Text Boundedness

I study Teaching English as a Second Language, which means that I get to take endless amounts of classes about how second languages are acquired, how to create good ESL (English as a Second Language) tests/assessments, how to teach ESL in academia and in less formal settings, and I just love it. I was especially excited this semester to be taking a class on Teaching Literacy in ESL. In our last lesson we discussed an idea called text boundedness (get pumped for a brief lesson in teaching ESL!). When someone who is already literate in a certain language tries to read, they  don’t have to focus on specific sounds. Our brains are already wired to know that a d makes a ‘duh’ sound, so we don’t have to pause to sound out every little thing. When someone is just beginning to learn how to read a new language, they have to take the time to sound out those little things. When I learned French, I could spend an hour reading a book and then look back and realize that I had been so focused on the sounds that I had no idea what I had just read. That is text boundedness: when you’re so focused on the sound that you miss the meaning.

This is so much like writing that I wanted to jump up from my desk and do a little jig. That probably wouldn’t have gone too well though, so I restrained myself.

Sometimes as writers we get caught up in how beautiful something sounds. We just love the adjectives and the colors and how these words make pretty loops that become pretty little flowers in our heads! We love it so much that we oftentimes want to emulate it. I feel this way when I read Rae Carson’s Crown of Embers series, or (lest we forget) the Harry Potter series. I just wish that I could sound as talented as these people, but I just can’t ever seem to get it to work.

But here’s the key: every author has his or her own voice. I will never sound just like J.K. Rowling, and people wouldn’t want to read my work if I did! she already exists. She is published; we don’t need another Jo (no matter how badly I may want her to just write new books every six months). What we dont have, is you.

Our words are beautiful because they convey meaning, and we can get those points across in seven billion different ways. My writing style may not speak to everyone in the world (no matter how much I pretend it will), but I know it’s beautiful because it’s mine, and it means something.

Take the time to read something that you’ve written that you are so proud of, and be happy because it is looping across the page to make its own unique flowers in your (and probably someone else’s) head.

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