Aaqib Usman My Literacy Narrative I was around a year old when I moved from India, where I was born, to Kuwait, where I spent the next 16 years of my life. Growing up in Kuwait, the first language I learnt to speak was English, everyone around me spoke English, my parents, their friends, my Arab neighbors, everyone, so naturally I picked up English as my first language. There was a little problem though, whenever I’d go back to India for a brief period of time; it was hard for older people to communicate with me. I would assume it is quite frustrating when a woman can’t communicate with her grandson and that was my grandmother’s case. She couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Hindi. When I was four, two major events occurred in my life, we got Indian cable television and I started going to kindergarten in an Indian school. This exposed me to a lot of Hindi and I was starting to pick up a lot of words and phrases. At school, I was taught how to write first, with the complicated scripture and every line meaning different sounds; every mistake meant being yelled at by the teacher - that wasn’t really working out. Nevertheless, I was getting better at speaking Hindi, which I mainly credit to my mother’s TV watching habits for, she watched a lot of soaps in Hindi, a lot of family drama. I used to sit next to her and watch it with her, and I think that helped me pick up a lot of Hindi. Still Hindi at school wasn’t working out for me.was helping me much. Instead of getting better, I was getting worse because I was losing interest. I was a cute little kid and people loved to ask me questions, they would ask me “where did you learn Hindi from?” and I’d reply “from the TV!” They thought it was cute and would laugh, but that was the truth and I still think it is. I had a similar experience learning Arabic. In Kuwait, the official first language was Arabic, so, it was a requirement that Arabic be taught in school. Being Muslim, I was taught to read and recite Quran scripture that was very similar to Arabic scripture by my parents. Basically it meant, I could read Arabic. I didn’t know Aaqib Usman what I was reading, but I was reading it. I had an advantage over the rest of the class by knowing how to read, but that just made me feel over-confident and not really take interest in the subject. I was thinking “Well, I know how to read it, I’m awesome at Arabic!”. However, knowing a language, to me, is more about being able to speak it and make conversation with other people who know how to speak that language. I didn’t really take any interest at it in school because at school it was more about reading, writing and grammar, none of which really appealed to me. I had just made friends with my neighbor’s kids, all six of them, and they could only speak Arabic. I was the only one who couldn’t but I still spent a lot of time with them and that’s where I really picked up a lot of Arabic. In a matter of a few months, I could speak to anyone in Arabic, anyone who spoke the Kuwaiti dialect of it at least. Communicating with these kids in Arabic also helped me a lot with Arabic at school, because I could now understand a lot of the words I was reading. This resulted in better grades of course. Now that I look back at it, I think it’s funny. I took Arabic lessons but the lessons I learnt outside my class helped me a lot more than the lessons I learnt in class. Another language I attempted to learn at school, a third language, was French. When I was in the fourth grade, I started to take French lessons at school. I had no exposure to it beyond my class, no TV, no people who spoke French, just my French teacher who I saw twice a week. I learnt French verbs in class, the verb for “to be”, “to love”, “to eat”, what good was that? No good! I now feel like it was such a pointless four years of French learning. No speaking, no reading, just writing. I was getting the grades from memorizing those verbs and putting them down on paper, but how much French did I really learn in 4 years? I now know how to say “my name is Aaqib” and “hello” in French. I switched to a British school in the ninth grade, here the students learnt to speak and read French apart from the writing. I think that this style would’ve been more effective if I’d had it earlier in my life but at this point of time, everyone in my Aaqib Usman class was better than me at it and considering that I was actually “good” at French in my old school, it demotivated me. I ended up dropping French. A lot of people think learning a language formally is the only or the best way to learn a language, but I absolutely disagree. I think learning a language informally is a more fun and natural way of learning a language. Learning to speak and read and pronounce words in a language are, I think, a lot more important than knowing how write them down, I’m not saying it’s not important, it is important to know how to write it, but it’s lower down on my list compared to speaking. From these experiences, I’ve learnt that picking up a language has a lot to do with how much you’re exposed to it and I think that’s true for a lot of people because I’ve seen a lot of people struggle in the same situation that I was in. Literacy has a lot to do with the situation you’re in. If you’re in a situation where communication without that literacy is difficult, you’ll automatically start to learn as much as you can in order to cope with that situation.
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