I’ve never been one to shy away from beating a dead horse, so I’d like to continue today on the topic of bilingualism. This time I’ll take a swing at it from another angle: literacy.
When I was a teenager, my mom used to work with a group that taught adults how to read. They had a name I thought was catchy at the time, but now I can’t remember. Hmm. Anyway, Mom said that these people weren’t particularly dumb or anything; for some reason or another they had just fallen through the cracks in the education system. As a kid, I didn’t see how this was possible. There was one particular first grade teacher who had been at the local elementary since just after Adam and had personally failed half the county. Good thing for Adam. She would have paddled him over that fig leaves nonsense for sure.
As an adult living in a country with a notoriously complex writing system (two phonetic “alphabets” plus 2000+ Chinese characters, oh my!), I can see how a person can make it through life without a firm grasp of the written word. I’m not completely illiterate in Japanese; I can usually manage to extrude most of the meaning from most of the words I see most of the time. But I don’t get any pleasure from reading in Japanese. It’s an exercise in deciphering for me that makes me use the undeveloped mathematical portions of my brain. (It’s a wilderness in there, folks.) Not being able to read for pleasure is just a step up from not being able to read at all.
Of course I could probably remedy this with some hard work and effort, but that would take, um, hard work and effort.
Me First, however, is the opposite. He’s making leaps and bounds in his ability to read Japanese. They practice all day at school. The book store is full of attractive and glossy new books just begging for a peak. If worse comes to worse and Mommy won’t buy anything, there are well-loved, dog eared volumes in the library practically calling to him with their siren song.
I wish he was as interested in learning to read in English. There is so much I want to share, so much knowledge out there waiting for him, a great and grand tradition with a seductive siren song all its own.
We go to Saturday school; I work with him a little bit every day, but the passion isn’t there yet. I’m forcing him, which makes it a struggle. I hope that one day the light will click on like it did for me when I was learning to play piano all those years ago. What was a chore one day turned into a joy overnight. There are times when I wonder if I’m putting too much pressure on him or causing him too much stress with the extra work. (It seems most of my Japanese moms don’t have this dilemma since they schedule their kids into activities at the very real risk of running themselves into the poorhouse.)
I hope that one day, when he is able to read Shakespeare or (let’s be realistic) “yahoo omg,” then he will appreciate the effort. Until then I guess I’ll continue struggling in the dark, unsure if I’m doing what is best for him or not.
That’s the deal when you’re the oldest, I guess. Your parents are amateurs.