Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Dad Has More To Learn Than Most

Dear Tazi:

My wife is writing this letter for me because I am what is called a functional illiterate. I can recognize some words and phrases, like Coca-Cola and Merry Christmas, but that is because I recognize the product or because someone told me what it says and I see it over and over again.

My parents came here as refugees from Cuba, and never knew how to read English, so they could not help me with my school work as a kid. I think I might have a learning problem, because I can work very well with my hands but not at all when it comes to book learning. I dropped out of school when I was 16, and worked a lot of odd jobs and as a landscaper until I married my wife and moved away. I work in a factory now, and since a lot of the people here don’t speak English all of our instructions have pictures to go along with them. My boss doesn’t know that I can’t read and don’t write much. Nobody does except for my wife. I know my ABC’s, but not much more.

My wife and I just had a baby boy. When I held him for the first time, I started to cry because I don’t want him to end up like me. I want my boy to learn how to read and write and to be somebody, but most of all, I want to be a good Dad to my son. In a year or two, he’s going to be wanting a story before bedtime, and I want to be able to read him one.

My company is a very generous one, and offers English as a Second Language classes for free to all employees. I speak English very well because I was born in America, so I am not sure if these classes would teach me what I need. I need to learn how to read and write English! Plus, I am afraid if people find out I cannot read and write English they will make fun of me, and call me a dumb immigrant. I am an American, even if I am a dumb one, and I don’t want to be dumb anymore. Do you have words for me, Tazi?

Seeking Learning

Dear Seeking Learning:

I need to make one thing very clear to you: just because you cannot read or write does not make you dumb; you obviously have other talents that have allowed you to make a living, which means that  you are intelligent in other ways. When it comes to book learning, people learn in different ways. Even if you have a learning problem, this does not mean you are incapable of learning! You mention that you are able to understand instructions written as pictures and that you work well with your hands – this means your strengths are in seeing something done and then doing it yourself, not in reading about how something is done. Studies have shown that a whopping 70% of people learn in these same ways!

An ESL class works slightly differently than an English-Only adult learning class, in that relies more on visuals than traditional adult learning classes. Each teacher has their own style, but overall you will learn how to connect words and their spellings to matching objects, ideas, and emotions. For example, you may see pictures like the following:


Since you already know what emotion the picture is illustrating and how to pronounce the English word for it, you will have a leg-up on many of your classmates; the class will help you learn how to read and spell the words that represent the pictures. By starting at a more advanced level than your classmates, you will find your confidence boosted as you rise to the top of the class and possibly even a boost in your self-worth as you assist your classmates in their learning. Assisting your classmates will also cement in your head what you have learned.

Since your employer is the one offering the ESL classes I do not think you need to be afraid of losing your job over your lack of English literacy. Rather, I think your employer would be happy to see that you want to improve your English skills! As for your fear that people will make fun of you or call you a "dumb immigrant", I want you to know that people who would do such a thing are low-life ignorant slime. Please do not concern yourself with the opinions of such people; rather, concern yourself with being the best husband and father you can be to your young family! For what it's worth, I am proud of you!


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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