Lessons In a New Tongue

Describe the accomplishment that has given you the greatest satisfaction to this point in your life.

When my family decided to move to the United States I was ten years old and thought little more of it other than to regret that I’d be leaving a city that I loved, a school I enjoyed attending, and the friends I’d acquired over four years. Because I had been learning some English for almost two years, I instantly assumed that the language wouldn’t be much of a barrier. But, come September 1996 when I placed out of the ISOL program at our local elementary school and walked into a class of English-speaking children, I was nowhere near excited. At times, when explaining nowadays to inquiring people the sensation that hit me, I recount a funny anecdotal experience from one of the first weeks of class. It was time to see who could qualify for the Spelling Bee! So we all took out a sheet of paper, numbered it, and prepared to write the words that were to be read aloud. Interestingly enough, out of maybe twenty-five words, I knew how to write less than half. Clearly, there was no spelling bee for Natalia.However, having always had an avid interest in reading, I took it up once more as a possible solution to my current dilemma. One of the first books I read in English is one I surprisingly found myself reading, in the non abridged version of course, just this past year in my English and Literature class: Pride and Prejudice. As I expected, though the general concepts and actions did not escape me, plenty of the words eluded my understanding, and so I began to circle them lightly in pencil and make lists of definitions after looking them up in a dictionary. It wasn’t really as grueling and as arduous a task as it may seem however, for I enjoyed not only the filling up of previously vacant niches in my mind, but also seeing the similarities some of the words had to Spanish and Russian words I already knew. My English teacher also assigned thorough reading journals for each book we read for the class, and in November, enveloped in stories and concepts I was understanding with slowly-growing ease, I joined some of my classmates in the Gifted Program, where we delved into Tuck Everlasting with the help of our teacher Dr. Locke.As hyperbolic as it may seem, I attribute my cumulative understanding of English, grammar and all, to those first initial efforts, those childlike attempts to grasp a language that had been relatively foreign to me at the time, and I am thankful to my family for motivating me to pursue reading.

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