A few days ago, in a family gathering, a relative asked me how I built my writing skills and learnt to use the big words. She wanted me to give her teenage daughter some tips on how she could get a grip on the English language and manifest it in her writing. A lot of Pakistani parents worry about this as English isn’t our first language but not knowing it is frowned upon.
Nevertheless, it was encouraging and humbling for me that a young mother asked me, a novice writer, for guidance. I did my best to guide and encourage her daughter but it also got me thinking about how it all began. What made me fall in love and develop a way with words.
I have to say that some things are God gifted/genetic. Some people are naturally good at math or science some are naturally good at art, words etc. and that depends on your luck but we can certainly do a lot about the nurture part of the argument.
I credit my love and command over words to my mother. She used to and still does read a lot. Every night she goes to bed with a book or a magazine in her hands. The first thing she does in the morning is to pick up the newspaper from our front porch. One of my very first childhood memories is observing how she used to hold her books. How her thumb and fingers were placed over the words.
She tells me that when my father was alive they used to have a poetry contest where they would challenge each other to recite a stanza from the last letter of the previously recited one. I was in awe of her Urdu vocabulary and all the knowledge she had accumulated with reading. So what I’m trying to say is that children imitate.
When I was about 6 I stumbled over a huge stack of Urdu magazines for children that belonged to my elder siblings and there was no turning back. I fell in love with reading and I wanted to learn all the big words. I think at one point I must have gotten quite obnoxious. Nevertheless, my reading started translating into writing and I started doing great in Urdu at school. I used to write and ENJOY Urdu stories and essays. A couple of times I was accused of plagiarism in 3rd grade and my mother had to visit the principle’s office to assure her that she hadn’t helped me write my essays.
As for my English, well I had an amazing learning environment at school and they gave me a complete creative freedom to write my heart out. My love for reading didn’t stick to Urdu and I started picking up books in English as well. My English also got better when I used to play Scrabble with my mother in the long summer afternoons. I used to search the dictionary so I could find the biggest, highest scoring words and beat my Mum.
However, it wasn’t until I discovered another hidden gem at my house, a stack of old Famous Five’s by Enid Blyton that I REALLY got into English (bless my OCD, hoarder siblings). Life as I knew it changed as I was introduced to a whole new world of mystery and adventure. I credit my love for nature, travel and adventure to Enid Blyton as well.
In 8th grade, I won a story writing competition in school. When our English teacher had to announce the winner, she called me up and asked, “Komal do you read a lot?” I said, “Yes, Ma’am” and she replied, “It shows.” That’s when, like an epiphany, I realized the importance of reading and all the effort my Mother had put into my upbringing.
Further life events include watching a whole lot of American TV and listening to a lot of English music, that improved my knowledge and the range of words I could use. That’s why I strongly believe that reading and watching TV actually work for content writers.
So it all comes down to this, to develop a way with words in yourself and your children, you have to have an environment that’s conducive to reading and writing. That supports creative expression and encourages children to empower themselves with language.
You can not expect children to magically pick up habits that you don’t have or try to have. So read, read with them, instil the love of books in them so they can have larger than life experiences and can live in more worlds than which they actually exist in.
I’m ending this extremely long story with my favourite Rory Gilmore quote:
“I live in two worlds. One is a world of books. I’ve been a resident of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon, sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J. Reilly, rode a sad train with Anna Karenina and strolled down Swann’s Way. It’s a rewarding world.”