I have come a long way down my road of knowledge and learning of English throughout my life and it has taken me places and shown me things I would have never expected when I first started out on this long journey, and it includes things that most other student’s do not. I have learned so much, so fast and it has taken me far from home and around the world. While most of the people I know have traveled the same road their whole lives and have grown up in very similar ways, my experiences tell a whole different story.
I was born and raised as a child in Beijing, China and grew up around people that spoke mandarin Chinese all the time. Mandarin was my primary language growing up as a child, I learned how to read and write when I first started school and I have been speaking Mandarin for twenty years now. This was my first challenge I faced about learning because it takes so much memorization and practice to learn such a vast language and there were times when I thought I couldn’t do it but I got help from my parents and my teachers.
At times I wanted to give up because my teachers would get mad at me for saying or writing the wrong thing. I remember a certain memory in third grade of being called to the board to spell the word “student”, but I spelled it incorrectly and I’ll never forget because the whole class laughed at me and the teacher was very disappointed. But I knew I couldn’t give up and with enough time and effort I began to get good at writing essays and reading books in Chinese.
As I progressed in school they started teaching English along with Mandarin because it is such an important language to the world and widely used and this just added to the challenge of being a successful student. With more help from my parents and teachers I started to learn enough English to read my first book, which was Forest Gump, which I really liked and it also became one of my favorite movies. I continued on through school learning more and more of both languages and in high school things got even more complicated.
I went to a very competitive high school and the teachers were very hard on us so many more hours of studying were required in order to meet the grades I was expected to reach. It was when I was in high school that I finally decided what I wanted to do with my life and it was to pursue a career in business in the United States of America. My father was a successful military man in China but I knew that was something I did not want to follow. Growing up I heard so many great things about America and saw many things on TV and I knew that was where I wanted to find a career and become successful.
But in order to meet such a large goal I knew I had to strengthen my English and work much harder. So I looked at all my options available to me and I found a program at the University of Texas at Austin called, English as a Second Language (ESL), where I could learn English and also learn its culture at the same time. Uninterested in a future in the military, like my dad, and high hopes for a future in business, I decided to give the ESL program a try and move to America where so many more opportunities would be available to me and be given a chance to become a lot more successful.
My mom also played a big role in my decision because she too chose to move to America and she had so many great things to say about it. Moving to Austin, TX and being at UT was a huge change for me and opened my perspective to a lot new things that I had never even known before. The school there was like nothing I’d ever experienced before and I had to learn a whole new language in a short amount of time, while at the same time adapt to a whole new culture. The ESL program was the most drastic change in my life because it changed many things for me including my culture, literature, interests, and personality.
I had to learn a whole new set of guidelines of learning but I worked hard and it paid off and I continue to use everything I have learned these past few years in order to succeed at UTPA and return to UT Austin where I can pursue a future in business. Although I’ve spent years studying English, I still feel like I’m a step behind everybody else because of the difficulty I have with reading and writing. It’s not as difficult for the people that have English as their primary language, but as they talk and write they also comprehend the meaning behind everything that is being communicated.
But growing up in a different country this is a huge obstacle for me because even though i have learned to read and write like all the others, I can’t comprehend the meanings behind it as fast as other people can. This has proved to be a big challenge for me at the university level and I’ve learned that even though the students are given the same materials as me and the same opportunities, it takes me longer than the other students to figure out what to do with the materials.
I have been exposed to the culture here long enough to learn things that will help me to adapt more to my surroundings and make it easier to reach success, such as music. I have always loved music but I have only recently discovered that I can use it to my advantage as a literary device. Once I got to America I fell in love with the pop culture and the music it creates and it became a big part of my life so I started incorporating it into my daily habits. But I found that if I focus rather than just enjoy the rhythm and words, I can learn from the music at the same time.
For example, Kanye West is one of my favorite artists and I love the music he makes, but when I focus in more on what he is singing about I can learn things like important subjects in society, grammar they use, current events, and the different meanings and contexts of words I have never heard. I learned many things when moving from China but one of the most useful things I have come to learn is that there is more than what meets the eye and music is more than just music to me now, it is a useful literary device.
So I started looking out for more things that could prove to be useful to me and I noticed more helpful things that most students do not even think could benefit their English learning abilities. Like the media for example, people think TV is a waste of time and will not teach you anything more than useless reality TV and lies, but if you focus in more you can learn anything from spelling to new words people use, also called “slang”. In short, readers construct meaning by building multifacted, interwoven, representations of knowledge. The current text, prior texts, and the reading context can exert varying degrees of influence on this process, but it is the reader who must integrate information into meaning. ” (Haas & Flower 168). Haas and Flower explain how it depends on the reader to interpret the text and construct meaning from it and that different people may interpret the meaning differently.
And with the varying degrees of influence that texts may have on people has more influence on me because simple things like music and media continue to teach me things that most kids do not even recognize. Education has a whole new meaning to me than other students may have because of all the other obstacles that come with studying in a different culture than the one raised in. Students have little to worry about in my opinion because all they have to worry about is school and how hallenging there classes are, but a student like me has so much more to worry about because even outside of the classroom I am still faced with learning challenges even when it comes to talking with friends. Do I have the same chances as the other students to succeed even though things are more difficult for me? The answer to this question depends greatly on your teacher. “In a similar fashion, asking to teach “academic writing” begs the question: which academic writing – what content, what genre, for what activity, context, and audience?
FYC teachers are thus forced to define academic discourse for themselves before they can teach it. ” (Downs & Wardle 556). I agree with Downs and Wardle by saying that not all teachers are the same, some teachers are more intelligent and more qualified than some of the others out there and that they might define their view of academic discourse differently than others. And if a student is lucky enough to get a teacher with a loose definition of academic discourse and does not ask much of their students then the student has a better chance at success.
There are many things that affect a student’s chance at success in the classroom but my question is, does a student in my situation still have a chance at the same opportunities as the other students despite the other student’s head start? In reading the essays and writing this paper I have developed a theory that a student in my situation with a late start in their learning abilities has to go the extra mile in order to adapt to the culture and the learning styles that come with it so that they have the same opportunities as the other students.
And I have found that we do have the opportunity and the same chances of success as the other students do, we just have find the tools that will take us that extra mile. In order to find those tools you have to find the patience, determination and will inside yourself to take on the challenge ahead of you, but without these characteristics you will surely fail along the way only to find out that all your time and effort were for nothing. You have to expect that taking on such a challenge is a very difficult task and you have to expect that there will be many bumps along the way.
Thinking it will be an easy road to follow and not anticipating any trouble will also bring you failure in the end. So not only do students in my situation have to physically work harder by studying and devoting their time to learning, but they also have to mentally prepare themselves for the challenge and any bumps you may find along the way. With time I have learned some things that help my literature and help me to become a better writer and student of English just by simply listening to music or watching what’s on TV.
I knew I needed as much practice and help as I could get and I also knew how much I loved music and reality TV, so with my theory of my new literacy practices in mind I put the two together and practice this all the time to sharpen my skills. I can’t say this solution will work for everybody in a situation similar to mine but I do know that if you keep an open mind it will be easier to develop practices that fit your specific style of learning just as I did.
There’s something out there that will fit your certain learning style but you just have to be patient and it will come to you eventually. I will close my theory with a question, if a student grows up in a different culture with a different way of learning things, can he still achieve the goals he sets for himself even though he is adapting to a different culture and way of learning at the same time?
Courtney from Study Moose
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