My English Language Journey
Much like most people my age, my English education began at home, with my mother, who lent to me her unfulfilled ambitions and began my schooling with gusto. She was only twenty and I was her first child –perhaps this explains the childish enthusiasm with which she took up this task. I’ve never struggled with English as I do with everything else, and this I owe to my early years when my mother would sit me down and teach me. Her efforts saw immediate success — I was the fastest English reader in my class of first-graders. The school gave me a plaque to commemorate this, and my mother talks of it even today, so many years later. I think it more her achievement than mine.
Of course, my language journey did not end there. I was humbled quickly. Reading was easy. Speaking, I found, was not. There are several moments I carry with me –that time I confused ‘teacher’ and ‘cheater’ is etched painfully into my memory. I can still feel my cheeks burning hot, feverish with humiliation amid sounds of childish giggles. I laugh at it now, but in those days I jumbled up words crushingly often. They would spill out of my mouth, odd and incoherent. Writing was easier than speaking, but I wrestled with spelling. I remember how badly my tutor wound himself up trying to teach me to spell ‘aeroplane.’ I hear his voice each time I have to use it and recall vividly his vexed face. The thunder in his tone remains unequaled.
My learning did not improve until life dealt me a helping hand. I relocated to Dubai in second grade, and one of the first things the schools there taught me was to forget about my native tongue and communicate only in English. I learned to speak and write partly through immersion and partly because of my fear of rule-breaking. I was unfortunately never a deviant. Unrestricted access to the school library also helped. My English scores soared despite the clumsy wreckage that eventually became my school life.
Looking back, my emotional attunement to the English language was formed in these pockets of time — my early years with my mother and my tumultuous middle schooling where only English language books were soft and familiar. Perhaps this is why my English learning continues, and will likely never stop.