From the author
My Mom is always the number 1. Thanks for being a great mother. Two men helped me feel the pride of success. Thanks to my father and my husband. The text was inspired by Dr Claude Hurlbert.
Through the Eyes of a Writer: A Journey of Learning, Discovering, and Transforming: Part 1
Entisar Elsherif, Libya
Entisar Elsherif comes from Libya. She is currently a doctoral candidate at the Composition and TESOL program at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She is almost completing her coursework, almost an ABD. E-mail: email@example.com
“Dedicated to all second language writers, especially Libyan ladies, who fought for their lives their existence, and for the taste of success.”
Foreword: Bader Algubaisi
Writing in Arabic... A birth of a dream
Writing in a Foreign Language: Writing in Turkish
I saw Abdulrahman the first time during orientation for new students’ intake into diploma programs at the Institute of Public Administration in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. The orientation was part of preparing students for their one year intensive English language program, a program that is well known for its quality and strength among others in the region. What caught my attention was Abdulrahman’s smile as he moved around in his wheelchair.
Days passed by and he joined one of my classes and his struggles began. I had seen students over the years drop from the program, fail, and struggle when they had everything around them work for their advantage. For Abdulrahman, however, everything seemed to work the other way so I predicted that he wouldn’t make it. As classrooms were equipped with chairs that had folding small desks attached to them, he could not fit into the classroom design. Because the school was not handy-cap ready, he did not wait for anyone to help him and instead showed up a few days later with his own desk that fit neatly to his wheelchair! During breakfast and other breaks, he would try to get into the cafeteria but couldn’t as that meant he would need to take stairs down to it. That did not deter him as he kept talking to everyone at school including me until after a few months later a ramp was built just because of him. That was not the only change as other ramps were built into outside door access too. Even at computer labs, it was difficult for him to slide into a computer station but he kept working and learning with enthusiasm I had never seen before. In class, he struggled to learn English too and, as I had predicted, failed a few levels before eventually making it and joining his majors and later graduating.
What caught my attention was how, despite his struggles to learn English, he kept a smile on his face and made not only changes to his life but he left positive impressions in the physical and emotional surroundings of my school. He was not deterred by his condition, physical surrounding, and his prospects of getting a job after graduation. Even when joined his first job, he used to tell me how people he worked with gave him the hardest of tasks so he would quit because they wanted someone “normal”. Abdulrahman still works as a secretary now and continues to smile and alter the world around him by focusing on what he can do but not on what he cannot.
We go through struggles in our life while learning new languages, getting accustomed to new locations, settling in new cultures, or even in seeking freedom. This book by Entisar is one that carries an amalgamation of different struggles as in Abdulrahman’s story. Although her struggles carry a whole different angle from Abdulrahman’s, as you will soon discover, she takes us through several struggles that not everyday people go through. Her story will take you between different shores and through raging waters, making you question whether she will make it safely to new shores. There is a lot to learn from her struggles. I have learned some and hope you will learn some too.
I met Entisar for the first time during our first class in the doctoral program in Composition and TESOL at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2011. She was fighting on too many fronts. Her country, Libya, was going through a historical transition, while she was going through one of her own, living abroad and trying to focus on her studies. She also had a family to take care of, kids who go to school and others who are ready to go to college too. For some, this could put a huge dent in one’s success chances, but for Entisar, this motivated her to work even harder. I have worked with Entisar on different projects, from collaborative writing, to class projects, and even on social issues and she has always excelled. This book is just one of many projects she is working on. I hope you enjoy her story as I did. – April 2012
I come from a rich family. Yes. I am not bragging. I grew up in a family that is rich. By saying rich, I do not mean those people who have lots and lots of money. I do not mean those wealthy people. I mean being rich in knowledge and being educated. Although I did not get the chance to see both of my grandfathers, I know that they were great people. My grandfather from my mother’s side was an artist. He died when my mom and uncle were kids. My uncle grew up to be an inspiring artist and writer. Although my mom did not get the chance to further her education because of her father’s death, she grew up to be a motivating mother. She always inspired me in many ways. My grandfather from my father’s side was a farmer. He did his best to give his children great opportunities for their education. He gave the chance to his daughters to study when many Libyans did not accept the idea of women schooling. He motivated my father and uncles to study abroad where they had their exceptional experiences that changed their lives. Being in a family that worshiped knowledge and paid whatever it costs for education made me what I am now. When you grow up seeing your parents, aunts, and uncles as educated and sophisticated as they are, you would do your best to be among this list of successful Elsherif family. And here I am in the United States studying. I join my father’s and uncles’ journey of studying abroad.
