When we first immigrated to Canada, it took me a while to learn English. I kept confusing Arabic and English grammar. I would use Arabic words in English sentences and English words in Arabic sentences. I would write in English using Arabic grammar and vice versa. I struggled to read. I stuttered a lot. Even if I read a sentence correctly, I would not understand its meaning. There was a moment when I was reading Green Eggs and Ham out loud, and the teacher asked me to explain what it meant. I did not understand, so I panicked and reverted to Arabic, confusing my teacher. Over time, I got a better handle on the English language. I can read clearly and write effectively.
I can now write 12-page research papers, poems, stories, and the like. Obviously, I am not Shakespeare, but if only my younger self could see me now. I can’t even imagine the pride that she may feel. My journey started with my English being tested to see which grade I should be placed in. The testing center we went to was downtown. My mother wanted to make a good impression, so we’d wake up early at 8 am to get dressed and eat breakfast. After we had all eaten breakfast, we walked to the bus station near our place and waited. With us tagging along, my pregnant mother boarded a bus, and we began our journey as immigrants in Canada. It was summer then, so the trees were in full bloom.
When we arrived downtown, we walked around the testing center’s area. We discovered a large park that had various statues littered around it. Some were animals others appeared to be Greek or Roman Gods. Not missing a beat, my mom excitedly screamed, “Renaaaad. Rayaaan. Go to the lion and pose. “Screaming back, “Okay,” we ran to the lion, and energetically each of us put one leg on the statue and posed. After doing this for thirty minutes, we got tired and fidgety, so our mom told us to “stand still and let me take the picture.” After a few more failed attempts, my mom huffed with annoyance and stopped trying to take them.
After some time had passed, we made our way back to the testing center and waited our turn. When it was time, the receptionist took us to another room. The room we were in was rather large. It looked like a conference room of sorts. The receptionist led me to one end of the room and my sister to another. She told us to wait for “5 minutes, someone will come and test you, okay?” We gave her a thumb’s up and stayed seated where we were. Satisfied with our response, she left the room. While we waited, I looked around the room and noticed that my sister and I were not the only ones there. There were a couple of other kids. They looked friendly, but I was too nervous to talk to them.
After waiting for five minutes, the tester finally came. I miserably failed, picture after picture after picture, and I still did not know what was going on. If I did not know the name of the thing in English, I was adamant about saying it in Arabic. After numerous tries, I would finally get it, but then the person testing me showed me a picture of a bike, “What is this?” I was stumped and just kept saying, “Buseclate.” Oh, the irony, if I were to be given that test again but told to say things in Arabic today, I still would fail. Based on my performance on this test, they put me in the third grade, effectively holding me back a year. My struggle with the English language did not end there. It only developed as I entered school in the fall.
My struggle with the English language was not related to intelligence, as the school tried to argue. It had to do with my negative relationship with the language. I refused to learn. English class was no longer a priority. I did not care. I picked the shortest books to read and the most straightforward assignments to complete. I did not want my level of English to advance. I would write assignments at the last minute and occasionally write incorrect words or phrases purposely. Eventually, the teachers caught on to what I was doing. But they did not care enough to stop me.
Looking back, I realize now how different things could have been. If I had tried, where would I be now? It almost feels like I’m learning things that everyone else learned years ago. I’m still developing my voice and experimenting with my writing. But what matters is that I am healing. I am changing. I became a better writer. All I needed was some time and a supportive environment.