People are often shocked to hear that English isn’t my first language. It is in fact my third language. I speak English with just as much fluidity, speed and complexity as just about anyone in America. Furthermore, I don’t have an accent. However, it didn’t always used to be that way.
Growing up as an Indian immigrant child and living with parents that spoke less-than-average to no English at all meant that I struggled in America. I didn’t have the words to convey my thoughts. This often led to me being dismissed as an unintelligent child. I frequently asked classmates to slow down their speech and define the words they utilized in everyday conversation.
Most people responded with a “nevermind” and thus I was eradicated from the conversation entirely. The dismissal from conversation led to feeling unwanted and I ultimately isolated myself. With parents that couldn’t quite help with the language and classmates that didn’t want to help out, my opportunity to learn the language was lost completely – that is until I discovered reading.
Reading was always a skill that people could do but chose not to go out of their way to actually do. I picked up a few books and found that there was a whole world inside each story. As George R.R. Martin said, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads only lives one.” I found this to be very true.
Even if it was a simple book like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” reading got me thinking. I felt inspired to be creative and clever with my words, both in speech and in writing. I began to read more and more. My nose was always in a book. I was clumsy at first, lugging around a pocket dictionary for the times I didn’t understand a word.
A teacher noticed me flipping page after page in the dictionary when the word was defined with more words I didn’t understand. She introduced me to the thesaurus to learn similar words in one go. Soon, my vocabulary exceeded that of my peers. My language turned fluent. I learned that I could speak, and with that I learned I had a lot to say.
I made friends by talking, but the closest friends I made were by talking about books. I exchanged books with others that read as much as I did. I joined book clubs, finding great comfort in knowing that other people also found the universes embedded in the pages of a book as fascinating as I did. We talked about topics from the books, like racism, sexism, stereotypes and abuse. Reading helped me make friends but also helped shape me into the person I am today. I learned a lot about worldly issues that we don’t learn in school.
One book specifically that comes to mind is “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson. This book follows the story of a freshman in high school who was raped at a party the summer before. She had called the police in her panic, and went down as the girl that called the cops on a party. She had depression, was traumatized and had lost all her friends. This book talks about hard topics like sexual assault, PTSD and depression.
The moral from all of my years of struggle was a simple, yet pressing one. Reading is your best friend. I had reading when I had no friends. I have reading when I need to escape the stresses of life. Reading provides companionship when boredom strikes. Reading imparts wisdom whether it be a textbook or a novel. Reading helped boost my vocabulary, my willingness to learn and my self esteem. All in all reading was a critical aspect of my life.