Speech Communities

Moving to the United States as a twelve year old, helped me really connect to the piece “The Speech Community of Children”. In a way I experienced this twice in my life, once when I was growing up in South Africa and the second time when I went to school here in America. I was faced not only with culture shock, but also forced to start communicating like all the other American kids I came into contact with. I had to change the way I talked and I had to understand certain aspects of American English that I was never exposed to, such as slang words and ideas associated with certain phrases. About three years went by before my parents and I realized that I was Bi-Accented. This meant that I was able to speak in a so called “American” accent, but also in my “South African” accent. The interesting thing is that its subconscious switch, so I don’t choose to sound a certain way, I just do. Countless people have asked me to speak in my “South African” accent, and the problem is that it is incredibly hard to talk in my “South African” accent to someone who doesn’t speak in that accent. Through the years I have discovered that the only people that I still talk to in my “South African” accent are my family and when I visit go to visit South Africa.

I found it interesting that it is so easy to relate my own life the writing of “Speech Communities by Paul Roberts. The way talks about The Class as a Speech Community and Confronting the Adult World, really made it easy for me to relate my literacy history to how he explained the development of language skills throughout our lives. What I found mind blowing is how, the smallest changes or differences in the environment that one learns a language in can have a profound impact on how a person communicates and uses that language.

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David Raymond: On Being 17, Bright, and Unable to Read

David Raymond describes throughout the passage of his difficulties with dyslexia and the journey he endured to overcome it. In the beginning of the piece he describes a situation to his audience of a conflict between himself and his teacher. Raymond indicates his inability to read at the level he should be at as a 17 year old and expresses a constant feeling of being “dumb.”

One thing that stuck out to me personally was when Raymond stated, “You can’t know unless you’ve been there, It’s not easy to tell how it feels when you can’t read your own homework assignment.” This is completely true because I have struggled with dyslexia. Now before you start to feel pity for me, my case was a tad different and a little less severe than Raymond’s, but nonetheless a struggle. For me reading aloud was a struggle because I would mix up letter in a word and couldn’t read as fast. That wasn’t as challenging when comparing it to writing. Writing is difficult for me because I switch letter like b, p, and d, or I will simply misspell words because letter would just switch places on me, with an occasional number thrown in there. Through the years I’ve been able to improve my abilities to read and write through hard work. One example that made an impact was cursive handwriting, which allowed me to make fewer errors because I lift the pen less when writing a word. But whenever I’m writing I have to be consciously aware of what I’m writing because if I don’t I slip into my dyslexic mistakes.

Just like David Raymond had to go through a long process from elementary school to high school to work on his abilities to read, I to can relate to his experience. As he ends the section speaking about his expressed desire of entering college, it reflects the success of his journey despite obstacles. And David shares his story with the intent that “Maybe some teacher will read it and go easy on a kid in the classroom who has what I’ve got. Or, maybe some parent will stop nagging his kid, and stop calling him lazy. Maybe he’s not dumb or lazy. Maybe he just can’t read and doesn’t know what’s wrong. Maybe he’s scared, like I was.” This brought everything full circle because for me I went from an extremely low reading and writing abilities to currently enrolled in a high level college English course. It doesn’t matter who can read or write better than others, it’s about where it can take you and the possibilities it can open for you. Some of the greatest minds were though to have dyslexia, so who is to say that its not an advantage I have. Maybe the fact that Raymond and myself had to overcome such a challenging obstacle in our life enabled us to reach new heights because we overcame dyslexia. It still affects us today because it won’t ever completely go away but I believe I’m stronger in my writing because of it, not in spite of it.

On Being 17, Bright, and Unable to Read

“With bad reports coming from school, and with me moaning about wanting to die and how everybody hated me, my parents began looking for help. That’s when the testing started. The school tested me, the child- guidance center tested me, private psychiatrists tested me. Everybody knew something was wrong- especially me.”

This excerpt from David Raymond, summarizes his experience with education.

It’s so sad to think that just because someone learns differently than others they are treated as if there is something wrong with them.

 

 We, as a society, have made a mold, where students are equal, can be tested as such, and should be treated equally. If someone does not fit that mold then it must be because they’re lazy, apathetic, hormonal children and we must test them until they are average! When, in reality, we are not all the same and we’re never going to be. This kind of an attitude is why someone like David said he wanted to die because he couldn’t read. He felt pressured to be exactly like everyone else, because if he wasn’t, that must have meant he was worthless. David couldn’t read as easily as the rest of his peers. But that does not mean he should have to go home crying, feeling worthless, and wanting to die.  A problem as small as not being able to read became a question so great. Do I have any worth? That is the main struggle David dealt with.

