With a Dictionary and Determination

Ana Herrera

Personal Statement

My name is Ana Herrera, and I am an international student from Honduras. I am currently studying Computer Science at Lake Washington Institute of Technology. Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to study in the U.S. My aunt had this dream too, so I decided to explore more deeply her journey to achieve this goal because she has always been an inspiration to me.


For my literacy interview essay, I decided to interview my aunt because I always remember the time she told me how she started learning English with a dictionary and determination. This story always left me in awe and admiration for her. The interview was held face-to-face at home and in Spanish. Later, I translated everything into English in the essay. This essay is based on the questions I asked her about her journey with reading, writing, and subsequently learning English.

My aunt grew up in, Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. She lived with her mom, dad, brother, and sister. She attended different schools throughout her life, and all of them instructed classes in Spanish.

To start the interview, I asked my aunt what she read as a kid and how often she read. She told me that as a seven-year-old, she was fond of reading Condoritos–famous comic books from Argentina–her dad gave her. She would read them each night before going to sleep. On Saturdays, she would read the Bible out loud to her grandma. This was my aunt’s routine during the year until vacations when she would add to her reading selection books from Isabel Allende.

Throughout elementary school, my aunt was engaged in all kinds of activities regarding reading and writing in Spanish. She even won a contest for an acrostic she wrote for the word Honduras. She was assigned all kinds of reading during middle school, but the books that fascinated her the most were those that made her think beyond what was written such as Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This book is about an ex-student who’s convinced that there are justifiable reasons to commit a crime, but when he commits the crimes he feels so confused that he is no longer sure if the reasons he had were justifiable to the actions he did.

Even though my aunt loved writing and reading in Spanish, she wanted to go beyond it and learn a second language. None of the schools she attended taught all classes in English; however, once a week she had a single ESL (English as a Second Language) class. One day, she decided she would learn English one way or the other, even if more effort would be required from her. In ninth grade, she asked her ESL teacher how to start this journey. Her teacher told her to gather newspapers and translate the articles with a dictionary to start understanding some words in English. My aunt did this eagerly with each newspaper she could get. When she felt she needed various exercises to continue learning, she started translating Britney Spears’s songs into Spanish. Her ESL teacher would gladly check all her work to help her learn English.

When my aunt was 21 years old, she had learned enough English at home, so she decided to go further and enroll herself in English courses. The American School of Tegucigalpa is a bilingual school that offers ESL courses for adults who desire to learn English. Her learning at home was so efficient that when she completed the placement test she reached level 5–the maximum level the test could place someone.

During ESL courses, my aunt was challenged more than before to continue studying. She had to constantly participate in presentations, conversations, and even karaoke (she was the only one who enjoyed it). For one assignment, she had to read Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne and summarize the plot of the book. One thing she liked about this book was how a special type of lamp that could be lit below Earth was described. When she finished all the levels she turned out to have the highest grades in her class and was chosen to give a speech during their graduation, which was held in English.

After finishing the ESL courses, my aunt was 25 years old when she prepared herself for two different tests to earn her master’s degree in the U.S. She took the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations). Her hard work allowed her to apply to colleges and she was accepted to Case Western Reserve University to earn her master’s degree in Finance; however, the work did not stop there.

In my aunt’s first year, she was told in her economics class that she needed to improve her writing because the class constantly required her to do essays related to macroeconomics or microeconomics. To improve her writing skills, she joined the university’s writing club. This group had a lot of support from Literature Ph.D. students who would check and give feedback on essays from other students in the club. If by any chance she didn’t have any homework from her classes to present, then the Ph.D. students would give her an assignment to practice her writing for them to check afterward.

After graduating, my aunt enrolled herself in an online Stanford English class to keep improving her writing and speaking skills at her job. The professor she had was always supportive and helped her check her reports for anything she might improve. Her boss at the time also helped her to continue improving by recommending her books since he had a degree in English Literature. He recommended many books, but the one she liked the most was Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Besides reading her boss’ book recommendations, my aunt decided to read a book she had previously read in Spanish to compare and contrast the difference in English. The book was One Hundred Years of Solitude (100 Años de soledad) by Gabriel García Márquez. She told me that reading this book in both languages made her realize how much she loved reading in Spanish because the English translation doesn’t capture the vivid and colorful details she once read.

My experience with English is different compared to my aunt’s since I had the opportunity to attend a bilingual school and learn English when I was three years old until I graduated from high school. Just like her I enjoy reading. In fact, my aunt was the main influence on my reading habits as a kid. She would teach me how she would read the books and highlight specific words to look up in the dictionary. My aunt was always passionate about learning English and she never stopped working on her skills until she could achieve the goals she wanted to reach. She now works in the Finance Department at Microsoft. Learning English was a huge step that led her to where she is now and it’s thanks to her persistence and determination throughout her life. However, she says there’s still room for improvement. She actively seeks ways to improve, such as asking people what their favorite books are, so she could read them later. Even though she loves how books are written in Spanish, she will keep reading books in English to keep understanding the American style.


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The Lion's Pride, Vol. 16 Copyright © 2022 by Ana Herrera is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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