Literacy-Narrative: A Language not Mine


A language, not Mine

This narrative essay about the language and me.

Growing up in the countryside was interesting to me in many ways.

  • First, I realized the existence of many other languages that people spoke around the world. For a long time, I have thought that English was the only language in the entire world. I wondered why people would speak any other language, which I could not understand.
  • In the second year of my primary schooling, I was already fluent not only in reading English storybooks but also in writing little stories about animals.

I was also attracted to the Bible, and I remember telling myself that I would read it in two years. I do not remember if I perform this task within that time, but I have read all the planned books before completing my primary school. Like so many other children, I wanted to tell my story to others and thus I have been writing a story about myself for three years. I have never published that story although I still have the manuscript and maybe later an opportunity to publish it will appear.

Then one day while being in my family’s library, I came across a book, which I could not understand. I was sure that it was in English but I appeared not understanding anything written in the book. This fact amazed me. In a week, I hid in the room and tried this strange book. Sometimes I was hitting myself on the head just to make sure that I understood what I read. In the end, I concluded that this was a different language, or maybe the printer had misspelled all the words in that book.

I decided to go to my father with the book and ask him why I could not understand the language of the book. His apologetic answer explained a lot, “sorry son … this book is written in German, and I think you cannot read it”. I understood why my father was apologetic. He had been my biggest fan as I was growing up and showing my prowess in reading and writing English. Sometimes he could comment on a verb or an adjective I used in my story at dinner when no one was expecting a comment like that. “The past tense of the word leave is left, and life is lived”, he used to say without anyone prompting him. Of course, I understood immediately that the statement was directed at me because I remembered I had left my notebook on the table open, and my father could have read what I wrote.

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I understood why my father was apologetic when I asked him about the book written in a foreign language. He had never told me anything about foreign languages and I had believed that we only had one universal language. My mother was the most passive. Apart from asking me about my English teacher, she did not care was about my progress in learning. I had been showing a great interest in language, and my discovery of another language meant that I would have to start learning it right now. I thought to myself, “If only my parents had introduced this language to me early enough, I could show the same level of reading and writing skills as I had in English”. As I started learning the verbs and syntax of the new language, I discovered many other languages used around the world. I learned that even though English was the most favored language in the world, languages like Germany, French, Spanish, Chinese Mandarin, and many others were widespread across the world. I then realized that I had to work hard to become competent enough for easy communication with anyone in the world.

Learning any New Language

Learning any new language, i.e. German, is both interesting and difficult. One reason is that you start from a new slate just as a baby begins learning how to talk. In my learning the new language, I met many challenges of different nature. First, there were no teachers at school or in the neighborhood to teach me reading German. Moreover, I had no access to the learning materials like books and audio recordings. Thus, in the beginning, I depended on the few books that my father had in his library. I asked him why he had those books if he cannot understand a word in German. He told me that his German friend, whom he had met in college, gave him those books. However, he has never developed any interest in reading them. Moreover, the books were not for beginners because the grammar constructions were difficult and the sentences in the books were very long. Learning a foreign language requires materials written especially for beginners and a professional teacher, which is even more important. In my case, I did not have the two crucial ingredients. Nevertheless, I developed a greater interest in learning each day and became quite familiar with this beautiful language. I thought that I would obviously be the first person from my neighborhood who speaks German. Although I did not know how people around me would know this because no one of them could understand the language.

For the next two years, I studied German by myself, and then on my father’s little transistor radio, I found a radio station, which was broadcasting in German. I made a habit of listening to their programs every evening. Luckily enough, the program traditionally began at a time when I was at home from school. This meant that I could catch up with all their broadcasting. I discovered that I was making significant progress in learning German because I could understand most of the things spoken about in the programs. However, there were also many other things that I needed to polish up like pronunciation and sentence structures. However, I was quite proud of myself as I was able to understand almost 70% of all that was being said, a fortiori the fact that I was self-taught.

The knowledge of a foreign language that I had gained through my own initiative prompted me to learn more about the culture of the Germans. For the first time, I felt that I wanted to study in Germany. This could help me to discover more information about the Germans whose language I had learned miles away. It was great to feel that I was able to have successful communication with people whose language made me so excited. Once Nelson Mandela aptly noted in his insightful view about language that whenever one talks to a person in a language he/she can understand, the words will go to his/her head. At the same time, if the same words are spoken in the same person’s language, they will go to his/her heart. I was eager to talk to native Germans in their language. That is the reason I am still working out on my plan to travel to Germany to communicate with people in that country. Nevertheless, because of globalization, I know that I can interact with German people anywhere in the world and simply talk to them in their language.

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