December 13, 2005

Repost: Mistakes -- by Bruce Lin

Josh* was in the reading room reading a thick book. There were other kids in the same room playing computer games or chatting, but Josh didn't seem to get bothered. I went over to him and found that he was reading the English version of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the fourth installment of the Harry Potter series. It was surprising. However popular Harry Potter was, it was difficult even for an adult to read, and Josh was only 8. Curious, I asked Josh if he could understand the book. He said: “Well…just some…”He blushed. I pointed at some words on the page to know if Josh knew them, and he either shook his head or guessed them wrong. Finally, I pointed at “reckon” and Josh replied: “Maybe…it means ‘think.’”Josh was right this time, though he was not so sure.

It's easy to make out the situation: Josh focused on the words he knew – rather than whining on the words he didn't know – to make sense of the Harry Potter story.As I had just learned, it's unlikely that Josh would know most of the words in the book. However, those few words he knew gave him enough clues to somewhat brighten up the story.

On the other hand, many adults – especially smarter ones – often complain that there are too many words in English; they have this preoccupation that it's important to know many words in order to read.Probably those unknown words in a text make them feel insecure and reading becomes repulsive. In the end, they end up reading very little because of the fear. Uncertainties stop them from moving forward.

I don't know what that is, but there must be something in the society that educates people to limit their perceptions – maybe it is the unacceptability of mistakes. In the competitive business world, a tiny human error can cause an unrecoverable disaster.

But reading is a different matter. Imagine reading as an adventure in which you will never get punished for making mistakes – and those mistakes are important stepping stones for you to climb higher and to explore more. Josh was only 8 and knew little; he could only use his imagination to guess the part he did not understand when reading Harry Potter. I don't think he was some kind of child prodigy; he simply had no fear of the unknown – his na鴳e curiosity was not yet polluted by the adult rationality. To be sure, he might understand only very little from the book, but his attitude in learning was already better than most adults. He did not complain that he did not know this or that word when reading.

Because he did not know how to.

*Josh is not his real name.

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