 

The issue at hand was not his reading disability, but the education system. You can’t cram a mechanical pencil into a pencil sharpener and expect it to come out a perfectly sharpened pencil; you need to find a better way for the mechanical pencil to get more lead. David says when they discovered there was a problem they began testing him, his peers began teasing him, and they put him in with the special needs students. Much like a mechanical pencil in a pencil sharpener, he broke, and had no confidence to try anything for fear of failure. Then one summer he reluctantly went to a camp where kids had the same issues he did. That was when he realized he was not stupid; in fact he had an above average intelligence. They found out he has a 90 percent IQ. That IQ was in David the entire time, but it wasn’t until they found the best way for him to learn that they discovered it.

 

I am terrible at math, I always have been and I always will be. I suck at science, social studies makes me fall asleep, and I’m a fairly slow reader. So basically the only thing I could do in Elementary school was recess. I didn’t get bad grades and wasn’t put in any remedial courses, but nothing came easy to me, so like any child who isn’t perfect at everything, I felt I wasn’t good at anything. It wasn’t until high school when I discovered theatre that I realized I wasn’t made to sit and figure out the hypotenuse or hypothesis or any other hypo stuff I’ll never understand, I was made for theatre, I just didn’t know it yet. If I had sat back and never done anything out of fear of failure I never would have found my worth. No matter how hard the teachers tried to get me to excel at all those other subjects I was never going to, because I will never fit that mold. David is trying to let people know that just because you cannot do what others can, does not mean you have no worth. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, take hope in the fact that Albert Einstein couldn’t talk until he was four and he flunked math. You will be just fine.

The Day Language Came Into My Life

Helen Keller was a blind and deaf child. It is hard to image not being able to communicate to anyone until the age of 7 when she started getting taught by Anne Sullivan.  What amazes me the most about this, besides her being both deaf and blind, is the fact that she did not have many emotions before being taught. Before Anne, she only knew anger and bitterness. Hellen describes her emotions as  this, “Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line…” She was the ship, completely lost. I don’t know how I could through life not being able to communicate with others, being essentially, in a primal state not know how to properly act. Later on, when Anne tried to show Hellen that two objects can have the same meaning, she got angry she “seized the new doll, dashed it to the ground.” All of this shows one thing, the power of knowledge, learning, and communicating. Image if everyone in the world acted like Hellen did before meeting Anne, letting their anger control them. We would get no where. How do you think you would act if you were in Hellen’s case? I know I would have the same anger issues, not being able to talk along with not knowing what anything was. It is truly amazing though to see the change she makes once she begins to be able to start communicating, and understanding what the things were, that surround her. The last words on the page sum up the change that was made, she said, “for the first time longed for a new day to come.”

The Day Language Came Into My Life – Helen Keller

Well, first off, I just what to point out how incredible Helen Keller is. At 18 months, she went both blind and deaf because of a disease. It is amazing how she managed to live 88 years with these disadvantages. It makes me think about how lucky most people are to be able to just see things and hear things. Imagine what life would be like and how difficult it would be if you were just blind or deaf. 

It is very interesting that when Helen Keller got the doll from the teacher, she learned how to spell words just by people spelling them on her hand. This made Helen realize that everything has a name. I also thought it was interesting how when Miss Sullivan was trying to teach Helen the difference between “water” and “mug,” she became impatient with this because she could distinguish between the two, so she broke the doll. Helen was satisfied with her teacher sweeping the doll fragments to the side because her actions of discomfort were being removed. 

It also amazed me how Helen figured out what water was. Her teacher brought her to a spout and put Helens hand under it. As water poured out of the spout, her teacher spelled water out on her other hand. Helen finally figured out what water was and she defines it as “the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.” The reason this is so interesting is that this finally made everything that Helen touched come to life because she finally realized that everything around her has a meaning and an importance in life. I honestly can’t tell you exactly how happy this made Helen because I am neither blind nor deaf, but I bet you that this moment made her realize how much there was to life and it also made her excited for new days to come.

