"Literacy Narrative. Narrativa de Literatura. 识字叙述."
College Writing 1, Dr. Ana Roncero-Bellido
My path to literacy was a little different compared to a lot of kids around me. On this path I felt alone and confused, but looking back I wouldn't have it any other way. In my lifetime I've learned 3 languages, but only two of which I remember to this day. Those 3 languages are English, Spanish, and Mandarin. Being able to speak those languages is one of my favorite things about my life because I’m able to connect with different groups of people. To me, that’s what defines literacy; the ability to communicate with others in different ways.
When I was 3 years old, my dad was offered to work abroad for a year. Of course he accepted, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Soon after the offer, we found out the country we would soon call our new home was going to be Singapore. About a year later we moved there and it was a big culture shock for my parents. For a 4-year old, I didn't know any different. I was exposed to so much culture and diversity at such a young age. I was put into school where half of my day was spent learning in English and the other half I was learning in Mandarin. I had friends there from families in the same situation as us from England, Australia, France, and more. As kids, we didn't understand that our languages were different. Even though we all spoke English, we still had trouble understanding each other sometimes. I have a clear memory of one of these communication problems. We had just finished eating dinner with the Turks, a family we had met in Singapore from England. Lauren, the daughter, and I wanted to have a play date but it was already dark outside and the air was cold. “It's too late. Maybe tomorrow”, my mom said. Lauren looked at me and said, “It's ok, I think I'm just going to watch television tonight! You should watch it with me sometime”. ‘What in the world is television?’ I thought to myself. I had never heard of this before. It sounds like a great TV show or movie she is watching. I wanted to watch it too. I asked my mom later that night if we could watch ‘television’. “Delaney, ‘television’ just means TV. It's just the way they say it where they're from,” my mom explained. I was shocked. Why wouldn't they say TV? I remember being disappointed that television wasn't an amazing movie Lauren was watching, but I also remember being so fascinated that there were different ways to communicate that word. This helped me realize that learning the different dialects of a language is just as important as learning different languages. It's a barrier to fluent communication between two people and once you are literate in that dialect, the communication becomes a lot easier between two people.
As I learned Mandarin, I realized how much I loved it. I loved being able to speak with people and communicate with them when my parents couldn't. When we were out in public, I would have to be their translator when someone talked to us. I have memories of people coming up to us shocked to see a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, some would even ask to take pictures with me because it was so rare to see a person like me in Singapore. One of those times, it was two young women on a hot day in a big city while we were walking around. They came up to us and one said “oh my gosh. Your hair! So beautiful!”, with broken English. She knelt down to my height to get a closer look at me. “Where are you guys from?” she asked. We answered with “Chicago” unsure of if she would even know where that was. Her face lit up as she said “That's where Oprah is from!”. My parents took a picture of this moment as she was kneeling down looking at me in awe. As you can imagine, they were even more blown away when they realized I was able to speak their language.
When I was in first grade, I hadn't been taught how to read English yet. With the program I was enrolled in, that was taught a couple years further down the road. I didn’t feel dumb because I knew that I could read, just not in English. And I didn’t feel left out because all of the students in my class were learning the same language as me. That was until I was playing with some neighborhood friends one day. Like a lot of little girls do, we decided to play teacher. It was Taylor, Izzy, her sister Chloe and I. Izzy, who was a couple years older than the rest of us, decided she would be the teacher, and we would be the students. I loved playing teacher; we played all the time in school. She handed us each paper booklets that they give the students at school to practice reading short stories, and told us to read them. “I've seen these books before. I have some of them from school!”, I thought. I opened the book and started to read. The words were looking like mush to me. I recognized all of the letters but they weren't making words. I realized this book was in English. “I can't read this teacher”, I said. “You haven't learned how to read yet?” Izzy asked skeptically. “No, I do know how to read, just not this book. Do you have any of these in Spanish? I could read those”. The other girls giggled. I was instantly embarrassed. “Oh. That's weird. I don't have any in Spanish, you just won't be able to read today”. Why are they laughing? Should I know how to read English? We both know how to read, just not the same language. What's the difference? When can I learn to read in English? All of these thoughts circled in my head. After that, I counted down the days until I could read English.
My journey to literacy in English was very important to me after that event, but my literacy in Spanish and Mandarin were still important to me. Being able to connect with people in a variety of ways, through language or speech, is what literacy means to me. I learned that literacy has a different meaning for everyone. Some people might consider literacy to be reading, writing, vocabulary for sports, or others. I used to believe that learning English was the only correct form of literacy, even though I already had literacy in a different form, Spanish. However, seeing that others had different definitions of literacy helped me come to realize that there is no incorrect definition.