This I Believe

Julia - Brooklyn, New York
Entered on November 22, 2007
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: immigrant, work
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Pressure is a Necessary Component of Success

I believe that when someone’s under pressure to learn something, they try harder to learn it and end up achieving greater accomplishments than they would under ordinary circumstances.

I moved to America when I was six years old. I moved from Latvia, my home country, to New York City. Because I started first grade a few months into the school year, I already felt uncomfortable around and isolated from everyone else in my class. I was “the new girl.”

It didn’t help that I couldn’t speak a single word of English. I was surrounded by unknown people speaking in a strange language that sounded suspiciously like gibberish. The knowledge that I was going to actually live here was terrifying.

A few other students in my class spoke Russian, but not very well. Most would combine the two languages by accident, and create a whole new dialect impossible to understand by anyone but themselves. Even the teacher scared me. With her unnaturally loud, booming voice it sounded like she was always yelling, especially if you couldn’t understand what she was saying. School was torture.

P.S.180 placed me into their ESL program (English as a Second Language), but to be honest I don’t remember actually learning much English there. I do remember being forced to listen to some teacher talk about Sesame Street characters. What that had to do with anything, I have absolutely no idea.

I started memorizing words I heard often in conversation, but I still didn’t understand everything I heard, and my vocabulary was limited, even for a six year old.

I wanted to read a book. I could already read in Russian, and I expected reading to feel familiar. I went into Barnes & Noble with my dad, and picked out the first book in the Harry Potter series.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the book and realized that the words were still just as unfamiliar on paper as they were when spoken. I had expected their meanings to just register somehow in my brain, but I could see now that wasn’t going to happen. As the strange squiggles and shapes swam before me in a mix of incomprehensible meaning, I started to regret not getting something simpler. I got a notebook, a pen, and an English-Russian dictionary and started figuring the words out, writing down unfamiliar words and their definitions.

I finished the book nearly a year later, and even though that’s a really long time, I was proud of myself for sticking to it and finally finishing it. By third grade I already spoke English at a relatively normal level and I read more books than most of the students in my class combined.

I know that if I hadn’t moved and hadn’t been under so much pressure to learn the English language, I would never have learned it nearly as fast or as well as I did. If I had studied it as a second language in school back in Latvia, I doubt that I would ever have become fluent at all, because I wouldn’t have been able to practice it much and it wouldn’t have been so important for me to know.

What I’m basically trying to say is that if you want to see what you can really do, pack your bags and move to a foreign country. Just kidding! That’s not really necessary. But to really make you try your best, you should create a deadline for yourself or some other kind of pressure and get to work. In the end, you might be surprised at how much you’ve accomplished.