Understanding the Power of Language

Malcolm X was a man that felt strongly about certain things and then took action. In prison, he was unable to take action for what he believed in which triggered his interest in language, reading and writing. I just as Malcolm was explaining often have a hard time articulating exactly what is on my mind. Everyone has a time when they know exactly what they want to say in their head and then they stumble on words and say the opposite of what they were trying to. Also I often have people misinterpret my words which is frustrating. As I’ve gotten older, my vocabulary has expanded making it easier to speak what is on my mind without stumbling but I still struggle. I feel like writing what is on my mind is much easier than speaking and like Malcolm X I am more of the  take action type.  Just as he did, whenever I read books when I come across a word that I don’t know, I will get out the dictionary and look it up. Although I’m not as bold and do not have the patience to copy the entire dictionary It is ad rite his passion for language. I believe that as we grow older our reading, writing, and language skills improve but communicating is always something we will struggle with. My favorite part of this piece was when Malcolm said “I had never been so truly free in my life”. Even though he was imprisoned, Malcolm X was at peace because he still had the power to communicate with others and take some form of action for the things he felt so strongly for. I hope that one day I can be as bold as Malcolm X and stand firm in what I believe. Yes he is a criminal, but his passion and dedication are inspiring. This piece shows that language is powerful and is a “tool” that should be used frequently. 

Coming to an Awareness of Language ~ Malcom X

“In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life,” this quote exemplifies the true meaning of self-motivation and self-improvement. Malcom X, a ‘hardened criminal’ was doing what all people should do, bettering his knowledge when he found out he was under par. He recollects reading books and not understanding the words so he skipped those words. I too have experienced this along with some of you reading this. When I was in second grade I had my first book report. I chose a book a little too advanced for myself at that point and read it but didn’t read it and understand it. My mom, a Chemistry teacher, would not help me, she said to get a dictionary and learn the words I needed to know to read the book. By my mom caring and doing this I actually understood the book and became smarter by that experience.

Malcom X was trying to better his knowledge so he would be like Bimbi and be able to emulate and convey the messages he had for his listeners or fellow hustlers. He was self-motivated and determined to better his handwriting and to learn the “words he needed to know.” By copying the words one page at a time he was submerged in knowledge. He recalled most of the words and definitions the next day, which was a great start to his learning. Malcom X was known for his speaking, by his self-interest his bettered his life by using the resources he had available to him.

Simplicity

After many years of professional writing, teaching, and education, William Zinsser was able to pinpoint what he believes to be a writer’s number one problem. He has recognized that problem to be clutter, saying that he sees Americans “strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon.” Although brutally honest, Zinsser makes a valid point. Writers incorporate big and fancy words in order to give their writing an intellectual feel; “to inflate and thereby sound important,” but in the process, they lose the captivation of their readers.

As we grow older and our education increases, it is instilled into students that our sentences and vocabulary should grow, and while this is true, I believe that it has limits.  How do we know these limits though? If we were essentially taught to make our writing more confusing just as our education became more confusing, when do we know when to stop? An answer can be found in William Zinsser’s opinion, that every sentence should be stripped to its cleanest components. The easier something is to read, the faster and more understood the point is.

I found myself in constant agreement with Zinsser throughout this passage. Our thoughts do in fact become clearer through writing, however that can not be the case if what is written includes the “clutter” and “fuzz” Zinsser mentions which are excess words used for nothing more than to appear intelligent. We’ve been molded and sculpted to write elaborate and intricate sentences that make readers cringe, and therefore writing simply and clearly is difficult. It is no east feat to write something that everyone will understand after reading once. Zinsser makes this point, and I feel that he does it well. Writing, in a sense, has become reversed. Writers do what would be unnatural by writing with an overly complicated style, and that is what now feels like the norm. Writing simply is unusual and nowadays only found in children’s books. 

If the clutter and fuzz that William Zinsser wrote about could be eliminated, or even just toned down, reading would be less of a hassle and more of an enjoyment. Students would dread it less and, in result, probably read more. Ultimately, the point that Zinsser makes is very much true. It’s concise and clear; just as writing should be.

We All Have Those Shitty First Drafts

Anne Lamott could not express my feelings towards rough drafts more perfectly in this excerpt from her book Bird by Bird.  It put my shame at ease and I did not feel so much discomfort after reading how a professional writer struggles just as much as I do.  Just Lmaott’s first sentence, “…the idea of shitty first drafts.  All good writers write them.  This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts,” (189) depicts that everyone struggles, not just students.  Lamott emphasizes in order to get a final product, one has to struggle with the first draft, the second draft, and even the third draft.  She reiterates that there is nothing wrong with writing as much down as he/she wants because later, that is what makes up the final product-in a more condensed, put together form.  Most of the time I feel like I’m the only one who sits there with a prompt in front of me, maybe even something I got to choose to write about, and I just stare.  Keep on staring. And stare some more, at a blank paper that is definitely not going to write itself.

