Saturday, November 14, 2009

My great-grandfather couldn't read or write. He worked hard all of his life, had a driver's license and drove a car, voted in each election, and traveled throughout the city and county, yet he couldn't read the street signs or sign his name. The most he could do with a pen was make a scraggly X on documents in place of his name.

I'm reminded of his illiteracy when I'm in Spanish class, and as usual I only half know what is going on. I don't understand everything I hear or see. This is actually a big improvement; at the beginning of the semester I never knew what was going on; now I understand at least half to three-quarters of what he says. I no longer cringe quite so badly when he calls on me to speak. I'm becoming a little more comfortable with trying to speak the language in front of people who are able to speak Spanish so much better than I can. In short, I'm learning and improving as time goes on.

My great-grandfather never improved, he never got any better; he spent his entire life unable to read anything. He never complained and he never seemed to feel the lack. He just carried on doing what he had to do and coped however he could. Like Grandpa, I have found ways of coping when I don't understand what I see and hear. I watch and listen intently to the teacher. I watch my classmates. I follow along as best I can and if I'm heading the wrong way, someone will tell me. Grandpa had his own ways of coping. When he went to vote someone would read the ballot to him. Medical and legal documents where read to him before he made his X. Whenever he needed to drive somewhere new, he was given directions based on landmarks, or someone would go with him the first time. He then found his own way to get back home, usually taking a more scenic route that was more complicated but involved less traffic. He wasn't stupid, he just couldn't read.

I don't know how much stress his inability to read may have caused him throughout his eighty-five year life, or how he may have felt about being illiterate. It was just the way he was, and growing up the way he did, maybe he never expected anything different. I didn't give it much thought when I was young, but in retrospect, I admire the way he lived his life in a world he didn't fully understand. He always did it without complaint and without blame or bitterness. And seemingly without fear.

I registered on Monday for the spring semester. I've already dropped one class and added another. It is still subject to change, but right now my schedule includes Spanish Composition, American Religious History, East Asian Civilization I, and People and Cultures of the Caribbean. I am so ready for this semester to be over so I can give my brain a brief rest before diving into the next semester. I just tell myself that I will be one step closer to the finish line!

6 comments:

Caz said...

It is amazing how people cope - your Grandfather sounds like an amazing man. I'm going to a foreign country over the summer break and I'm terrified of the language barrier! I do know bits and pieces of a few languages but when you're out of your own environment, I imagine it's quite a different thing. Glad you're getting the hang of Spanish!

Brandywine said...

I've been told that the best way to learn a language is to have to speak it, like going to a foreign country. Sounds like you have an exciting summer ahead of you!

Caz said...

Yes, I'm really looking forward to being surrounded by different cultures!

E. Sheppard said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I will be thinking about you. The Asian Civ I class sounds neat. Also American Religious History.

Brandywine said...

Thank you for the encouragement!

james said...

Thanks a lot for a bunch of good tips. I look forward to reading more on the topic in the future. Keep up the good work! This blog is going to be great resource. Love reading it.
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