The Right I Must Take

Learning how to read is a lot of work.

I was 27 years old and living in Thailand. I was a teacher, an English teacher. I was learning Thai and I knew that the best way to learn is to read, so I was learning how to read again. Learning how to read Thai. This was my new goal. 

I was doing this the same way kids do; by learning the sounds associated with the symbols. Getting alphabet practice books and asking people to tell me the sounds. Then I repeated those sounds to myself over and over again as I traced the dots in the book that made up the letters.

After about 6 months I was a struggling reader who took a good minute or more to sound out the words in a short sentence. It was work. It took constant effort and practice. It made my brain hurt. I would often stop and quit to reexamine my goal. But I persisted. 

One day a student of mine invited me on an excursion with their family. I was sitting next to the grandmother in the car and took this opportunity to practice my reading. I began to read signs. I was trying to read street signs, store signs, and billboard signs. I asked grandmother if I was correct, trying to make a connection with her and to seek a new teacher.

The mother informed me, however, that grandmom was illiterate having dropped out of school to work in the third grade.

I felt embarrassed. I felt the grandmother's embarrassment. Here I was, a foreigner, reading her language. A language I could barely speak and had little control over. Her language. A language that wasn't mine. What right did I have? How could this be?

Grandmom sat silently looking out the car window. It seemed to me in pain. Questioning and searching for answers about her life. A life trapped. A life with limited options. It seemed she was reviewing her life and those options. Reviewing the paths she took and didn't take, the decisions and non-decisions she made.  

I felt a growing fear in me of a life I may have had, if I hadn't learned to read.

Learning to read Thai then became more important to me. Not only was it a right I had, but a right I must take. I must make this reading journey again to fully understand the struggles and trials one must go through to master it. I must do this to become a better teacher, to better help, instruct, and motivate those who struggle, who lack consistent practice, who don't see that the reward is worth the effort and persistance. I must learn how to read again. 

Learning how to read is a lot of work.