It has been nearly eight months for us in Indiana, PA. We have been living in this house since we left Denver, Colorado, where I took the GRE preparation course. In this warm living room, we’re all busy doing something. I’m between staring at the notice board that is hanging on the wall in front of my desk and staring back at the blank Microsoft Word page on my laptop. My dear husband, Hashmi, is watching his favorite channel Aljazeera as usual on the iPad. My teenage sons are busy with their usual activities. Taha is on Facebook. Yasin is playing with his PS3 or should I say enjoying shooting those he likes to call ‘unreal’ people when I accuse him of playing a game that would make killing people a joy. He does not like me saying that, but I always say it. This always leads to never ending discussions. Yet, both of us are not convinced with each other’s reasoning. Mokhtar is busy with his homework because he gets home late after joining his school’s wrestling team. Kawther, my five-year daughter, is playing with her pink teddy bear, waiting for her turn on the PC.
One of this semester’s assignments is making my heart run fast and jump joyfully or crawl to beat for my life. I am living two different emotional experiences. On one side, my heart is filled with joy. It’s telling me “What an opportunity to start writing a book in English to be published!” I can hear the running horses in my rushing blood. I can see the flashing fireworks inside my head. The other side though is burning me with the fears of failures and disappointments of failing an assignment. I am like someone who has been struck by a lightening. She doesn’t know what happened and can’t do anything about it. I’m not able to decide my actual feelings.
A rain of questions falls heavily in my mind. Is it easy to write a letter, an essay, a poem, any written text? Is it easy to be creative? Is it easy to write in a second language? Have you ever written in a second language before? If so, then you would understand why I’m finding difficulty in writing a story in English, more specifically, my frustration with writing a story that states the role writing played in my life.
I’ve always dreamt of writing a publishable book. I’ve spent most of my daydreams planning what my book would be and how it would look like. But I’ve never imagined that my first book would be in English and that it would be about ME, my personal experiences with writing as a course requirement. I was thinking “Oh my God! Will I be able to write it?” I knew that many of my classmates are literature majors or were literature majors in the past. I could not forget that some of them are native English speakers. This meant that they would be able to express themselves easily and creatively. But with me, I’ve never written anything creative in English except for last semester’s academic poetry. What’s more, I am not able to decide which chapter of my life would fit to this assignment’s requirements. Yes, it seemed easy, personal; it’s easy to write personal experiences. Is it? Really?
You could ask me curiously: “Why? Why do you feel frustrated to write about your literacy experience when you have a full life experience? Your forty-five years have many incidents that would fit very well in this story; not to mention the experience of writing a dissertation in English. Then of course the most recent experience which is writing a publishable manuscript.” My answer is really simple. Yes, those were influential, and they changed my life. But, did my literacy experience stop there? Of course, it did not. Are they the only experiences that made a difference in my life? Again, the answer is: “No”. That’s why it’s not easy to choose what to write about.
I was thinking of this story as an academic assignment. Yes, it wasn’t just writing my personal story. There was the question in the course outline. It was asking me to write about the role of writing in my life. So, it wasn’t easy just to pick one experience. Some part of me wanted to write about my frustration with the Qualifying Portfolio, what is known as QP at IUP’s English Department. This is because QP was the step that determined whether I, as a PhD student, was going to complete my study or fail and go back home. The Qualifying Portfolio consists of rewriting two papers according to the feedback we get from our professors, writing annotated bibliography, writing a publishable manuscript, choosing a journal and following its format, and writing a cover letter. But then, the pride of being able to write twenty poems that summarized my literacy experiences in English and were highly appreciated by a number of my classmates was irresistible. One of the poetry inquiry assignment’s requirements was to show our twenty poems to some of our classmates to evaluate according to a certain criteria and help each other choose ten that met these criteria. Leonora Anyango-Kivuva, Sandy (pseudonym), and Bader Algubaisi were those who read my poems and thought that they were great. I was not sure, as usual, about what I wrote until I heard them praising my poems. Hearing their positive comments about my poems raised my self-esteem. They made me feel that I did a great job. I felt so grateful to them.
