger of Memory, for example, Richard Rodriguez recalls distinctions he made as a child between a private and a public language-Spanish had always been his to use, but English, what he needed for school, felt more difficult to embrace. In a selection from her 2001 memoir American Chica, Washington Post books editor Marie Arana tells how she feigned ignorance of English on her first day at a new elementary school so she'd be funneled into the Spanish-speaking class. Other contributors such as Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Walter Mercado, Enrique Fernández and Daisy Zamora provide nuanced perspectives on the ongoing immigration debate, putting faces to the statistics and concrete meaning to broad points of policy and ideology.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Tom Miller has been bringing us extraordinary stories of ordinary people for more than thirty years. His acclaimed travel books include The Panama Hat Trail, On the Border, and Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba. Another of his titles, Jack Ruby's Kitchen Sink, won the Lowell Thomas Award for Best Travel Book of 2000. He has also edited two collections, Travelers' Tales Cuba, and Writing on the Edge: A Borderlands Reader, and his articles have appeared in Smithsonian, The New Yorker, The New York Times, LIFE, Natural History, and many other periodicals.

More About the Author

Tom Miller has been writing about Latin America and the American Southwest for more than thirty years, bringing us extraordinary stories of ordinary people. His highly acclaimed adventure books include "The Panama Hat Trail" about South America, "On the Border," an account of his travels along the U.S.-Mexico frontier, "Trading With the Enemy," which takes readers on his journeys through Cuba, and, about the American Southwest, "Revenge of the Saguaro" (formerly "Jack Ruby's Kitchen Sink" -- which won the coveted Lowell Thomas Award for Best Travel Book of the Year in 2001). He has edited three compilations, "Travelers' Tales Cuba," "Writing on the Edge: A Borderlands Reader," and "How I Learned English." Additionally, he was a major contributor to the four-volume "Encyclopedia Latina."

Miller, a veteran of the underground press of the late 1960s, has appeared in Smithsonian, The New Yorker, LIFE, The New York Times, Natural History, and many other publications. He wrote the introduction to "Best Travel Writing - 2005," and has led educational tours through Cuba for the National Geographic Society and other organizations. The Arizona Humanities Council sponsors his talks about borderland literature and also Thoronton Wilder's Unknown Life in Arizona. His collection of some eighty versions of "La Bamba" led to his Rhino Records release, "The Best of La Bamba," and his book "On the Border" has been optioned by Productvision for a theatrical film.

Miller was born and raised in Washington, D.C., attended college in Ohio, and since 1969 has lived in Arizona 65 miles north of the Mexican border.

In 2008 Miller was honored in a ceremony in the Centro Histórico of Quito, with a proclamation designating him a "Huésped Ilustre de Quito" (Illustrious Guest of Quito) for his literary contribution to Ecuador, especially "The Panama Hat Trail." In 2010 Miller won first prize in the Solas Awards in the "Destinations" category for "A Border Rat in the Twilight Zone," originally published in The Washington Post.. He also won a Bronze award for "Notes on an Andean Pilgrim" in the "Travel Memoir" field.

Well-traveled through the Americas, Miller has taught writing workshops in four countries and his books have been published in Europe and Latin America as well as the United States. In recognition of his work the University of Arizona Library has acquired Miller's archives and mounted a major exhibit of the author's papers. He has been affiliated with that school's Latin American Area Center since 1990, and makes his home in Tucson with his wife Regla Albarrán.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. Cyr on November 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
Aside from teaching 'new words,' the process of learning a new language teaches empathy--so sorely lacking in today's 'me-first' and 'sucks-to-be-you' world...EVERYONE who only speaks one language should be required to read this book--everyone needs to gain insight into what it means to find oneself in a parallel linguistic universe. Better yet, everyone should study a second (and third, and fourth) language!

In today's increasingly charged immigration/language-debate, this book is essential. The essays and anecdotes speak volumes about human communication, separation, cruelty, kindness, understanding, and desires--all in a non-partisan, readable way.

All people who work with the public--whether it be in customer service or education--should read this book. Just because a person can't 'say what s/he means' does not mean the person is stupid--linguistically challenged does not equal mentally disabled!

Although the book deals only with the specific experiences of those whose native language is Spanish or Portuguese, those experiences translate into any language. Whether people want to remember or not, this IS a nation of immigrants, and so many of its citizens come from families who, at some point in the past, were the 'language-outsiders.' May we not forget...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Olivas on December 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
For a change of pace, consider this new collection of essays, "How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life" (National Geographic Society, $16.95 paperback), edited by Tom Miller. The contributors include politicians, authors, scientists, athletes, educators, and others. One of my favorite essays is "The Learning Curve" by journalist Rubén Martínez. He recounts that "long before the debates over bilingual education or English Only or whether a hyphenated American was a real America," his parents decided that he, "their first child and American citizen by birth, would speak Spanish before English." This book will enlighten and, perhaps, lower the volume on the often incendiary debate over bilingualism in this country. [The full review first appeared in the El Paso Times.]
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Julee Rudolf VINE VOICE on December 30, 2007
Format: Paperback
I confess (embarrassedly) that along with many Americans, I am not bilingual. But I know more than enough Spanish to get by and I get the basics of the struggle to understand or be understood in a foreign language, having lived in Japan for several years. The "Lessons in Language and Life" of How I Learned English are probably best enjoyed by bilingual native Spanish speakers, who have the ability to empathize with and appreciate the writings of the "55 Accomplished Latinos" whose words are included in the book. The contents of their stories fall into a few basic categories: how to improve ones chances of learning English, examples of ridicule suffered by English learners due to teachers and students equating lack of language proficiency with stupidity, joyfulness at their bilingual ability in general or the English language in particular, specific activities or incidents which facilitated their ability or desire to learn, and (my favorite) funny or embarrassing anecdotes about language-related mistakes or misunderstandings. How I Learned English is a good book for bilingual Spanish-English speakers, but can be appreciated by anyone who has ever tried to learn a foreign language.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Creativewan on January 16, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased both the English and Spanish version of this book for my son. He loves both of them! It gave him a better understanding of the struggles person who are leaning English as a second language goes through.
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