We were told to write a story, there was a number of lines we were required to fill. I remember we had our blue folders up, it was a test and there was a time limit.
Palms sweaty, cramps in my left hand, I was in a rush. I had to finish on time. I could hear everyone’s pencils scribbling on the paper, they had so much to say, I remember thinking. I knew what I wanted to say but, under all the pressure it didn’t translate well on paper. “And then aun scwad eradiue vatxjia gudia maan iujxn euo…” is what I started to write in order to fill the lines.
Pencils dropping, papers rusting, chairs sliding back, everyone began to hand in their assignments.
As I got up, a part of me thought, “the teacher will understand what I’m trying to say”, but when she looked at my paper, she was so confused. I quickly went back to my seat, I couldn’t wait to go home and draw.
I grew up speaking roughly 4 languages and I was terrible at all of them. I remember my brain being so confused all the time. “Speak Urdu with your mom” my dad would say. Meanwhile, he spoke to me in Punjabi. We’d watch movies in Hindi and my siblings and I conversed in English.
English. What a language.
As I grew up, I slowly mastered these languages but it sure was a rollercoaster learning them. In elementary school I was placed in ESL, my dad was so disappointed, he’d always say to me “you was born here, how could you not know the english”. My spirit was constantly crushed, I would get so frustrated when it came to reading and writing. Instead of reading I’d look at the illustrations and sometimes I would copy them. I’d draw them over and over again until one of the teachers would scream my name incorrectly.
We had books. We read them. When it came to reading tests, we would read a passage aloud to the teacher. As we read the words, she’d put a check mark next to them with her green marker indicating that, yes, we did in fact read these words out loud successfully. Some kids would move on to the “next level”. I would always stay at the same level.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like reading, there had been only one way of teaching and I couldn’t comprehend the lessons. I found them boring. Stupid. Useless.
I wanted help, but I didn’t know how to ask or what to say. I wanted to do better but I was stuck. I wanted to write about how I was feeling but, I didn’t have the vocabulary. I wanted to make my dad proud but I didn’t know where to begin.
English, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi.
Looking back has made me realize how difficult it was, finding a balance between these languages. There wasn’t exactly a “how to” guide on speaking four languages. Even now, I struggle with my third and fourth languages, but these experiences make me who I am today. Even though I struggle, I know it’s worth it.