Hardship. We all go through it at least once in our lives. It visits us all from time to time and in many different ways. It can come disguised as a marriage trouble, an illness, a financial calamity, or even as a long-distance relationship. Hardship is never a pleasure for us but whether we like it or not, we all must face it. So the question now is: how well we respond to it. Among the many hardships that I have faced in my life, the hardest one was not the irritating illness called the “singer’s nodules” which I had since I was nine and still suffer from, nor the separations within my family.
The hardest one was the language barrier I had to cope with in America. Since my family moved to America from Korea in 2005, my responsibility in the family has become increasingly determined because no one in my family spoke English. I was not fluent in English but I knew I had to master it so that I could help my family. But for the meantime, from sending a bill to renting an apartment room, everything was my job because I was the only one who could speak some English.
However, the true yearning to learning English was derived when I was denied of need: a friend. It seemed to me then that there was no way to make a friend in America without knowing English. It seemed that the most important thing here is to be in the popular group. Being in a non-popular one meant rejection. So just imagine the isolation I endured due to the language barrier. It was such a cruel punishment just for being unable to communicate.
If I had one wish that could be granted during those days, it would have been to be completely fluent in English so that I could be in the popular group. I studied hard to learn the English language but I still could not understand the nuances nor the inside jokes among popular kids in school. I studied harder and harder to fulfill my dream of being in the popular crowd but the language barrier always hindered me. And that barrier never seems to break. It was only about a year later when I realized that my motivation to learning English was wrong and immature.
I participated with one of my “non popular” friends in many community services in the local area and I realized that a student like me, one who does not speak English well, can help make a more positive environment. I used to think that I am useless because I do not speak the language well. But now I see that I am wrong. Upon that realization, which also became a motivation, I started to study English in order to help other people who are struggling and no longer to be in the popular crowd. I started to stay up all night to study English.
I started to refuse to answer any question that my family asked in Korean. I forced them to speak English at home. I covered the walls with English words I did not know. I wrote English phrases on the bathroom tiles and on the shower curtain so that I could study while taking a shower. I put my English notes inside a zip-lock for waterproofing so that I could study in the bathtub. I literally watched the movie “You’ve Got Mail” more than a hundred times. And I even memorized funny stories and wrote letters in English to communicate with the people in the nursing home and the pregnancy care clinic.
My new attitude towards learning the language not only gave me many true friends who actually care about me but it also drastically improved my English oral communication skill so much so that people now say that I do not have the language barrier anymore. The thing I take most pride in, but will not show up in my resume, is having overcome the language barrier and having overcome it by helping others. Being a non-English speaker in America never means that one has to be useless and aloof. With hardwork, with the right attitude, and with a right heart, one can overcome anything.