October 14, 2005

Case Study #13 Time -- by Bruce Lin

Reading is a way to gain useful information and it can also be an entertaining activity. But for many who have been learning English for years, reading English is just pulling teeth. How could we access information or be entertained through a foreign language that contains so many words and cultural allusions we don't understand?

Like how we develop Chinese reading skills, English reading takes time. Not just weeks or months; it takes much longer than that. You are slowly developing your reading ability but maybe you don't feel it. Don't stop if there are certain things you don't understand when reading. Be curious and treat problems like long lost treasures. Just keep going and in the end you will breathe the fresh air.

My friend Kimberly* has a small library that contains so many English books. The books are not just for decking out the room or to impress her guests; Kim really uses them. I wondered how she could consume so much information in English. She told me that she started to read routinely in English in college. It wasn't fun, but she was so curious about certain information she found in those English materials such as arts or short stories. When she was in the US starting her Master's program in Education, reading wasn't about curiosity; it was about not being kicked out of the school. Every day, she encountered so many new words and all she could do was try to know them. She continued to do the same thing and it was a long time before she felt she could read English without struggle. But once she got to the tipping point, there was no turning back. She started to read, comprehend, and have fun with different subject matters. Now, she doesn't read for any English tests or school assignments; she does it for herself. “English is an important channel for me to obtain bountiful information and enjoyment,” she said.

Kimberly told me that to her, reading English is like walking in a long dark tunnel in the beginning, and it sure didn’t feel good to walk in the dark. “But,” she said, “just keep walking and keep groping forward…at the end of the tunnel, you will see light. You will be free then.” Surveying the books in her library, I knew what she meant. Now she has the English abilities that are difficult for others to measure up to, and no one can take those abilities away from her.

*Kimberly is not her real name

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