Formal English Essay
Many writers share their experiences about literacy and language. The writer Helen Keller wrote The Day Language Came into My Life, an essay where she tells the reader her experience with how she learned how to speak, read and write even though she is blind and deaf. Amy Tan wrote Mother Tongue, an essay where she talks about the trouble of speaking English as an immigrant in a new country. Frederick Douglass wrote Learning to Read and Write, an essay where he talks about becoming literate during a time when slaves were not allowed to read and write.
They all talk about literacy in their own ways, but at some point they all had some similarities in their experiences. Although they all had obstacles in their path to literacy, they took these as a challenge and overcame their difficulties through hard work, encouragement and a willingness to learn. After talking about these writers, I will write about similar obstacles I have faced with language and how it helped me recognize my relationship to literacy. In the essay, The Day Language Came into My Life by Helen Keller describes how she first learned that every object has a name.
She said “Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought” (Keller). She was blind and deaf at the age of eighteen months as a result of a disease, but still she learned language and literacy. She said, “‘Light! Give me Light! ’ was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour” (Keller). Her teacher Anne Sullivan helped her to learn about literacy. Sullivan put Keller’s one hand under the spout and wrote the word “w-a-t-e-r” (Keller) with finger on the other hand.
Keller understood “that w-a-t-e-r meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand” (Keller) the connection between what she felt in one hand and the word Annie Sullivan spelt out on the other hand. She said, “There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away” (Keller). Keller was learning and understood she had to discover more; she knew that learning is a process and that there’s never an end point in one’s learning. She recognized her progress but also knew that there would still be many obstacles to overcome and was willing to face them.
In the same way, Amy Tan, in her essay Mother Tongue, describes her feelings about language and how she understood literacy better. She learned the English language from her mother, and because her mother was an immigrant she couldn’t speak English very well. Tan calls it “‘broken’ or ‘fractured’ English” (Tan 234); however, she said that she understands it better, because, to her, “my mother’s English is perfectly clear, perfectly natural. It’s my mother’s tongue” (Tan 233).
Her mother was more likely to make some kind of a new variation of English for Amy Tan that she realized after she learned proper English later on. She said, “It has become our language of intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family talk, the language I grew up with” (Tan 233). She realized how she speaks differently with her family to others. For Amy Tan, learning proper English grammar, pronunciation and spelling were all a challenge she had to overcome because she was used to speaking a different form of English with her mother.
She overcame these challenges by learning complicated English grammar and vocabulary, but still stayed true to her roots by gaining her mother’s approval after writing a book in English. While gaining a new literacy broadens the world of an individual, for some it can be depressive. In the essay, Learning to Read and Write, Frederick Douglass illustrated how he overcame all the hurdles and obstacles he faced in his journey to become educated. He learned to read and write from his mistress, his master’s wife. At first, his mistress was very “kind and tender hearted” (Douglass 87).
She used to treat him “as she supposed one human being ought to treat another” (Douglass #). But then, later on, as a result of bad influence from her husband, she became even more violent in her opposition to his learning to read than her husband himself. He felt that his knowledge only brought bad things to him and reminded him that he was a slave who could never be anything else in life. Overcoming this obstacle was one of the biggest challenges that Douglass would have to face. However, later on, he started making friends with all those he met in the streets of their neighborhood.
He learned lessons and got more knowledge from them and would give bread in return. He said, “This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge” (Douglass 88) He used to read all the readings, magazines, news papers, and etc. to gain knowledge, he said, “The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts” (Douglass 88) However, he wasn’t happy to learn literacy and become educated, because he said, “I would at time feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing.
It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy” (Douglass 89) He saw an enslaved person escape and brought back to his owner again. He knew he also had to escape but he waited for a safe time to do so, because he was too young to make himself free and besides, he has to learn how to write. He “Might have occasion to write his own pass” (Douglass 91). After that, he started to learn writing; he wrote whatever texts he finds. He used his master’s copy book, “Copying what he had written. ” Thus, after a long and deadly effort, he finally accomplished his writing skills.
Similar to this, back when I was in sixth grade, my parents were drowning in debts, they had a huge amount of loans yet my father’s business was down. I had to switch my school from private to public. In India, private schools teach all subjects in English, whereas public schools teach all subjects in Bengali. I learned to speak Bengali from my mother but she never taught me how to read and write in Bengali. I learned to read and write in English only at my private school. It was a huge problem that occurred in my life that time.
I had to learn to read and write in Bengali first in order to get admission to the public school. I overcame that challenge after a lot of hard work. My mother’s efforts and my own determination helped me to finally learn to read and write in Bengali. All three writers faced different types of challenges in their journeys to learn how to read and write. The writer Helen Keller, even though she was blind and deaf, learned how to speak, read and write. Amy Tan was an immigrant but she overcame the trouble of speaking English while living in a new country.
Frederick Douglass becoming literate during a time when slaves were not allowed to read and write. Although, they are from different time period, I can still relate myself with them through learning languages and literacy.
Douglass, Frederick. “Learning to Read and Write”. The Writer’s Presence. Ed. Donald McQuade, Robert Atwan. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2012. 86 – 91. Keller, Helen. “The Day Language Came into My Life”. The Story of My Life Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue”. The Writer’s Presence. Ed. Donald McQuade, Robert Atwan. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2012. 232 – 237.