The Ebony Quill

Thoughts, reflections, and whimsies as I experience life

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

The Importance of Learning another Language

I was raised speaking three languages:  Hindi, Gujarati, and English.  After moving to the United States at the age of five, my Hindi has become pretty weak (I have to think at length before I speak and my vocabulary is limited to what I see in Bollywood movies), my Gujarati is conversational, and, of course, English has become my primary language.

Beginning in elementary school, I learned Spanish and I continued to learn it in high school through advanced classes.  Currently, I am minoring in Spanish in college.  Personally, I enjoy learning a different language and view it as an open door that allows me to communicate with another part of the world.

However, the majority of children in the United States are not open to learning a new language and are not encouraged to pursue it to fluency.  High schools that require only two years of basic classes in a foreign language are fooling themselves if they believe it is sufficient.  Even after kids take four years of foreign language classes, most hardly pass examinations (that is, if they take IB or AP classes which have outside examinations).  I believe this can be attributed to a combination of several factors:  cultural ignorance and society’s indifference concerning learning languages, lack of student motivation, and, in some cases, substandard teaching.  Children around the world grow up learning two to three languages in addition to English.  They are much better equipped and well-prepared to meet the demands of interconnected and interdependent nations as well as the global economy.   They also understand the value of diversity, culture, and the differences that make us unique.

So, if you’re a student, consider pursuing a second (or a third) language.  If you’re a parent, encourage your kids to learn another language and cultivate open-mindedness and an appreciation for cultural diversity.


How Writing is Affecting my Life

Okay, so I’ve hardly written 10,000 words, but I can already see the tendrils from my imaginary world extending into the real world.  Before I describe the changes that writing a novel has wrought in my daily life, I’d like to explain my relationship with writing.  I was never much of a diary-writer.  I tried countless times (I’ve got at least five different diaries lying around my bedroom as proof of that) but I’ve always found that writing my “feelings” in a diary was an inadequate means of delineating my emotions or experiences.  I would get impatient and frustrated that the words on the page were a shallow and unsubstantial representation of the depth and color of my experiences, insights, and revelations.  Nonetheless, I always took pleasure in writing essays for my high school English class or writing papers for International Relations courses in college.  Every semester, I have to take a course that allows me to write.

Writing a novel is on the list of things to accomplish over the course of my life.  It never occurred to me before this summer that I didn’t have to wait until I was 35 or 40–I could start right now.  The first thing I did, of course, was research the average length of a young adult fiction novel, which turned out to be around 75,000 words.  Digesting that piece of information was difficult; the longest paper I’d ever written was the International Baccalaureate Program Extended Essay my senior year of high school.  However, daunting as the task seemed, I decided to think about it as a personal challenge and give it a shot.  Writing a novel feels completely different from writing an essay or a diary entry.  There are no expectations, no rubric to follow, nothing that needs to be said: it’s liberating.

Thus, I think it’s worth enumerating the ways that writing a novel has changed–and, hopefully, will continue to change–my life:

  1. Things that I’ve noticed in television shows, books, the people around me, and events and experiences have transformed from idle observations to relevant conclusions that I incorporate into my work.
  2. I am constantly thinking about the novel, the plot, the characters, etc., causing me to become absent-minded in other matters.  Lately, I have begun stuttering and struggling for words and find it difficult to follow a conversation, because I’m constantly drifting off.  The fact that this new phenomenon is not reflected in my writing is a clear indication of where my mind is.
  3. Now, I don’t  just read because I love to read: I look at the way authors structure their paragraphs and dialogues, how they describe their settings, the way they characterize, etc.  When I read a scene from a novel and absentmindedly think of a better way of writing it, I’m actually inspired and this influences the way I write.  I amalgamate and infuse the practices of my favorite authors into my own work.

Those are the very basic ways in which writing is changing the way I view and interact with the world.  I’m sure that even more changes will occur as I continue to write and I’m looking forward to experiencing them and sharing them with all of you.

How has writing affected the way you see the world?


The Demise of Art

Today, I’m taking a break from talking about books and writing to post instead about an issue that I feel very strongly about.

I am currently interning at an art museum where I help out with children’s art camps.  These kids, aged 6-12, do some of the most amazing artwork.  The teachers who instruct the class are wonderfully talented and come up with fantastic art projects that really channel the children’s creativity.  I have interviewed the instructors and plan to use their quotes in the “yearbook” that I am designing for the camp.

One of the teachers spoke about the neglect of art in the public school system, and how some of the fifth graders she teaches at a public school freeze up in the art class because they can’t do anything without precise instructions.  They can’t think creatively.  Kids who constantly play video games and sit on the computer, she claims, find fine motor movements difficult.

The most common answer I received when I asked instructors why it was important for kids to do art was “self-expression.”  Art allows children to express themselves without the need to use words or language of any kind.  It allows kids a chance to learn about themselves, their emotions, and their abilities.  It allows them to be free.

I find it ironic that in a country that claims to prize creativity and seek it in those looking for the top jobs–as I am told constantly in college–we try so staunchly to force it out of kids.  Art programs are often the first to face cuts when school budgets decrease.  Students who are passionate about the arts are often depicted as social outcasts or “strange.”  Students who major in the visual, dramatic, or performing arts (or English, for that matter) in universities are often chided as “taking the easy way out” or taking nonsense majors that have no clear career path.

Grooming children to go into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) majors won’t make any difference in our society if they can’t think out of the box, and that’s what art encourages.  As one of the art camp instructors stated, STEM should be STEAM, because art is as critical to innovation and change in society as it is to personal growth and development.  Creativity needs to be fostered and nurtured from childhood; it can’t simply be expected to appear in adults without any precursor.  Art allows kids to use their imagination, work cooperatively, learn to see things differently, and create something out of nothing.

So here’s to the arts, creativity, and self-expression in children.

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