‘A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new’

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Illustration by Borg Sinaban

The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel was supposedly a symbol of humanity’s ambition to exist as one nation and achieve perfection. But the arrogance behind its building angered God. He caused people to speak in different languages and go their separate ways.

But since then, people have learned different languages in a world that has become a global village.

We might not fully understand what made God angry
in the early times, but if He could talk right now, would he condemn grammar Nazis for their arrogance?

I’m an English teacher in Japan and currently learning to speak and write Nihongo. Although English is my main language of instruction, I believe that learning Japanese will help me build more rapport with my students.

But one time, while speaking to them in Japanese, somebody noticed something wrong in my intonation and made fun of it. I felt disappointed. As a teacher in Japan for the past two years, it was my duty to teach my students to respect, not to insult, non-Japanese people who are trying to learn Nihongo as a second language.

Three years ago, I was in Japan working in a factory and washing dishes for a living, but I came here with a plan to become a teacher.

Back in my grade school days, I used to gather leftover chalk in our classroom so that my cousins and I could later play—them as my students and I as their teacher.

Ostracized

But in high school, I was ostracized and became the laughingstock of the class. One day, a female classmate randomly walked towards me, uttered the number 33 and then turned her back, laughing.

I realized she was mocking me—I was no. 33, second to the last in our class ranking. At the time, my highest grade was 80 and the rest were so low that my teachers would rather save their valuable ink than to write my grades.

The incident inspired me to do better in academics. I also decided to run for Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) chair in our barangay. The journey was tough but fun because of the people who believed in me.

Yet my high school batch-mates kept insulting me because I was running against the popular kid on campus. They belittled and questioned my capability to win the election.

Fortunately, I won. As SK chair, I was able to send less fortunate kids to school.

One day, while walking home from school, an old man went up to thank me, saying that our medical project cured him of cough that had been recurring for two weeks. He explained that his family was so poor, he couldn’t afford to see a doctor.

After a couple of months, the SK city council organized an interbarangay basketball league. That was the time my opponent in the election and I became friends. He and some of his friends joined our basketball team. We won against 47 barangays and won the championship.

Significance

The significance of my story with that of the Tower of Babel is that people think their language fluency gives them a level of superiority, just like when our ancestors thought that they could achieve perfection.

The insults I went through could have discouraged me and I wouldn’t be writing this story because I used to have horrible English grammar.

Stephen Fry said, “Sadly, desperately sadly, the only people who seemed to bother with language in public today bother with it in quite the wrong way.”

Language is a medium to express yourself and be understood. I’d rather spend more time with interesting activities with friends than point out their grammatical errors as they speak.

I promised myself and to God that if He would make me a better person, I will help those people in need, especially those who feel insecure with language. I became a teacher to help young people struggling to find themselves.

But learning English from me is just a bonus because my main subject is life itself. Experience has taught me that trying is learning and part of learning is making mistakes.

Albert Einstein said that a person who never made a mistake never tried anything new. So, when someone laughs at you for trying to do something, keep on trying until you don’t have to try anymore.

After all, practice makes perfect and vexes the grammar Nazis. —CONTRIBUTED

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