I’ve always wondered about the Polish-American author Jerzy Kosinski, author of The Painted Bird, Steps, and other famous novels. He supposedly arrived in American as an adult with no English and in a handful of years wrote a prize-winning novel in English.
So, a quick romp through a biographical sketch on-line
revealed that he arrived here without much SPOKEN English. We find attacks on him by several assistants who claim he wrote first in Polish and had the work translated or that his assistants had to clean up his English. Thorough research has discredited these claims and he appears to have written his works in English himself. We get no further information about how he learned English, just the summary:
After his arrival, Jerzy Kosinski became an American success story. Quickly mastering the language, he enrolled in a Ph.D. program, launched a writing career, and married the rich widow of an American steel baron. A prize-winning photographer, Kosinski was also an amateur athlete and, according to the New York Times Magazine, “a polo-playing pet of the jet set.” In 1981, he added a screen debut to his list of accomplishments, earning critical praise for his portrayal of the Soviet bureaucrat Grigory Zinoviev in Warren Beatty’s film Reds.
Pretty amazing guy but nothing but the cliche about “quickly mastering the language” so often used in advertisements for tape courses (now DVD) on French or something.
After reading just this, I would guess his English needs help here and there but he is obviously a brilliant man who had studied some English in Polish schools (not much b/c he wandered the countryside as a boy during WW II but did go to the university there). Immersed in English and devoted to words and with the leisure and resources provided by his fortuitous marriage (delightful passage about how his wife fooled him), he no doubt did quickly master the language.