I kept asking myself: “What was more influential?” Since the experience of writing poetry was the most recent one, I decided to look at my poems. Reading those poems opened my eyes to myself. It was like watching a movie about me. Whenever I was writing a poem I was busy with the construction more than the values and meanings of what I was doing. After I finished each poem, I had the same feelings that I felt when I gave birth to my children, satisfaction and grace. I was watching myself walking on the papers with pride. I felt the sorrow. I cried. I was excited. I even lived the moments that were part of my childhood. I lived all those moments. After days of questioning myself and writing whatever came to my mind, I decided that my experience with literacy was in different stages and had different roles in my life. I had my experiences with writing in Arabic, writing in Turkish, and writing in English that constructed my identity, who I am now. Therefore, I decided to include all of them. Besides, the poems that I wrote as one of last semester’s requirements summarized my experiences with writing in English. They were the candle that provided the light that led me during my journey of discovery.
Writing in Arabic was an easy task for me. But, when it came to writing in English, there always would be a sigh. I won’t be exaggerating when I say: “When writing in Arabic, words and ideas come out of the blue.” When I was in the UK and in Denver Colorado, my English teachers always praised my writing. They used to say that I write like a native. When I scored 8 out of 9 in writing and my overall score was 7.5 out of 9 in the IELTS test, Richard Brown, the director of BridgeEnglish at that time, the language center I used to go to prepare for the GRE test before I came to Indiana, surprised me with a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolate, and a card that was signed by everyone who knew me from the center’s staff and teachers. They thought that I did very well, taking into consideration the short time I spent preparing for the test. I attended a four-day preparation course and took the test. It was a very thoughtful move from all of them. Richard also included my name on their notice-board of successful students who got high scores and got accepted by US universities. I was so proud of myself.
But when I came to IUP and submitted my first paper, the feedback I got made me lose confidence. I couldn’t make sense of the comments. Deep inside, I was questioning myself: “Why? What was it that made me never meet the professors’ assignments’ requirements?” This made me suffer. Since that day, I always felt that no matter how well I wrote, it wouldn’t meet my professors’ expectations. I would always be considered as a second language writer.
My daughter’s voice brings me back to reality. She wants water. A look at the clock while I’m heading to the kitchen makes me realize that it’s 8:00 pm. I’ve been sitting there thinking about what to write and how to start for hours. Nothing came out. What’s creative writing? How do you narrate in a second language? Questions kept me awake for many nights. I could hear thunders and falling rain although the weather outside was really normal.
I decide to leave my desk and lay on the comfortable couch. Taha’s turn with the PC is over. My daughter asks if she can watch some videos on Nickelodeon’s website. Her brother, Mokhtar, as always, chooses to watch Disney’s videos. I don’t know if it was by chance or God sent this song to me. My son is so passionate about the song “Anything is Possible” performed by Roshan Fegan. It is mainly praising the Black American history. The strange thing about Mokhtar is that no matter how I explain that he isn’t, he still believes that he is Black American. When I say “No, you aren’t,” he just replies: “Yes, I am, I come from Africa and now I live in America. So, I’m Black American.” This is the explanation of a thirteen-year old Libyan boy. I guess it’s his way of coping with the new culture. Now, I know that it’s because one day they filled a document at school and when he didn’t know what to choose as an ethnic group, his teacher asked him to choose African-American.
Libyans’ pride of being Africans is a result of Qaddafi’s “paranoia” of being “the King of the Kings of Africa”. He made all Africans feel they were related, although this was not one of his intentions. All he was aiming for was to be “The King”. His obsession made him become a dictator and die in a way no one thought about it or predicted, even himself.
The words of the song “Anything is Possible” were as if they were talking to me. As the title says, the song aims to make the listeners believe that they can do whatever they want if they decide to. The song goes on telling the names of people who achieved their goals and did something that made them be included in history, including the President Obama. It goes on to encourage the listeners to believe in their dreams and believe that they can achieve their goals.
