Dad and His Persistence

When I used to open my dad’s notebook, there were ugly hand-written letters, which could only be described as illegible. If I stared at those words carefully and used my detective skills, I might have noticed that my dad tried to write “I want a apple” or “I like listen to music”. He wrote English words as if he was still using Chinese. Every word was compacted and structured like a Chinese character. The sentences had plenty of grammar errors, which made the whole text hard to understand. Although it might look like a book of scratch paper written by elementary students, it was my most treasured possession and played an important role in my English development, because this notebook was the embodiment of my dad’s hard work and persistence.

During the summer of 2014, my parents suddenly decided to help me attend an American university. With more than a 7,000-mile distance, the United States had a different culture and language from China. When I was in high school, I had some basic English education courses, but it was parallel to elementary level in English native countries. I could only read some simple English texts and write simple sentences. I still remember that I always got a low score on my English tests. Before I decided to study abroad, I had never thought that my poor English literacy was a problem. However, going to an American university required me to take the SAT test and an English requirement test called TOEFL, so I realized that I had to study.

Getting deep into studying a foreign language was not a fun process, especially memorizing vocabulary. Chinese characters rely on their shapes to convey the idea, but English words are the combination of different letters. My mind was used to Chinese characters, so I found memorizing English words difficult. I almost gave up. I told my dad that studying a foreign language was too difficult for me and I did not want to continue.

“Not difficult but challenging, sweetie,” Dad said.

“You know nothing, Dad. I can’t do this.”

“Ha-ha, actually I know,” he laughed. “Learning something new is never easy, but trust me! Everyone can do it if they persist. If you don’t mind, I can study with you.”

“You are 50 years old and want to learn a new language?” I asked.

“Then what’s the problem?” He replied.

I did not believe that my dad could study English with me at first. He was a middle-aged man and his English was even worse than mine, but then I found that my dad was serious. Starting with the word “abandon” at the beginning of the alphabet, every Sunday he wrote words that he planned to memorize in a small notebook; during weekdays, he memorized those words by writing them on a piece of paper many times. His notebook was messy and his handwriting was illegible, but when I saw his hard work, I had a thought in my mind that I could not let my dad catch up to me.

I began to memorize words with a passion that I had never had before. I learned the roots and affixes, such as “un” or “anti” indicating “not” or “opposite”, which made my learning process much easier. Every day I talked with my dad about how many words I memorized, and my dad would tell me how many words he learned. Sometimes we tested each other and made a deal that the loser would pay the lunch bill for the winner. Of course, I was always the winner, but he never lost his confidence or stopped working. Books about English vocabulary and grammar filled his bookshelves in our house. His persistence encouraged me and made me even more hard-working than before.

After we started to learn English grammar, my dad had a much bigger problem than I did. English sentences has a reverse order than Chinese. For example, “Do you like to eat rice” in English should be restructured as “You like to eat rice do?” in Chinese. My mind and tongue used Chinese for only 18 years, but my dad used it for 50 years. He was confused by the “weird” structure, but he never gave up studying. He described himself as “trouble tolerant”.

Watching my dad continuously study English made me reflect on my own development. I always believed that as an 18-year-old teenager, I had a better memory than my 50-year-old dad. If he could persist working on English grammar, I could also achieve it. I read several grammar books and attended an extra English class. At first, my essays were composed of simple sentences and lacked a clear structure, but after reading some English articles, I tried to work on writing complex sentences with one or more clauses. Two months later, I showed my first, complete English essay, Education as a Tool, to my dad. He read it out loud and then stared at me, “Better than what I wrote. You now know how to pursue what you want.”

Then, I successfully got a good grade on the SAT and TOEFL tests and was admitted by UC Davis. Yesterday, I had a video chat with my dad, and he said that he was still studying English. He read Animal Farm by George Orwell recently and thought he had a better understanding of English texts. He told me that even though he knew that he would never use English for the rest of his life, he refused to give up halfway. I will not stop learning, either. Now, my English has improved a lot, but it is not as good as native speakers. I still have a lot of grammar errors in my writings, and I always need time to organize English sentences when speaking. However, I am not afraid. Thanks to my dad, I know that if I persist in studying English, anything will be possible. Although I need to continuously work on English and practice for many years to get rid of the influence from my mother tongue, I will not give up.

Now, when I open my dad’s notebook and read his terrible English handwriting, I know that he wants to tell me how to develop my language and achieve my goals: use my persistence and never stop!



This photograph was taken by my mom. In this picture, my dad was reading Animal Farm. When I told him I would use his experience in my writing portfolio, he became so excited and decided to show his picture to my portfolio readers.
Source: Xiaoyan, Zhang. “Reading” 2017. JPEG file.