Santiago González Lives His Life in English

Written by
Tony Kaizen

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Read the inspirational story of one of our most active community members, Santiago González 🇨🇴

An autodidact is born

Santiago’s story begins in the city of Villavicencio, Colombia.

As a young boy, his parents were very strict and always expected the best of him. Good grades, good behavior, a good appearance. They just wanted him to be a good kid.

His father was a Physical Education Teacher, so he was always encouraged to be active and play sports like volleyball, soccer, and basketball, just to name a few. So ever since he was a child, Santiago has felt this intrinsic need to be learning or doing something useful at all times.

As a result, the majority of his childhood was spent studying, playing sports, or at home with his family. He didn’t have much time to socialize with people and make friends because his parents were always putting him in whatever productive or educational programs they could find.

And when Santiago was 14, his parents came across an English course at a local language institute. They didn’t know when or how, but they knew that being able to speak English proficiently would be an extremely valuable skill to possess in the future.

So they enrolled him in the course. But the problem for Santiago was that this course consisted of just one 4-hour class per week… for three years. A 4-hour class in which they focused solely on grammar rules and basic vocabulary. Of course, Santiago found the information useful, but at some point he realized that during a 4-hour class, he spent less than 10 minutes actually speaking English.

But his parents had enrolled him in the course, so he had to finish it. He followed the course, memorized the information, passed the exams, and he was certified as a C1 (advanced level) English learner. But after three years, he still wasn’t able to maintain even a basic conversation with a real person. That’s when Santiago decided to look for a better way to learn English.

The need for a better methodology

Just like many of us in the modern era, he started with video lessons on YouTube. Then he searched for English teachers on social media and realized that he could learn a bunch of useful things about English just using his cell phone! So he spent the next four months immersing himself in the language; discovering new teachers, watching videos, and taking notes.

He also began teaching himself how to code online and he was even using that as a way to learn English because the majority of content made for self-taught programmers is in English.

But that wasn’t enough. While he was getting exposed to new vocabulary and his comprehension was starting to improve, he still wasn’t able to put together basic sentences without translating the words in his head first.

The fork in the road

The next part of this story is key because this is the point at which most English learners do one of two things:

  1. Continue consuming loads of content in English: reading, listening, and watching… forever
  2. Begin looking for opportunities to practice speaking English with real people… every day

Santiago chose option #2.

He started searching for online communities in which he could speak with real people every day. Luckily, these days, there are a lot of apps and websites that help you meet people from all over the world.

For example, Discord is a popular platform for creating and managing online communities. It started out as an app for gamers to connect with each other, but these days, all kinds of people from entrepreneurs to language learners use the app to stay in touch with other like-minded individuals and share ideas.

After hearing about some online communities for practicing English, Santiago decided to join a few of them and look for people to speak with. Thanks to his upbringing, he’d always had a hunger for knowledge and growth, so he was determined to master the skill of communicating in English.

Where are my people?

But the next problem he ran into was that the majority of communities he found online were poorly managed. There were lots of disrespectful members. There were no leaders. There was no support. There was no real sense of community.

But did Santiago let that stop him from learning? Of course, not! I already told you this kid is determined! He kept searching for and joining different communities, interacting on forums, and consuming content on social media; taking advantage of any and every opportunity he had to practice his English.

One day, he was scrolling on social media and saw a video of an English teacher talking about his private online community and he was encouraging people to join. Santiago knew an opportunity like that was exactly what he’d been looking for, so he didn’t hesitate to join the community.

And this is when Santiago came to another fork in the road:

  1. Choose the life of a passive community member: never interacting, never starting conversations, never asking questions…
  2. Choose the life of an active community member: greeting the community every day, sharing interesting content, and encouraging people to join group discussions.

Which option do you think Santiago chose?

A place to call home

After just four months studying English by himself online, Santiago González could understand written and spoken English about many different things - from relationships and sports to managing databases and writing algorithms. This was all due to a focused approach, consistent effort, and a burning desire to learn something useful every single day.

After just three months of being an active member of an online learning community and speaking with real people every day, Santiago is now making friends, starting group discussions, making people laugh, and he doesn’t need to translate things in his head before he says them.

He’s showing us all that simple things like desire, effort, and consistency can take us very far in life. He’s made more progress by himself in the last seven months than he made at his school in the previous three years.

Better English for a better life

Now that Santiago has found a community with active members and the support of a teacher, he can improve his pronunciation, learn useful words and expressions, and get all of his questions answered in a practical way. He can practice speaking English daily, which gives him the confidence to speak with anyone. And he can do all of this without leaving his home.

But it’s more than that. Santiago isn’t just learning English. He’s listening to stories, connecting with like-minded individuals, and learning life lessons that will serve him for years to come. Santiago was lucky enough to find a community of people whom he can look up to as role models.

When I asked him what he liked most about his community, he said:

“It’s not just the English I’ve learned. I see the people in this community and it makes me think, ‘if they can work that hard and be so dedicated, why can’t I?’ So it’s very inspirational and I see them as examples of what I would like to be in the future.”

When you join a community of learners, you get more than just an education. You become part of something like a family; a network of people who have been in your position and want nothing more than to see you succeed. The same way a family raises and supports a growing child, a community of people can raise and support individuals who are motivated to learn and grow.

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