Learning English

“Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center, so we lost our center and have to find it again.” -Anais Nin

Happy Easter to everybody who celebrate it!

Learning to speak English (or whatever the native language is)  is perhaps is the most worried about first tasks on the long list of what to do post-adoption. I myself can say that while I do not remember the exact first steps my parents took to teach me English it certainly could not have been easy considering I never really wanted to say much around other people. I was very shy and to this day find social interaction something that I need to improve on. I think my lack of desire to interact with others at an early age stemmed from my desire to feel connected to my parents first. Being taken from the only home I knew to Canada, what I lost in connection to the mother-land I had to make up for in connection to my new parents. This meant being hyper-focused (yes, even an infant can be hyper-focused) on being constantly surrounded by them! When I was pushed into social situations perhaps I felt like I was being torn away again and forced to interact with more people because I would eventually lose my new parents like I lost my home-land.The same goes for going to daycare, my mother thinks that my reason for crying constantly before I went was that I felt that possibly I was being taken to another children’s home and my parents were leaving me.

I define being introverted for myself as preferring to stay at home rather than go out and party. I would rather quietly observe my surroundings first instead of putting myself out there. In band camp in Grade 8, I took with me two very large veterinary books and expected to read them while I was there instead of talking to the other girls in my room about girl problems. As a younger child I was known to be shy, and my parents would apologize for my shyness or lack of social interaction. While sometimes my actions were in fact snobby, sometimes I felt like I had to have an excuse for being the way I was. There must have been a reason why they apologized for my shyness…was it wrong?

Almost every person I know who has been adopted (which is really not that many) has been held back a grade in school because their parents wanted them to improve their English and ability to interact with others in English. Like I said in my earlier post (Bullies on the Brain, you can read about it here: https://adoptingmorethanme.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/bullies-on-the-brain/) I never really took to people like some other kids did. I was not that kid that could plop herself down on the floor with another kid and begin a friendship builder. I believe that because I had this lack of desire to interact with others my age, I took to books. I believe that taking to books helped me learn English better than being forced to use my English with others. You see, not all kids who are shy are destined for a life of improper language skills, nor should they be labeled “snobby”. They simply just need another option. Growing up, being in a room full of small children (aka. kindergarten class or preschool) a place where one should feel comfortable I was at my most uncomfortable. There are almost no pictures of me where I am happily involved in a play station, instead I am being toted around by the school teacher. This improved as I got older though it took A LOT of work. I think this is where open-mindedness comes in. People expect kids to be extroverted, anybody who happens to be introverted is automatically labeled as “shy” or “snobby”.  I was shy, I was easily timid and nervous about being in the company of younger people. I am however more introverted than extroverted and no amount of social interaction at a young age could have possibly changed that. Back to the real purpose of this post: Had my parents held me back in school one more year to become better associated with people I doubt would have changed much. It would not have improved my English, nor would it have had me turn into more of a social butterfly. The way I chose to communicate was through books. I read a book, and regurgitated it back almost right down the exact written words themselves. I attended those library reading sessions as a toddler, said nothing and participated in nothing during those sessions but as soon as I left, could recite every poem or song that I had learned.

Through the use of books I think I learned what language was, it is not just repeating “Mommy” or “Daddy” after hearing it, but it is understanding the words itself. I quickly soared through the school curriculum for reading and was reading at a Grade 11 level by the time I was in Grade 7. In Elementary school we had this weekly Friday rotary schedule. We would choose an activity that we wanted to do each Friday. In Grade 5 I chose Theatre. It was with one of my favourite though super tough math teachers. I believe that I chose Theatre because it was the closest thing to reading. By reading when I was younger like I said above, I understood the meanings of the words. I understood the emotions behind them in stories. I think this is why I surprised myself in Theatre rotary and surprised my teacher. The once very quiet almost all of the time student was reading scripts like Rapunzel and Shakespeare with emotion, character and volume! I remember my teacher told my mother this with great surprise and excitement. Perhaps all was not completely doomed yet.  I never joined drama because drama was far more ‘out there’ than I every wanted to be but occasionally reading scripts and reading from books aloud, I found volume that I never had before. This is what Theatre rotary taught me about language.

