Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Loving Language

For a long time, I’ve wanted to dedicate a post to the English language – something I am currently studying at a college in Yogyakarta. However, as usual, laziness and distraction conquered all and this task was put on the forsaken, monstrous pile of pending tasks. Fortunately, after a long holiday, utter boredom and an urge to make myself somewhat useful (and reanimated) have pushed me enough to bash-up my alibies and do this. I don’t know if I will do this post justice since I haven’t written something original in what seems like a century, but I have to jot down the words that have been swarming in my head or I’ll have to succumb to agitation.

2-5-2014 4-23-22 AM

*My desktop. Do not attempt to conclude the purpose of each note, or decipher the method of organization used. LOL

Okay, so talking about actually studying language formally with its branches of literature and linguistics. Why would anyone want to study it? Don’t we already know it from practice? Is it even useful in a practical way? I will try to answer these questions one-by-one.

When I was young, I was given the privilege to study abroad, in a public school in Australia called Gwynneville Public School (refer to the post My School Homework). The years I spent going to that school were some of the best years in my life. I just loved the learning process within the education system that I was lucky enough to witness and experience. To explain it all would take maybe over 100 pages, so I will recount the thing that is most relevant to this post.

I remember that almost every day, from year 4 until 6, my classmates and I were encouraged to read and write as much as we could. There were these “book-review” sessions where every one of us was required to present the book we had finished reading in front of the class and answer everyone’s questions about it. If we did a good job, we would get a merit certificate or at least a sticker on our work books. At other times, we were told to write stories. More often than not, the theme wasn’t specified by the teacher. We were free to write about anything we wanted. Thus, I was introduced to the written world of fantasy, mystery, and adventure.

My teachers were very kind to me. I would like to mention a certain Mr. Dwyer, who was so appreciative of my ideas, however outrageous they were. Once, he read my work out loud in class, acknowledging my different way of beginning a story. As a 10-year-old kid, I felt so overwhelmingly proud of myself. I still remember that moment very clearly.

My classmates and I were also introduced to a very methodical process of writing and publishing our stories. Firstly, we were told to write our stories in our draft books. After we had finished writing them, we had to bring them up to our teacher to be checked and marked. We had to stand by the table patiently while our teacher checked our draft for any spelling and grammar mistakes. This activity reminds me of a teacher named Mrs. Hunt. I loved her for many things. She was strict but caring. She always wore these neat suits, which she had in many colors and varying styles. Her blond hair was cut short and not a hair was ever out of place. Her nails were always beautifully manicured, and her nail polish was a different color every week. I would get pleasantly distracted by her pretty nails every time she checked my work. Fortunately, I took care to check it before I submitted it to her so there were few mistakes. When she did find mistakes, however, she was very kind about them, and she corrected them in a way I would understand. I would realize my mistakes, understand why they happened, and know how to correct them. I think this is something crucial in any child’s learning process, including in their fundamental understanding of language.

After being checked, our work was ready for publishing. This meant we had to re-write our stories neatly on a piece of paper and decorate it with illustrations. Our teachers encouraged creativity and gave credit for extra effort. Since I also loved art, this was something I thoroughly enjoyed. Even so, I would take more time to finish publishing my work compared to my classmates because I liked to make long stories. Frequently, my writings were so long that my teacher would realize that it would take a long time for me to rewrite it. This happened a lot in Mr. Dwyer’s creative writing class when I was in the 5th grade. Very kindly, he would let me type my work using one of the computers in the classroom. Sometimes he would actually type it for me because we had to start working on another story.

At the end of the year, Mr. Dwyer gave me full acknowledgement for my hard work in his class by giving me a special certificate of achievement, presented during our final assembly in front of all the students, teachers, and parents who came to the event. I cannot express how happy I was to receive the award on stage. Maybe it meant more because I was a foreigner in that country and I felt like I needed to be acknowledged. Maybe I wanted to prove my worth to all the bullies who had given me a hard time for being who I was. Maybe it was because my parents were there and I wanted to make them proud of me. Whatever the reason really was, as I stood on the stage with the other students who had received awards, I allowed myself to indulge in the short moment of applause and admiration. It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to be an educator, like Mrs. Hunt and Mr. Dwyer. I wanted to study the English language (since that is the language of my childhood) and write stories for the rest of my life.


*My graduation certificate, as you can see. They used the shorter version of my name. That’s another story.

During my high school years, most of which I spent in Indonesia, I couldn’t really cultivate my English skills. I was too busy with catching up with challenging and demanding subjects like science and math so I could graduate with satisfying results. Don’t get me wrong. I love math and science. Unfortunately, they are the kind of subjects that don’t leave time for anything else – well, at least that’s how it was for me. Luckily, there was a teacher who gave interest in my passion for writing in English. He was my English teacher, Mr. Arsyad who I call “Pak Guru” until now. He gave me a lot of books, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Nancy Drew series. I have always loved the old classics since I first read Little Women when I was in the 5th grade, so his gifts made me very happy. He also taught me a lot about how to be a good teacher and, indirectly, a good person. He was, of course, exceptional in English and he developed many creative ways in teaching it. He was (and, I believe, still is) a religious man and he reflected that consistently in every aspect of his life. He could always slip an ayat or two in every wise thing that he said to us in class after he told us an interesting story. He had a great sense of humor, so his passion for Islam was not disconcerting for me, at least, as a student who knew so little about religion at that time. He was a role model for me, and he greatly influenced my concept of an ideal teacher.

