Know Your Why

I had understood nothing about English until I started to care about it. And I only did in 1998 after graduating from high school.

Leaving high school, it suddenly became apparent that I wasn’t going to be scouted for fame. The day finally came for me to face reality.

My father had confessed he was not going to send me to college. We simply didn’t have the money. He told me he would take me with him to work as a construction laborer.

Not only did I freeze in absolute shock, but hearing his words also set off a mind grenade that rocked me deep down to the core.

I have nothing against the construction industry. I just can’t imagine myself tearing down buildings and cleaning up rubble and debris for the rest of my life.

The nature of construction work is very physically demanding. I have seen people looking helpless, hopeless, and exhausted working on a job site under unbearably hot weather conditions.

I just can’t picture myself living happily in this situation. I can’t picture myself being forced to work long hours with little to no choice to go lay in the shade for a while. I can’t picture the sight of me being long dead of poverty and overwork.

I knew right off the bat I would never get far with this line of work. My father has devoted himself completely to his craft (he paints buildings and houses) and yet we still have a hard time making ends meet. Unfortunately, we own no assets, only debts. I decided right on the spot not to follow his path.

I had made a pact with myself that I would dare go to great lengths to get a better future. I naively thought the only way I could get a better career was to be good at all academic subjects. I figured I would get a scholarship and then enter college.

Without a second thought, I pushed myself to learn everything I possibly could about Science, Mathematics, History, Economics, and all other major subjects.

And then it dawned on me:

The best books on these subjects are all written in English!

I had known too well that my English had been horrible on all counts. My vocabulary was far below limited. My grammar was hopeless. My pronunciation sounded terrible. For example, I used to pronounce tomb like bomb. Can you believe it?

Yes, I had heard my teacher speak English. I had taken numerous tests. But for some reason, I had absorbed nothing, not a thing since first grade.

My biggest regret regarding my elementary and high school education was taking all class subjects for granted.

I went out fishing with a neighbor one day. And I saw this lonely little boat barely moving on the horizon. This tiny sight got me thinking, “Where did I go wrong?”

I was 16 and fresh out of high school. I had nothing else to do but either fished and finished the chores or ran errands for Mama. I knew I had no one to blame.

But I knew I had to make that first step. And I knew it was now or never. I went home that day with a single purpose in mind — conquer English.


Next: In the Beginning, Was the Word

Posted by:Kenjie Suarez

Ken currently lives in China working as an ESL teacher. When he is not teaching, he builds websites and writes blogs. He also helps teachers obtain a TESOL certificate and get a teaching job in China.

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