Can you think of anything as powerful as words? They are two sided coins. They have the power of a lethal weapon or a nuclear bomb, for instance. On the other side, words are like prayers from any religious book: healing, supporting, and encouraging. Isn’t it amazing how songs could express our inner feelings, release our anxieties, and make us relax? I’ve always admired those who compose any song’s lyrics and music. I think that they were given a gift that wasn’t given to any other human being. God gave them the chance to either send peace to suffering souls or create a destructive environment.
As we listen to the song, my son smiles and asks me: “Mom, why do you like it?” I answer him, smiling: “because it has a meaning to me. Never listen to a song that isn’t meant to have meaning to you and enlighten your soul.” He laughs and says: “I love it because his dance is cool.” Instead of getting into an argument of no avail, I just decide to change the subject.
Suddenly, I remember Spack’s quote I read one day: “Writing about reading can enable you to discover meaning in a text and to generate your own ideas.” “This might be helpful!” I thought. Some writers say that when you think that you are unable to write and you think you are living the writers’ block moment, read others’ work that might influence you and encourage you to write. Accordingly, I pick Spack’s book from the small bookcase near the couch. I look at the content page and read the titles. ‘A Book-Writing Venture’ seems interesting. It’s on page 42. What a coincidence! Isn’t it weird? Instead of thinking of this coincidence and how it is related to my situation, I read the story.
It’s a story about Kim Yong IK and his journey of writing a book. He has written a breath-taking story. What made him succeed is the people’s kindness that surrounded him. They appreciated his love to read and learn. They nurtured his love of language. Although most of his attempts were refused to be published, he kept trying until he had a vision and dreamt of something that motivated him to write a new story. In his story, he used nearly all its events from his American neighborhood. But, it was written with a Korean style. His non-stop attempts to write a novel in a third language were inspiring. The ongoing message was: “Never stop trying” and “Never give up”. Fegan’s song and this story, somehow, encouraged me to fight, fight my fears and write.
I make my decision. I’m going to write no matter how revealing I think my story would be. I will try even if my poems and this story make others laugh at me or see the real ‘me’, my pain and struggle. I’ve always liked Sharon Virgil’s expression about how reading Tobin’s book, Reading Student Writing, made her feel as if her clothes were being ripped off of her when she was taking her turn in Dr Hurlbert’s book club. Sharon is one of my classmates who always had inspiring thoughts and said what I wanted to say or was thinking of in an amazing way. Writing those poems made me feel the same way. I felt that my inner feelings and emotions are being exposed to everyone who reads them. And, the same happened about my story. It felt like being naked in front of everyone. But, as I started hearing the others read their stories in front of us, especially Ray Flack, I became more open to this idea of others seeing the inner side of me. Ray is a brave man who lost his wife and decided to study his MA in teaching English because she, (May she rest in peace), inspired him to become a teacher. He fought his pain and wrote about the loss of his love. He even read a part of his story to us. This helped me gain the strength to write about ME.
Because of him, my understanding of the importance of those poems and this story for preserving precious moments in my academic life grew. I became more aware of how ridiculous my ideas of being exposed to others were. I became more open to myself in my papers. That bad feeling of being exposed to my teachers and classmates gradually disappeared. But, it did not completely disappear. Deep inside, there was a feeling that I was revealing myself. I was asking myself how I should control this flow of thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, I just wanted to see those precious moments of giving birth to words recorded in one book.
I have always dreamt of writing a book. All my family members knew about this dream. I was the first lady who studied at the university in my family and neighborhood. I was the first lady who wrote and published successfully, as well. They were proud of me. No one discouraged me from doing what I thought I wanted to do. I have always been treated as a respected woman. But, this success was in Arabic.
Since I was a child exploring my father’s books, my dream was to be able to write heart-touching books similar to those that I read. As I grew up, my dream of writing a book grew with me. The content of my dream book always changed. When I read short stories, I decided to write a collection of short stories and publish them in a book, especially when I read one of Ghada Samman’s short stories which inspired me. Ghada is a Lebanese woman writer who stimulated me in a remarkable way. I always wrote stories or poems after reading her books that got published. When I was reading fiction and famous novels, my dream was to write a novel. My parents and my grandmothers always asked me to write their stories one day. Once Qaddafi was killed, I said to my father: “Dad, you have to write a book about him.” He laughed and said: “When you come back, you’ll write it for me.” He wasn’t joking, his voice sounded serious.
