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C&T 491

Dr. Cho & Annette


May 27, 2017 Literacy Autobiography Hazara Leon 1

My name is Hazara Leon and my story begins with my family immigrating to the

United States a year before I was born. At the time, both my parents were seeking better

opportunities and decided to leave Mexico City and come to the United States to work

illegally. As native speakers of Spanish, the primary language spoken at home was and

always has been Spanish. The first word I ever spoke was papa and by the time I was 1

year old I became aware of my surroundings. As a child I was very creative and curious

about my surroundings so I questioned my surroundings and why things worked the way

they did. Home was always lively and filled with the voices of my siblings and parents.

Growing up my L1 was fully acquired through communication with my family members

and I never truly learned how to read and write in Spanish. It was years later when I had

the sudden urge to understand my native language in its entirety that I began to ask my

parents to teach me the alphabet and show me how to write certain words. Practice took

place through the writing of grocery lists and by reading permission slips sent by the

teachers. I was able to further learn the language by watching movies with only Spanish

subtitles. This was one of the most effective methods for improving my literacy and

learning the spelling of words. In addition to watching movies with subtitles I also began

to expand my vocabulary by watching Spanish soap operas, TV shows and movies with

my parents.

All in all, my home life was filled with Spanish, but at an early age I realized that

my language was different from the rest. The cartoons that caught my attention, but I did

not understand brought forth this revelation as well as the people that I passed on the

streets but whose speech did not match the one my parents spoke. Although my father

was able to pick up the language after studying at a local high school, my mother was
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Dr. Cho & Annette
May 27, 2017 Literacy Autobiography Hazara Leon 2

never able to learn anything besides a basic hello, goodbye, thank you, etc. It was not

until the age of 8 that I first began to learn English in pre-school. I vividly remember how

I would struggle during classes not only trying to build up the nerve to speak English but

actually formulating my sentences and coming up with the words I needed. Pre-school is

a time where students make friends, play and learn their ABCs; but my time was spent

getting used to the foreign environment and making sense of all the gibberish that was

being spoken. One of the biggest difficulties I faced during my time in pre-school was its

location; a suburban middle-class neighborhood predominantly containing white

American students, in which no Spanish speaking students lived in and which lacked a

teacher who was familiar was at least a bit of the Spanish language. This made things

difficult since I had to mostly rely on body language and my ability to observe and pick

up on the interactions between other kids and the teacher. However, I was partially

prepared to face new challenges once I entered elementary school. From kindergarten I

had learned to put aside my shyness and become an attentive/observant child. In pre-

school I had also learned necessary things like my ABCs and had picked up on phrases

that would take care of my necessities. This included phrases like Hello, thank you, I

want _, I need _, Where is _? as well as words like food, water, bathroom, etc. After pre-

school I was then equipped with the necessities, so by the time I entered kindergarten I

was able to focus on learning more of the language and breaking down its components. In

order to do this, my parents moved me to a school district that offered ESL classes and

was in a diverse environment that would allow me to be surrounded by more than just

English speaking students. By doing this I was able to attend ESL courses that ran for

two hours everyday. Both a native Spanish-speaking teacher and an English teacher ran
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Dr. Cho & Annette
May 27, 2017 Literacy Autobiography Hazara Leon 3

these ESL classes. Their co-teaching methods allowed for one hour of homework help

and one hour of formal teaching in which we would participate in games and activities

that would teach us grammar points that would then be retaught in our regular

kindergarten classes. I vaguely remember starting off my days in kindergarten playing

with the other kids and then going through our Phonics lessons in English followed by

more playtime. During this playtime I would then be picked out of my class and led to the

ESL classroom where I would spend the majority of my day. These bittersweet memories

bring back the days that I spent learning English nursery rhymes and playing English

word bingo. I quickly found comfort in my ESL class, yet struggled to keep up in my

regular class. One of the reasons I was able to actively participate in my ESL classes and

found them enjoyable and comfortable was the motivation it gave me to learn English. To

motivate us to do our best the teachers would give us points for our participation inside

and outside of our ESL classes. These points would then allow us to shop at the class

market for goodies like candies or toys or save it up and earn bigger prizes like movie

tickets or a chance to go out and eat with the teachers.

