Learning to Read

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No, not I but the little weed. No, I’ve done more than my fair share of school and one of the results of attending post secondary education is the love of books and a seeming insatiable thirst for knowledge. That’s who I am and I cannot change. Recently I tried and failed miserably.

The little weed struggles to crack the code of the printed word. Every little stumble, every time he guesses at a word, you can tell that these books intrigue him. His nose wrinkles, the gears within his head creak, yet the mechanism within is still far from mature. Yet he perseveres. Don’t think that he never thinks of quitting, oh no. As he gets tired, which does not take long, I can feel his temper rise ever so slowly, then peak, and as the end of the story nears, preceptively fall with a parting sigh for good measure. Thank goodness these kiddle books aren’t longer, for I fear the little pecker would simply blow a gasket.

It’s been a long time since I struggled with reading. To me reading is a skill as essential as breathing, and I do it just as naturally. On a regular basis I purposely put myself into learning “sink or swim” situations, but as a good project manager, of course I stack the deck my way so I have the distinct advantage. I get a thrill when I’m at the edge of a knowledge cliff and am forced to suck up knowledge like a sponge. It’s my knowledge based version of a Polar Bear Club outing. Perverse, in a way.

The little weed’s language acquisition skills are still forming. He reads the first letter of a complex word, looks at the pictures, and guesses at the word, given context. It’s a strategy that is quite admirable in a way, and creative in another. Story plots can lead down a completely different path as the pages turn leaf over leaf. Unfortunately, in reading, accuracy is also important. I try to steer him down the path set before him on paper by asking him to sound out his little stumbling blocks. I see the frown rise on his brow, but he knows me well enough to know I will not be swayed. A valiant sounding out try is as good as proper pronunciation, and he knows it. Progress is measured in small, imperceptible steps, yet they are progress nonetheless.

Learning a language is so completely different from other book or skill learning. On one hand language is so fundamental, the essential skill of communicating with fellow humans. How can one not possess this skill and, of course one must read well, right? Language skill acquisition, as I have learned from practical experience, is downright difficult and challenging. You can lock yourself away in a room and memorize vocabulary and grammar, but you are really only eating half of the pie. Out into the big wide world you go, and you flounder and despair, for you must be able to speak and well as listen and comprehend. Speaking requires you to swallow your pride, forget the lump in your throat and go for it, shaky legs and all. It is a skill not unlike learning to stilt walk. Similarly, why is it that now my ears are seemingly disconnected from my brain? Audible bits go in, but there seems to be a filter that slows down meaning transfer, as a word is received, then translated, then sent on. That takes precious time, and when I finally understand the first word spoken, the speaker is already on the seventh, and I’ve lost words two through six. The look of an idiot was never more fitting.

I often feel impatient with the little weed, as I so quickly and easily devour his book, and hope that he can soon breath as well as I can. I do feel for him, and this keeps my impatience in check. There is so much to learn in the world, but without the fundamental building block of reading, his house will never get built. One brick at a time he toils, each word learned over and over. He puts in a monumental effort and I applaud him.

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