His words reminded me of those old days. When I was young, I used to write short stories and what is known as ‘free’ poetry (elshi3r el7ur الشعر الحر) in Arabic. It is a type of poetry you write without rhyming or styling. I used to send those stories and poems to Libyan newspapers and magazines to be published. The first attempts were while I was an undergraduate student. They were published in the university’s newspaper that was called “Attaleb الطالب,” which means “The Student”. Then, after graduation, I started sending my stories and poems to varied weekly newspapers and monthly magazines. I still remember how proud my father was when he found out that one of my stories was published in a Libyan newspaper that only publishes certain writers’ texts. I had not told him that I had sent one of my stories to that newspaper. So, he was surprised and amazed at the same time. He brought a cake to celebrate because he thought that it was a great achievement to be able to publish in such a newspaper. He also brought a notebook as a gift. It was one of the most expensive notebooks. It had shiny brown leather surrounded with a golden ribbon. When I saw the cake while he was giving me the newspaper, I knew it. I started jumping like a child. I can’t remember which of the events made me happier; the fact that I got published or my father’s reaction. My uncle (May he rest in peace), kept showing a copy of my story to everyone visited him proudly, showing off that I was able to publish. One of my cousins managed to bring me a deal to publish monthly in a magazine where he was working as a photographer. I kept writing until they went off print. The only magazine that I still remember its title, and for me publishing in it was a great achievement, was called “La لا,” which means “No”. This is because most of the famous Libyan authors used to publish there and this made me feel that I was one of them, a successful author.
For me, writing in Arabic is like being in the space with no gravity. You can see all the planets. You live the joy of being released from gravity, and you have the power to explore. Everything exists, and it is significant. Nothing is impossible. You have the power to create a world with words. As if you were “superman” whom we admire for his powers or the magician who was able to create anything she wanted. You have your own powers, your own destiny.
When you write, you don’t decide what to say. It’s the person inside you who controls the flow. It’s exactly like love. You can’t decide when you’re going to fall in love or with ‘whom’. It happens suddenly, unconsciously. If people were able to choose whom to love, this heritage that is taught to us as literature would not have existed. We would not have had the chance to live others’ lives. We would have missed living their happiness, sorrows, or adventures. We would have missed the pleasure of reading poetry and novels.
Writing and publishing in Arabic was not a problem for me. After writing my dissertation and getting my MA. I managed to publish academic articles in Arabic. Everyone was praising my articles which filled me with pride. But still, there was a dream to fulfill, my dream of writing a book. However, the book’s content has changed from a story or a novel to an academic book. Since then, I started to think that the book I’m going to write will be in English and it would be a textbook. A book for Libyan teachers of writing to help them create an environment for students that would encourage them to effectively speak their minds on papers.
I’ve always thought that my success in writing in Arabic played a great role in my life. It strengthened my personality. Writing in Arabic completed my identity. I was able to express myself easily and communicate effectively. I was communicating in a strong, clear and powerful way that influenced many of those who were around me. I think that it also influenced my fluency in writing in English. But, this success didn’t help me to publish in English without an academic background.
When I received the first email from the English department at IUP about the orientation week, I noticed that there was a Turkish name among the list of students who received the same email. This name was Basak Eda Azizoglu. I was so excited. I predicted that a Turkish lady will be my classmate. Having a Turkish in my class meant so much to me. I was so curious to see this person. Then I met her, took classes together, talked on the phone for hours, exchanged ideas, supported each other, and we became friends. She is so caring and very supportive. In fact, she was the one who reminded me of those great days I spent in her country. She reminded me of where we used to live in Çankaya in Ankara, the college, ‘lise’, that was in front of our apartment on the other side of the street, the great garden that was located in upper Çankaya, and how I used to go to upper Çankaya to buy “pide” and enjoy eating it while going back home. I remembered how we used to go to picnics in what is called “baraj.” In my mind, I was watching a joyful movie about my life in Turkey. What a fancy life I lived there!
