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Bilingual World: A Literacy Narrative

Guadalupe Bueno
English 703- Composition Theory and Literacy Studies
Professor Ferguson
27 February 2012

Literacy Narrative

The acquisition of an additional language is an asset to any individual. Currently many educational programs claim the learning of a new language in a prompt manner that will inevitably open to the path to successes. However, there are factors such as age and attitude that may hamper the absolute acquisition of a language. At a young age, the additional language is much easier to manage and govern, because at a young age the individual is less prone to be paralyzed by fear. Moreover, an individual’s exposition to the grammar rules of their mother tongue is of significance since knowledge of grammar and usage can serve as a platform on which to add on new knowledge without having the individuals lose knowledge of their mother tongue. Fear, is therefore a determinant, if not the most, in my opinion.
At the age of ten, I had to jump over the fear and learn the English language. What followed was not only the obstacle of not being able to understand the language, but also confronting social rejection from other children. Some say, the best form to learn a language is to completely immerse oneself in that language’s country, hence, physically move that that locality.The physical move creates a certain anticipation of what is to be found there.
I can still remember the day I moved to the United States, from my native Venezuela being a girl going to a catholic school in the populous Caracas. This was the summer of nineteen ninety –six, a time that marked the rest of life until now. Looking back, I believe that the journey has been a profitable one. Once establishing myself here, I was able to continue my studies in a public school in New York. The change was large, but I was receptive to it.
At times, I think about what might have happened if there had been a poor ESL system at the school that might have held me back a year or even a teacher with lack of knowledge in the matter and be classified as learning disabled-for this has happened to many others.
In my experience, the sponsors were in my inner circles, friends and family members that made the transition smooth. Even printed and audio-visual artifacts aided. The school immensely provided a formal education that taught me the rudiments of language construction. It was the desire to learn the English language that fed my enchantment with books. It was paradoxical to understand at the beginning how I came to love reading the same language I dreaded coming near to when I first learning it. It must have been around the age of twelve in the seventh grade that I began to read for entertainment. The idea of travelling through books has always fascinated me. I was fortunate enough to not forget the Spanish language, and so reading the works of an author like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera or Chronicle of a Death Foretold allowed me to still connect with my roots and see the beauty Hispanic authors instill in their works of which many are filled with magical realism.
The addition of a language, also provides an individual with a sense of having a new identity, in this sense, the person is like a hybrid not only of languages but also of the cultures one has had with the cultures that correspond to those languages. The context that surrounds a language is imperative for the literacy. The society I was immersing myself in was in the language itself. Therefore, I believe that language is molded by the society, and vice versa, for literacy, in not one-dimensional, it encompasses inner and outer circles of an individual. This thought sits well with Deborah Brandt’s Sponsors of Literacy essay, who highlights that “sponsors are any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract who enable, support, teach, model as well as recruit”. Therefore, sponsors are everywhere and as such sometimes pass by without recognition, for they are at times intrinsic.
I believe that path for literacy does not end. As a believer in education, I see every day as an opportunity for improvement or growth in other areas. Nowadays, I see languages as ports of communication that provide an individual with the tools for survival. Moreover, until recently I saw an interview on CNN Espanol, the sister of the conglomerate CNN Company. A polyglot- speaks seven languages-from the former Soviet Union named Susanna Zaraysky was talking about her experiences with languages and she explained that the only obstacle between a language and an individual was the individual, and that attitude is the main factor when learning a new language. In addition, in her book titled Language is Music, she claims that the best way to learn a language is through music. I find this recommendation significant, because I find it true. When I was learning to speak English I found myself adding new vocabulary from song lyrics, but I found diversion in being able to sing the song, I might have not understand what I was saying but the melodies aided.
Much of this love of literature was what led me to pursue studies as English major. Such would be contradictory considering my initial battlements with the language if it was not for my interest in reading books. I can only say that the path has been a long one, and that the experiences that have taking me to this point have only made me value education. Aside from the inequities that prevail in the education system, to me public education helps democratizing knowledge. It offers it to those unable to reach better-equipped sponsors of literacy. Moreover, if there are any gaps that assimilate an inequality, personal motivation is regardless of all possible external impediments the most significant factor. Lack of love for knowledge is what is giving the current education a comatose condition, there needs to be more emphasis on the importance of this tool, because education is a tool, one that has the power to connect people, to connect the world.

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  1. Kevin L. Ferguson says

    I think it’s a really interesting idea to use the lens of “second language” to think about literacy. I find it hard to think about my own literacy since English is so natural to me. But when trying to learn, and improve, in foreign languages it’s clearer to me how many different skills are required. I can see the places in a foreign language where I’m not literate, and the big difference between oral and written skills. It’s interesting to me that as children, language is learned orally, but as an adult language learner I have a much easier time when I can see it written down. My toddler daughter and I are both learning a new language, but are doing so in very different ways.

    Last, I think this is a crucial idea: “The context that surrounds a language is imperative for the literacy,” and your discussion of how literacy isn’t a separate object from society, but that the two are mutually interwoven. I think that also supports your idea that literacy doesn’t “end”–it’s not something one just gets, but is something one must continually express.