Now, there was a huge difference between the acquisition of my L1/L2 and my

L3. During middle school we were given the opportunity to learn two foreign languages.

The two languages were Spanish and French, so a whole semester was devoted to the

learning of the basics of both languages. Since I was already a native speaker of Spanish I

found one part of the semester very uninteresting and simple, but the other half of the

semester sparked my interest. Therefore, when I began high school I immediately applied

for French courses and signed up for the French club. In high school I had an amazing

teacher that further enhanced my interest in French. She would begin class with the word
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Dr. Cho & Annette
May 27, 2017 Literacy Autobiography Hazara Leon 4

of the day and on occasion with funny comics or music videos in French. In our grammar

classes we would then focus on learning conjugations, vocabulary and sentence

formation. To boost our understanding of these grammar points we would be required to

answer more than three questions during the lessons. We would also have to read out

loud, repeat the grammar points, do vocabulary tests every few days, listen to voice

recordings and keep a personal journal in which we talked about ourselves using the

grammar points of that week, and even celebrated French holidays and participated in

traditional French customs. This intricate structuring of the class was further enriched by

my participation in the French club. In this club we would practice our French

conversations and take part in activities with a French focus outside of class. As a result

of my teacher and her enthusiasm for French, I fully immersed myself in the learning of

the language and this carried on into my college years. As soon as I was accepted to KU I

enrolled in advanced French courses. Upon entering my French course at KU I realized

the impact my teacher had on my performance in class. Although I was well prepared for

the difficult material and had no issue presenting and speaking in French, I found myself

lacking motivation and only finishing the course because I had already paid for it. Due to

my lack of motivation I finished my advanced French courses and never again took a

French course in college. Besides lacking a motivational support system in college, I had

also begun to take an interest in Korean during my last semester in high school. Through

the persistence of a close friend I began to slowly warm up to Korean and it was not until

I listened to Shinees Lucifer that I was snatched. The music video was so interesting and

high quality that I could not get enough, so as I was studying French my last semester in

high school I was also getting more and more interested in Korean culture. This could
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Dr. Cho & Annette
May 27, 2017 Literacy Autobiography Hazara Leon 5

have also been another factor in my lack of motivation in French during my year in high

school. Thus, the end of my French courses gave me the opportunity to focus on a

completely new language. Thankfully, KU offered Korean courses and that led to a

whole new journey for me. After one year of Korean courses I studied abroad at Korea

University for one year and fully immersed myself in the Korean language, culture, and

customs. This gave me a great opportunity to force myself to apply what I was learning to

real-life situations. Even if I was surrounded by many foreigners and Korean students

looking to practice their English, I would persuade them to speak Korean with me and

would go out on my own and practice my language skills whenever and wherever I could.

Due to my broad interests in languages I decided to major in Linguistics. As a linguistics

student I studied how my brain processed language in a scientific way and applied what I

learned about my brain to the languages I was learning.

As a simultaneous bilingual speaker I acquired one language from birth followed

by another before the acquisition critical period (meaning before puberty) and was able

to acquire both languages at a native level. Of course this was not just done by the simple

fact that I started my second language before the window had closed. Being the child of a

family of immigrants, I quickly discovered that learning English as my second native

language was a necessity so my motivation for learning English was actually my strong

need to communicate with the people around me and get the basic necessities in life

(food, water, shelter, bathroom etc.). Another key factor in the acquisition of my L2 were

my teachers and their teaching styles. My huge interest in French stemmed from the

enthusiasm my teacher had for the language and that affected the way I perceived French.

Having challenging but fun interactive lessons helped motivate me to challenge myself
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Dr. Cho & Annette
May 27, 2017 Literacy Autobiography Hazara Leon 6

and learn the language. Having inherent language skills is not all it took for me to learn

the languages I did. For both Korean and French I had to work hard and train myself to

learn the rules of the language to the point where I was able to successfully apply them to

my writing, comprehension, and conversational skills. The teaching styles of my teachers

and professors also facilitated the process by making it either more difficult or easy to

comprehend. In the future I hope to continue learning more languages, but as a linguistics

student I have realized that there are many factors that affect the skill level I am able to

reach. Despite the older I get, I have now realized that it is not impossible to learn a

language, but it will become more difficult. However, that is a challenge Im willing to

take.