People ask this question to see which language the one being questioned is more fluent in. Is it possible that your second language might be the one you are more fluent and literate in? The answer to this question is yes. I am a first-generation immigrant to the United States and proud. My first language (to be politically correct) would be Cape Verdean Portuguese Creole. What I want to ask is why is it important to know what my first-language is when I am more literate and fluent in English?
If I can compare my languages to my siblings, I would, due to the fact that I was raised with both of them equally during the course of my life. I learned Creole at home with my parents ad family, but I owe my literacy I English to school, and the love I had for reading. Practice makes perfect. A person’s literacy level is completely based on practice. Schools aim to train students to be literate and educated, but those students who practice at home (outside of the regulations of school) are the true scholars.
Let’s look at Malcolm X, for example; a man who had formal schooling up until the eighth grade and nothing after that. Yet, even though Malcolm X had less schooling than all of us college students here at UMASS Dartmouth, he is probably, in my opinion, more literate and more educated than most of us. Interesting isn’t it? The reason why Malcolm X was so educated is because he read every day, non-stop, in his jail cell, with no distractions. He kept a dictionary by his side to teach himself any new words he would come across that he was unfamiliar with.
What better way is there to familiarize yourself with a language and expand your vocabulary other than reading written works by other people that most likely know things you don’t know and have a different vocabulary than you? By reading you learn new diction, new facts, and cause your brain to grow in knowledge. I can say that aside from school, reading, like Malcolm X, expanded my literacy skills. As I had said before, I am a first generation immigrant; my parents also are first generation immigrants.
I never had the luxury of being taught English by my parents, being read to by my parents, or getting help with my homework or anything academic at all except for math, of course, which doesn’t vary between countries that speak different languages. But even with this being said, I had always been at the top of my class in elementary school, done very well in middle school, and done well enough in high school to have the pleasure of being offered the opportunity to be in an Advanced Placement English class. I was a nerd in my early years. I used to enjoy reading very much.
I would always ask my father to take me to the library, where I would check out many books and go through them like a bullet. During class time, when the teacher would be finished or took a break and there was nothing else to be done, I loved reading; I looked forward to silent reading time in class. When I had a 100-page book, I would tend to finish it within a day. Longer books such as the Harry Potter series would be finished within a few days. I never had a problem with reading assignments because I would finish them so quickly and understand everything I read.
I had an eighth-grade reading level in elementary school while I would watch other students struggle while reading aloud as they stumbled on their words and wouldn’t know how to properly pronounce them. I never understood why it was so easy for me while other students would find it difficult. As a child I read all the Harry Potter books; they were my favorite. I also enjoyed other series such as Curious George, The Babysitter’s Club, and Judy Blume. I also read plenty of other books that I cannot remember because the list was so long. I believe that there is a strong relationship between reading and writing.
Someone who is an excellent reader and comprehends what he/she reads should have a big vocabulary and a sense of how real, professional writers perform. Every book, magazine, and newspaper we read or look at is composed of articles and passages written by professional writers. If you have a lot of experience with all this, then you should know what a professional piece of work looks like and sounds like. Therefore, I feel like someone who reads a lot will be a good writer as well. The two things are connected, and it helps to write when you are a skilled reader and vice versa.
Books are the perfect model for those who want to become more skilled as writers. After all, that is exactly what Malcolm X did, and he became very skilled. It takes a very skilled writer to produce the best books out there. If one does not know how to read and cannot understand words on a page, then how is it that they can know how to write the words down on their own pages. Similarly, if you are deaf, how can you learn to speak properly? Hearing words and their pronunciation is the model for the deaf to learn how to speak; and if they are missing their model or example, it can be almost impossible to learn naturally, on their own.
I feel that reading and writing are the most important elements of school and learning. Books, articles, research papers, whether they are non-fiction or fiction, all serve a very important purpose. Whether you are reading for pleasure to expand your imagination and reduce your stress, reading to attain information on a specific topic or just to expand your knowledge, or reading to practice and become more literate and a better writer, you are never at a loss. Therefore, writing becomes very important because, if it wasn’t for writing, there would be nothing out there for us to read in the first place.
Reading is not for the lazy. I used to love reading as a kid and found it so interesting, but as I grew into my teenage years and became more interested in action, reality and drama, I distanced myself from all the reading and became more of an extrovert. The occasional newspaper article or magazine article is still entertaining to me though. Even now, as a college student, you will never find me reading anything unless it is required for me to achieve the grades I desire; never do I read for pleasure.
I feel that I achieved a high reading level way back in my middle school days, and that has influenced me to think that the only thing now that can improve my writing is to keep writing. I feel that I have acquired a great deal of knowledge throughout my lifetime and I did a lot of this myself through all my readings. Nobody pushed me to read during my spare time. My parents weren’t very literate in the English language to be role models for me or to help me read or even read to me.
All the instructions I have read, all the words I learned how to pronounce, I did it on my own through reading. As a matter of fact, I don’t even remember seeing my father ever read a book, and my mom didn’t start reading until after she went back to school to get her college degree. Literacy is all about exploring the world of words, and pages, reading, and writing. In order for one to achieve great literacy, one will need to push and challenge himself/herself to read more and understand the readings.