Learning English is often thought of as something daunting, a chore, an annoyance maybe, especially if you’ve come from a background where your first language isn’t English, but you’ve been forced to take this accursed paper because you need it for a scholarship, a university replacement, or just because your school doesn’t offer English as a second language at all. 

It’s storytime.

Today, I’d like to share a story about how I personally learned English, and a journey of technology and its strange and wonderful influence upon my psyche. 

I remember it clear as day. 

I was 9 years old, and at that time I was your average Chinese school kid at SJK(C) Damansara – the difference? It wasn’t only my Chinese that was bad back then, because so was my English. Conversant only in broken English, and unable to form sentences longer than 10 words without the entire structure breaking apart, as shown by the red squiggly lines that appear within the first of any 10 seconds that I spent typing things out on Microsoft Word. 

On this day I was sitting in the school computer room – A treat at the time! 

It was the only air-conditioned room made available to us lowly primary school students at the time. A wonder of a place where dozens of computers were arranged in matrix seating format so all of us could sit down for a brief few minutes and imbibe in the wonders of technology that would later, though we did not know, entirely consume us. 

The day seemed like an average day. But it was not to be… Because the woman who walked in was not our teacher. 

Dressed in a coat and pants, she carried an uncommon air of professionalism at the outset that was immediately shattered as the ensuing moments took place. 

“Class, Ms. Lim cannot make it to school, and I am your substitute for today”, she declared, walking into the room. 

As she appeared into vision, it became clear that she was struggling to walk. 

You see, in her left hand, she held a book – in her right, a heavy plastic box, and as she got to her designated teacher’s table, she dropped all she was holding with a satisfying crash. 

“Students, today you will do very important work!” she declared, figure of authority as she was. 

“Take these and open the file inside,” she continued, stretching her arms out, and pulled the teacher’s chair towards her.

As she sat down, placing her red high heels in front of her as her legs splayed disgracefully onto the table, I saw that the book was not a book – it was a CLEO fashion magazine. 

Anyway, we lined up. 

Lining up, we did not question her as we took out the floppy disks that she had prepared.

When I returned to my table and put the floppy disk in, the files that I saw in the folder were not quite what I expected. Because instead of the bundles of screenshots and recordings, that we’d see in consultants’ training decks, there was something different:

A game, which flickered into force as it showed a knight, a princess, and a castle in full 8-bit Technicolor glory, portending a journey of heroism and victory, leading me away from the classroom and into the embrace of another universe. 

My destiny that fated morning was to save the princess, but by the most unconventional means possible. 

By solving fill-in-the-blanks vocabulary questions.

It was ridiculous to think about it then, and it is ridiculous to think about it now…

But there I was, fighting werewolves, punching orcs, and slaying goblins with my word-blade; question after fateful question, I fought for honor in a world of knights and joust-earned honor, finally slaying the dragon on easy mode, and well before I understood why “SAT” was listed as the hardest possible difficulty. 

When I eventually took the SAT, I received a perfect score of 800 on the verbal section, beating out 99.99% of the entire population, and a 790 for mathematics.

There are other parts of that story, but somehow that is always the most salient moment to which my mind returns: a single point that I look to when I consider what could truly be considered a formative experience of my education.

It was the point at which I began to associate education with entertainment. The beginning of that joyful association that would lead me to learn word after word and eventually achieve the perfect score. Not because I was forcing myself to do it, but because it seemed natural: 

Like breathing air.

I don’t know how many of you out there have ever had an experience like that. In all likelihood, many of you are being forced. 

You look at the printed page and you see suffering instead of the words that are supposed to congeal into sentences and eventually deliver themselves into meaning. 

This is only natural if you’ve not had the serendipity to see the language in that light. And unfortunately, it’s not all that surprising. 

The modern world, though filled with wonders, is besought by education systems administered by teachers who may not captivate our interest, and in the first place, we may not think that verbosity of the constellation of traits that could be developed by a person might be within the upper percentiles of matters to which our attention should be devoted.

If you are that person, then I hope that something will change. If this piece was the thing to cause that change, then I should be very happy. 

But if not, I hope that some alternate thing will come out of left field and bowl you over, catalyzing the magic that I felt when I saw that video game appear on the screen. 

Of course, as I learned in the CELTA, education is not entirely entertainment, and neither is entertainment education and so, a happy balance must be found. 

But what I do know is this. 

That simple moment filled with the joy of an unexpected change. If it could happen to me, then it can certainly happen to you as well. And if it could happen with a random class of primary school students in Malaysia, it can certainly happen at your schools in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the many other geographic destinations that you guys come from. Above all, this was just a fun memory that I thought to share, and you found some value in it, I’m glad! 

Have a wonderful day ahead, and happy preparation for exams! 


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