My father’s job in Turkey made me live the most exciting days there. When everyone was praising the UK, US, and Europe, I was fascinated by the Turkish cities, culture, and people. I still remember how I was so attached to the language. I remember myself being so close to the TV. We were five children who were jumping around the apartment and shouting Turkish words trying to imitate what we heard on Turkish TV. At that time, my mom just gave birth to my fourth sister and was having after birth problems that made her sick. My grandmother named my new sister Turkia because she was born there. Since my father was so busy and could not help my mom, he decided to have a babysitter for us and a maid that would help mom with the housework.
My Turkish fluency was due to the babysitter’s attempts in teaching me how to read and write in Turkish. For some reason, I can’t remember her face; all I can remember is how she used to read for me. Sometimes she read from her books and I would be listening very carefully as if I was going to lose a word if I thought about anything else. I used to refuse to go out with my brothers when she was at our house. When I started to ask her about the alphabet, she started showing me how to write and pronounce them.
Writing the Turkish alphabets was my first experience with writing foreign letters. It was different from Arabic letters. I would ask her why we write from the left and not from the right. Now, I can’t recall her answers. But I still remember how she taught me to write them and I still know them all. I still can read although my speaking fluency faded away.
The letters of the Turkish alphabets are:
A B C Ç D E F G Ğ H I İ J K L M N O Ö P R S Ş T U Ü V Y Z.
So, if I want to say a word that has “sh” sound I use “Ş” and if I wanted to use “ch” I use “Ç”. You see, I didn’t get formal education to learn the language. I mean, I didn’t learn it at school. But, this lady made learning Turkish a joy. After she taught me the letters, I started reading by myself. I remember how I used to spell words first and then relate them to the spoken pronunciation. This strategy helped me gain confidence in reading and not fear the unknown words. Then, I started reading everything I saw, even the signs on the roads.
After a while, I started writing in Turkish. Can you believe that I wrote love letters for my friend? When I think about it now, I also can’t believe I did it. She was a Libyan teenager who was older than me. Her name was Fauzia. She knew a Turkish man and fell in love with him. She was able to speak Turkish but she couldn’t write it. Whenever he gave her a letter, she would tell me about it. So, I told her that I could read the letters for her. I was her reader and writer. Whenever she got a letter she would call me to go to her place or she would come to mine. I remember myself reading for her what he wrote and then writing what she wanted to say. I still feel that joy of reading and writing those love letters. You know how girls are fascinated with love stories and love letters. I remember myself writing those letters as I pronounced them when I spoke without making sure that they were grammatically correct or making sure that the words were spelled right. But, it was clear that my letters were readable because the more I wrote replies the more he wrote back. I was living a love story that was similar to those I used to watch on the Turkish TV. It felt like living an adventure secretly. You can’t resist the joy even in the most fearful moments.
One day, her father saw her talking to a strange man by their building. When she got to their apartment, he caught her with one of the letters. Since love stories were regarded as shameful at that time, especially that she was in love with a foreigner, he decided to send her back to Libya. What amazed me is how strong she was. They punished her and beat her very badly but she wouldn’t tell that it was me who wrote the letters. I was so scared to death and couldn’t let anyone know about it, even mom who was like a friend to me. I couldn’t tell her that I was the one who wrote the letters when she was talking about her questioning me if I knew anything about that. At that age, it seemed that love stories were like eating the forbidden apple.
When Fauzia called me saying that she was going back to Libya, I said, “I’m sorry,” with a cracking voice. She was braver than me and said, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” She actually thanked me. From that day, I considered love stories and love letters as the forbidden island that I should never reach. I knew that I would be beaten and punished like her although I did not understand what was wrong.
Eda often posts Turkish songs on her Facebook page. Those songs remind me of all those days. They remind me of those songs I liked so much and the Turkish singers’ names just crossed my mind: Ibrahim Tatlises, Ferdi Tayfur, Ajda Pekan, and Nilufer were some of the names that I used to listen to. I started looking for their names and was surprised that they were still in the field and sang great songs. I also remembered the signed photos I have for Kadir Inanir and how I was his biggest fan. I used to send this Turkish actor many letters describing how I loved him. His replies always were his signature on his photos.
