True Story: How I Learned to Read and Write

I figured I’d share this little tid-bid. It’s not a tear-jerking story, but it’s one I’ve wanted to write down in some form for a while. Who’s down for a story? Alrighty. 

So basically I didn’t know how to read until I was 13. I can remember looking at Dr. Seuss books for hours and wondering what was going on in the stories because I couldn’t read them myself, or trying to remember my mother’s narration. Now, I could read a bit but nothing longer than a sentence. Growing up I was the problem child in school, I couldn’t wrap my head around the “this symbol means this sound, but not when it’s next to this one”. I got stuck in all those special ed’ classes where they spread out all these fridge magnet letters in front of you and made you humiliatingly verbalize every sound they typically make, one by one. Sure, I knew what most of the sounds the letters made, but when it came down to combining them to make words none of it made sense.

I wanted to read so badly. I was sold on the obnoxious “hey, kids, read a book! READ A FREAKIN’ BOOK" reading campaign on PBS Kids. Wishbone and Reading Rainbow were my favorite shows. I had all the little dumbed down, kid safe, Wishbone collection of all the literary classics. They were on my bunk-bed built-in book shelf, right below all my Pokemon figurines. Every night I tried breaking one out and started reading. I could only get done with a quarter of a page before I had to put it down. READING WAS SO MUCH WORK. I think the “you’re reading but you’re not actually reading” thing was magnified for me at that time. I could read the individual words but I couldn’t put them together to form a sentence.

When I got Pokemon Silver for Christmas one year, I only got halfway through because I couldn’t read. In school I never got to go to recess because I never could finish writing down the spelling words at the beginning of class. I would look up the board, find the letter I needed for the word I was writing, look back on the paper, write it down or forget it, and repeat. This whole process gave me a headache and I would get really distraught. I was missing recess! 

So, what changed for me? I’m not too sure, but I have two theories. Trial-and-error, and computers. After a while I figured out that a certain combination of letters equaled a word. If I could just remember the combination I was golden. Then I got on a computer. I started writing little short stories and that’s when I discovered something amazing. COMPUTERS TELL YOU WHEN YOU’RE MISSPELLING A WORD.

Writing on paper was painful for me. I couldn’t spell words hardly at all, so I couldn’t show off my stories to my parents without me reading aloud to them. There was also a physical side to my pain. It hurt my hands to write. When I would write the muscles in my hand would get tighter and tighter on the pencil. My handwriting was horrible, so I tried to slowly and carefully write which made the problem even worse. I could never write more than a paragraph without having to stop and rub my writing hand to get it to loosen up. The magic of computers was you needed a keyboard to write. I didn’t know how to type very well until I took formal lessons in high school, but even hunting and pecking was faster than writing by hand.

Computers gave you instant feedback when you screwed up spelling a word and gave you some suggestions on how to fix it. Sometimes I was way off and had to wing it the best I could, but most of the time the computer helped. After a while you just remember how to spell animal (that word used to look so HUGE to me as a child),  you got tired of seeing those red squiggly lines under words. My spelling really improved, although if I’m away from a computer, writing on a pad of paper my spelling is still much to be desired. If you try to ask me how to spell a word orally I’ll do the classic A-N-I-mal. But regardless, it’s okay. 

Today I still struggle every now and again. I leave out whole words in sentences, use the wrong word like the classic “they’re vs there”, or flip the order of words, but technology is helping me along. Voice transcription is such a blessing. If I know I can’t spell a word, I just have the voice transcriber do it for me. My brother laughs at me because every once in a while he can hear me saying random words while I’m at my desk. Hey, I’m writing, kid. Oh! And now computers can READ words to you! I have my computer read back long letters I write to people to help spot missing words in sentences. I can’t tell you how many times it’s saved my butt. I’m still terribly slow at reading, 10 pages can take me an hour, but I can read for longer stretches of time than I used to and at least comprehend what I’m reading. 

For the past couple of years I’ve dabbled in learning foreign languages like Japanese and Esperanto. Learning other languages have greatly helped me in wrapping my mind around our crazy language that is English. At one time I felt like I could spell better in Japanese than I could in English. 

My reading/writing hurdles still frustrate me to no end, but I’ll take the ones I got now over not being able to read and write at all. And that’s my story, nothing fancy. Just a dude who learned to read and write, eventually.  

I still haven’t attempted the mountain that is mathematical illiteracy. Check back in with me in a decade, I feel like I’ll probably make some progress by then.