Literacy Narrative

As a child, I did not learn to read in English like native speakers. In elementary schools in China, the common way to teach English was grammar lessons and vocabulary lists, the same way Spanish classes would be taught in any American high school. Hence, I wasn’t too fond of the English language. The rules to English grammar were never consistent, and I found it to be inefficient in expressing myself. This continued until I became an adolescent. When I entered middle school, I started to listen to a lot of western music. The genres I listened to varied from British rock bands to old school Hip-Hop, and artists like Pink Floyd, Nas, and Michael Jackson were the first writers who inspired me to learn English more thoroughly. I was intrigued in researching the differences between artists of various time periods and hometowns and how their lyrics would vary based on those differences. Songs like “Put It On” by Big L, “Pigs” by Pink Floyd or “Castles Made Of Sand” by Jimi Hendrix. As a result, my first memories with reading English were scrolling through music streaming, reading the lyrics line-by-line alongside their Chinese translations, while searching the words up on an electronic dictionary. Each word had its own melody to it and spoke to my heart. The words became much easier to memorize, and my use of grammar became more intuitive. I learned my first lesson: to treat a language as art, and not skill. I became more accustomed to English grammar rules and verbal conventions. My interaction with English remained this way until my family moved to New York in 2016.

Before my first day in an American high school, I have never been required to write an essay in English over 200 words. My experience with writing before was not the same. I wrote for the grades. I wrote in complex sentence structures to demonstrate that I’ve listened in grammar lessons. I replaced short sentences with long clauses full of never-used adjectives to demonstrate that I did my homework of memorizing 50 vocab words every day. And it was a difficult transition. I received unsatisfactory comments from my teachers, yet they don’t point out what’s wrong with my writing. This continued until junior year, when my English teacher asked me whether if a sixth grader would comprehend my essay. My teacher emphasized on being concise. Avoiding all repetitions and confusions over long sentences. Splitting one sentence into two. Two into four. I reached a realization that throughout all those years my goal of writing was to impress, not express. My teacher gave me my second lesson, which is to write for all people. Be more concise. It was to express my ideas in easier ways so more audience can be reached.

Finally, my third lesson of reading and writing came during the college application process. In those three months, I wrote countless essay drafts for admissions officers to read over. The process was a long struggle of trying to sound intriguing while avoiding clichés; trying to display personal talents while avoiding signs of arrogance. Nevertheless I appreciated this experience. By that last word I typed onto that last essay document, I truly had a better understanding of myself. The collection of my essay drafts becomes a full notion of my identities, my passions and traits. From this experience, I learned to write in order to reorganize thoughts. Instead of writing for other people to read, I began to write for myself.

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