So, my writing experience in Turkish brings painful memories of Fauzia being punished badly because she thought of a Turkish as her love and future husband and being in contact with a Turkish super star. Unfortunately, I’m no longer able to use the Turkish language fluently as I used to. I feel sorry that I lost my fluency in Turkish. I noticed this sorrow of losing this language when I wrote my first reflection for the Second Language Acquisition course. This reflection reminded me of the days I used to use three languages fluently. The three languages were Italian, Turkish and French. Wouldn’t you feel sorry that you lost these great opportunities to communicate with these fascinating cultures?
Here is what I wrote in my first reflection that was posted on January 29, 2012:
Before I learned English, I acquired two foreign languages: Italian and Turkish. After I learned English, I learned French. I would like to reflect on these experiences first, because I think they paved the road of advancing in English.
Italian was the language that dominated the Libyan TV during the sixties and seventies. I still remember how I was so fascinated with our TV. As every child would be, I was so attached to the cartoons that spoke Italian. My mother spoke Italian too. When she noticed that I used to repeat the words and ask about their meanings, she started to teach me Italian. She said that she liked the idea of seeing me speak another language and wanted me to become a translator. It is clear now that her dream did not come true.
I acquired my second language while we were in Turkey. My father used to work in Libyan embassies before he retired. We lived in Turkey for five years, and that helped me acquire fluency in the spoken and written language. We had a Turkish babysitter that helped us, especially me, speak Turkish fluently. Seeing our babysitter read Turkish newspapers and books made me curious about the Turkish alphabet. When our babysitter noticed that, she taught me how to write and pronounce the letters. Then I started to spell the words and relate them to what I heard or knew. I even read Turkish poetry books because our babysitter was a student and worked to cover her study expenses. Watching Turkish TV was another factor that helped me advance in this language.
The third language that I was so passionate about was French. I learned French at the Libyan high school. We were taught by a Tunisian teacher who made us speak fluently in three years. As I was using English at that time, I used to relate French words that looked similar to English. I remember that I used French/English-English/French dictionary instead of Arabic.
Unfortunately, I am no longer able to communicate in any of these languages. My mother always jokes that English dominated my mind by banishing the other languages. But, I believe that when you do not use a language frequently, you lose it. As I decided to study English language as a major, I started to pay more attention to anything related to enhancing my proficiency in English rather than the other three languages.
My experience of learning English happened in different stages, as it would be with any language learner. First I would like to talk about my experience with English as a child. When we were in Turkey, my father noticed my progress in acquiring the Turkish language and wanted me to learn English. So, he enrolled me in an American school were I learned English. The first stage of learning English was exciting. I was fond of imitating how others spoke, which helped me develop my pronunciation. I still remember my Pakistani teacher who was a student in the American University in Ankara. She used to teach us using songs and ladybird books. When I see my daughter singing what she has learned in school, I remember the songs we used to sing. I used to use Turkish whenever I did not know how to pronounce something. Because there was not a Libyan school in Turkey, I was enrolled in the Iraqi school in Ankara. I was in the fifth grade and they were teaching pre-intermediate English at that grade. This improved my English language because they were teaching English by concentrating on reading and grammar.
In Libya, at that time, English was taught in the seventh grade. So, after that really exciting journey with songs and books, I started learning English in the Libyan schools. The Libyan teachers’ main concern was grammar and good spelling. As a result, most of our work was related to grammar and dictation which was boring and disappointing. However, during my high school studies, I was fascinated by reading Longman Readers that were famous novels rewritten for second language users. We also read Shakespeare’s plays. This made learning English more stimulating.
The third stage is related to the moment I decided to study English as a major. From that moment I started to look at English in a different way. It became my dream to be as proficient as a native speaker. The books I read, the assignments I wrote, the problems I faced because of the scarce resources, and my forever passion with this language were the real factors that influenced my fluency. Nevertheless, my writing proficiency developed during my stay in the UK. The three months I spent in a community college as a part time student were behind the development of my written communication. Reading newspaper articles, film reviews, and topics related to IELTS reading tests cemented my advancement in my written communication. Similarly, my MA study enhanced my writing skills. Learning how to search for related information, how to use sources, how to give credit and quote were essentials in academic writing that I had no idea about before.
All in all, learning a language is not an easy job, especially if this language is a foreign language. Keeping this language alive is a result of hard work.
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