I took a rather complicated turn when I went to college. As my own small effort to regard to my family’s financial condition, I chose to go to STAN which is quite a prestigious state college which promises a full scholarship for tuition and guarantees a stable job in the Ministry of Finance. Quite a long way from studying literature, no? I, in search of a better word, coped with the subjects I had to learn. Consequently, they went by without much of an impression. I just wasn’t very interested in them. Extracurricular activities saved me from absolute boredom. I joined the English Club and learnt how to debate. I became fascinated with it, regarding it as an art of both logic and spoken language. I also joined a literature club called AKSARA. Even though we mainly discussed literature that existed in the Indonesian language, I learnt a lot about literature itself from the other members. From both clubs, I made friends with a lot of incredible people with outstanding minds and vibrant personalities. They became my teachers of literature, in a way. As I observed them, I found my inspiration in them. Therefore, I was never short of ideas for my writings. However, in my last semester at that college, an unfortunate event occurred. Someone broke into my place and stole many items. Among them was my laptop. I was stupid enough not to have made any back-ups, so gone forever was the diary I had kept from childhood. Gone were the poems, the short stories, and the in-progress novels. After that, I gave up on writing for quite a while as I mourned for my loss. It was like a piece of my soul had been stolen and there was nothing I could do to get it back.


*The only photo I have of my first laptop – the laptop that was stolen.

I retired from writing anything original for a long time. My job was my main focus and, honestly, making money was frankly the main motive. There is not much to write about it since I have discussed it in previous posts (refer to the post Why I Chose English Literature: Clarification and Confession). I coped with it for a year before quitting. I decided that it was now or never. I had to pursue something I believed in, something I had passion for.

So here I am, writing to you at home, while I am on holiday after my fourth semester at my beloved campus, STBA LIA Yogyakarta. I can’t help loving my major more and more every semester as I am introduced to new subjects. In my first semester, I was privileged to experience “Introduction to Linguistics”, taught by a lecturer named Ms. Emmie. She taught us about the many subfields of linguistics, including phonetics (the study of speech sounds), phonology (the study of the sound system in a language), syntax (the study of how sentences are constructed from smaller units called constituents), and semantics (the study of the meaning of words). I could go on and on about what she taught us, especially after following her phonology and syntax class this last semester. Basically, even though the tests were reasonably difficult (I am bad at memorizing things), she made me uncover many dimensions of language from her classes. I learnt that language is both physical and abstract. Most of us speak the way we do and don’t know why because it is both intuitive and unconscious. We can learn how we acquire that knowledge through the study of psycholinguistics and understand the socio-cultural properties of a language by studying anthropological linguistics and sociolinguistics. Our language is both arbitrary and systematic, and was born through social convention which occurred long, long ago, at the time of our ancient ancestors… How is all that not fascinating? I officially became a linguistics geek.

In my last semester, another lecturer called Ms. Tetty introduced us to the product of language created by the brilliance of mankind: literature. She asked us a fundamental question: why study literature? Our answers would go as far as “because we want to teach English”, “because we just like English”, or “because we want to know more about literature”. She answered this question by discussing the basic characteristics of literature, on how it encompasses works with artistic value. Literature gives us a glimpse into the writers mind and, through history, tells us about what we humans are like. It gives us an understanding about human interactions and how existing social conventions affect them. Thus, the purpose of literature is not just for the obvious entertainment, but also for knowledge. This includes knowledge of the art of literature itself, but also from the meaningful content of literature, including certain moral values that exist in life. So, although people might question the practical side of learning about literature, they might not realize that literature will affect the way we think. That, of course, affects the way we act. So, in the name of science and technology, humans may invent all kinds of tools for the benefit of mankind. However, if humans don’t comprehend themselves, these inventions will just become objects with little meaning and worse, if they are misused.

After attending her enlightening lectures, Ms. Tetty gave me a new perspective about literature I might not have discovered on my own. Furthermore, she was supportive about my growing interest, and lent me another classic to store in my mental library entitled The Scarlet Letter. How could I not be more encouraged to learn?

I am inspired and motivated by practically all of my lecturers at my current campus. Ms. Ontje gives me direct motivation because of her motherly care and fiery spirit in supporting our student organizations. Mr. Agus, our campus director, inspires me with his passion for teaching English and making English “an epidemic” at campus. Mr. Widi awes me with his unique teaching methods, high sense of humor, and philosophical beliefs. Ms. Hilaria, Ms. Ririn, and Ms. Rini dazzle me with their youthful spirit and cheerful nature which enables them to truly connect with their students. Ms. Nunuk, Miss Hesti, and Ms. Ismi touch me with their gentleness and thoughtfulness in teaching their subjects. Ms. Rena and Ms. Imelda fascinate me with their creativity and talents in addition to teaching.

My family, my friends at campus, and the clubs I am currently active are also so extraordinary in so many ways. I may have to dedicate a separate post to describe how meaningful they are and how they support me because there are just too many things to say (another addition to the pending tasks list).


*Me and among the few most awesome people ever (that’s also another pending story)


*Beloved members of English Club, STBA LIA Yogyakarta

I consider myself very lucky to be surrounded by so many awesome people. In one way or another, directly or indirectly, they support me in pursuing my passion which is English. Whenever I get bored, tired, or frustrated with a subject, at least one of them is around to encourage me – or give me kick to get back on track.

Have I not answered all the questions above? In doing so, have I not expressed how much I love the English language?

It is a wonderful to finally feel like I am in my zone; where I am really supposed to be. I embrace the prospect of learning something new about the English language every day. I can’t wait to make my thesis and present my findings. I am willing to explore the many possible occupations for an English enthusiast, whether it is teaching, interpreting, writing, or even, hopefully, researching. I mean to excel in this major, whatever the difficulties, and do the extraordinary.

Ms. Ontje once asked us in class: “Do you love English? Are you sure you really love English?”

At that time, I could only answer “maybe”.

Today, I can proudly say “I do”.