I only learned how to interact with people because as I got older I really had no choice. The natural consequence of not talking is that very few people talk to you back. Regardless of whether you are introverted or extroverted, you need human interaction. The difference between being a hermit and introverted is just that, you choose to be solitary versus you enjoy the warmth of human companionship without the rowdiness. I think once people figure that out they will accept more quiet, more solitary personalities as being equally important to society just as much as  boisterous and high-energy ones. For my job I have to be able to talk to parents with confidence and talk to kids with confidence and talk to whoever with confidence. While I did not progress very fast in terms of being able to speak publicly or speak with confidence I learned at a rate that supported my personality. Had I been told to put the books away and forced into social situations constantly  I think a part of me would be very confused now, almost like I was turned into something that I was not meant to be. Thankfully that never happened.

The moral of the post is, we are not created the same. Sometimes things happen and we have reason for it. I was not abused when I younger, or suppressed but I ended up being the way I am. My parents did everything that any other parent would think to do. When your kid doesn’t talk to others, something’s got to be done. They did however realize the importance of my books and its connection to how I would choose to learn English and later discover my public volume which I discovered in Grade 5. Though this method may not work for some, it worked for me.

I wanted to leave you with some things that I found helpful when I was trying to find my voice as well as learn to deal with social situations:

-Obviously I read. For as long as I can remember my father read to me when I was little (and not very literate yet in English) and gradually I took over, reading to him.

-I enjoyed making small groups of friends, one at a time rather than all at once. My mother always put together birthday parties with this in mind. There was not going to be twenty kids bouncing around a table. Maybe five or six.

-Going to library reading sessions. While it may have been completely useless as far getting me to interact DURING the class, I certainly took something from it afterwards and that is really all you could hope for. Sometimes you do not get it all.

-My parents encouraged me to make my own friends, I do not remember once having them take my hand and go over to a group of kids and have me introduce myself. Because I was not going to. If that meant I spent a few lonely years that was okay, eventually I would find someone who I felt fit the position of being my friend. The first play mate I remember? It was a boy!

-My mother and father’s ways of dealing with shyness are vastly different. My father was more a gentle sort and allowed me to pursue my shyness and hang by his side. My mother was very pushy and although sometimes it seemed overboard I would not actually have the job I have now if it weren’t for her pushiness when I was in Grade 7. She signed me up to be a day camp volunteer. From there, it opened doors to coaching and working with various organizations! It is important to have that connection with someone who lets you be who you need to be and someone who wants you to try different things.

-My strengths were celebrated and my weaknesses were not mentioned as being problems. Yes, when I was younger my shyness was often apologized for but as I got older and my parents got to know me better, it became more a case of putting me in situations where my shyness did not have to come out. I did not have to feel like I needed to protect myself with it. This meant not pushing me into groups after a certain point.

-Rather than my mother standing in shock and being all “No way, she’s good at Theatre?!?” my mother acted like I had been good at it all along! I think this helped me in Grade 5 as my weaknesses played no part in my love for Theatre but I simply found something that had been previously hidden before.

Anyways, that is just the way I learned English and how to interact with those around me, much of it was done through SELF-exploration. Being someone who now works with kids, I find we are steering away from self-exploration and trying too hard to find the solutions to social problems too quickly.We are expecting success only from extroverted people and expecting very little from introverted, labeling them as not participating in an appropriate manner or as we see fit. This idea needs to change and once that idea changes and we realize that the two need each other to be successful I think more people will accept both ways of learning. When both ways of learning are accepted and supported who knows what brilliant minds could come up with next.

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2 thoughts on “Learning English

    • ornblovo says:

      Wow! I loved that video. She hits the nail right on the head. Thanks for sharing! I had no idea about TED talks, I just watched five of them. Neat stuff! Thank you!

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