What I have come to find out is I always try to make my first draft the best draft there is.  There will be little to no revision or editing needed.  I always felt like that was the way I had to do it.  Growing up, teachers never told me I could “let this childlike part of [me] channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page” (190).  I always had to turn in my rough drafts no matter how many of them I wrote.  Because of that, I always wanted to sound like I knew what I was writing about.  I’d use big words, I’d make my sentences sound so intelligent that I would not even know what it said sometimes.  Reading through Shitty First Drafts honestly changes how I will write first drafts from now on.  I won’t sit there for an hour questioning if what I want to write down will sound good enough or whether I need to look up a word in a thesaurus so it looks better in the sentence.  I have to remind myself that this rough draft could be as shitty as I want it to be as long as I can use bits and pieces to make my second rough draft, or even third and turn it into a final piece.

From that third draft, comes the final piece.  The one we all stress about.  The one we all question whether its good enough or not.  The one we wonder what our teacher is going to think of it…etc.  Lamott however, expresses that if “[we] just get it all down on paper…there may be something great in those six crazy pages that [we] would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means” (190).  In those six crazy pages, unfolds a terrific final piece of work, one that I know I’m grateful I survived through.  Heck, this is a shitty first draft of its own even though I revised it over and over again because I know the whole class has to read it…but we are all in the same boat.  Reading what Lamott has to share about professionals who struggle with writing should make us all feel better and to know that it is okay to express yourself in writing any way you want during the drafts in order to get the best final product.

Writing for an Audience

In the passage “Writing for an Audience” Linda Flower, author and well renowned college professor, described how you should write to an audience by advantageously depicting the process herself. Professing her skill in rhetoric, Flower uses her profound knowledge to establish logos while also using an emotional appeal of pathos to focus on sympathizing and “creating a common ground” with the us; thus, Flower uses her techniques to lessen our differences in knowledge, attitudes, and needs to focus on the best way to write for an audience.

Flower diligently articulates how we instill knowledge so that we powerfully get the point across the first time. I’m sure we can recall a time someone messed up telling a joke… that’s the difference between getting laughed with and laughed at. Luckily writing is a story with rough drafts.

Through the knowledge we give we can then develop a since of attitude that depicts an image the way we want it to We must generalize the emotions and associations so that we can relate to our audience and even let their imagination run some. Use the knowledge to outline the mental picture and some attitude to give it some color that will catch the audience’s attention. The more our attitude differs from our audience, “the more we will have to do to make him or her see what we see.”

We can drop knowledge with as much passion as we want; however, getting amped up about rainbows to someone that’s color blind will get us nowhere. Grab the audience’s attention and give them a sense of belonging, “adapt to them.” Grab them by the hips and teach them to dance. Flower does well with this as she implicates this with the inevitable teacher to student relationship or when she describes the weather which has affected us since we were born. Flower even exemplified a way to establish a common ground with us by using a generic third person approach by using words such as: you, we, us, and ours. For example:

It’s the ninetieth minute! Under the stadium lights, we move the ball around the perfectly prepared soccer field with such a serene flow that it is almost as if all the blood, sweat, and tears from practice has been poured onto the pitch and is connecting each pass as we ring out everything we’ve got into these last final minutes. We can see the crowd in a disarray of our fans at the edge of their seats and our parents at the edge of losing their voice. I ram a pass that breaks through their barricade of a defense and we storm towards the goal. As the longest final minutes our team has ever endured begin to come to an end we give it one last shot. With our hope streaming behind it, the ball is sent sailing through the air over our heads just out of their goal keeper‘s reach. For a moment I seem weightless as I watch the ball soar into my view. Within a blink of a moment my I gaze at the ball as it makes contact with my forehead. Shocked, their keeper attempts to capture such a moment, but he lets it slip! With the ball in the back of the net, the whistle blows and we rush the stands to meet our eagerly waiting fans half way, as the new national champions.

Imagine if we were to use “one time my team and I were playing soccer. It almost had to go into overtime, but I scored.” Imagine if we used my team and I instead of we, us, or ours. Imagine if we were to take out the knowledge and the details that gave the point of view at times.

Instead we grabbed their attention!” I closed the gap between us and the reader. I targeted my audience as athletes; therefore, we are then able to “establish a common ground.” I realized that most of them have parents that try to coach from the stands louder than the one on the field, that we could see the practice transition to the game, and that the flow and the passion in the game matched how I wrote. I’ve been apart of every single one of my best memories. Write to the audience to give them something to remember.