Updated: Oct 13, 2021
I didn't start talking (properly) until I was almost four years old. I was severely deaf, and my older sisters were very good at communicating with me non-verbally, so my mother has always said I just didn't have the need, therefore the motivation, to talk. The ongoing family joke is that ever since I started, I haven't stopped! I am known to be a bit of a chatterbox...
The truth is, I found learning to speak quite difficult. My voice was unusually deep to the point of sounding quite masculine for a little girl, and my speech was awkward. I remember feeling acutely embarrassed when I mispronounced words, which I often did because I hadn't heard them clearly in the first place. Learning how to read opened up a whole new world to me - I can still vividly remember my delight in learning to identify words, knowing that I understood what they meant, and that I could use them myself to communicate anything, to anyone, from my own imagination. Thus, my love of language, was ignited.
Of course, words are not 'just' words. They are an essential means of communication. Put together in the right way, they are tools to convey all kinds of complex ideas, thoughts and feelings. Without them, we could not easily express what is inside us. I believe that when we approach words (and language as a whole) with this 'communication mindset', it is easier to learn them. Many learners of English try to memorise lists of vocabulary because they believe it will help them learn how to speak English quickly - this may indeed be useful to a point, but to really know how to use any particular word correctly and appropriately in context, we need to understand its deeper meaning - to 'see' the ideas which are communicated by that particular word, and not another. We also need to understand how different words form part of a sentence structure, and how they relate to the other words in that same structure.
"The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten."
- Chuang Tzu
I consider myself fortunate to have (unusually) grown up without TV. I was a child long before the internet age, and I spent many a happy hour with my head burrowed in a book at our local library. I loved reading; I devoured books at such a rate, the librarian gave me special permission to start withdrawing books from the teen/adult section, because I had exhausted the junior section by the time I was 11. Books were an escape into other worlds, and I never quite knew what world I might land in. The fantastical world of Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' made a profound impression on me, as did Elizabeth Goudge's 'The Little White Horse' (which I was both surprised and pleased to read recently was one of J. K. Rowling's direct influences). Other favourites were the famous but rather antiquated 'The Magic Faraway Tree' by Enid Blyton, all books by Shirley Hughes (which I still highly recommend for anyone with young children), 'Diddakoi' by Rumer Godden, and anything by the somewhat controversial Judy Blume.
My love of reading naturally developed into a love of writing, and I was only seven years old when I entered my first writing competition with a story titled 'The Magic Red Shoes'. Years later, at secondary school I would 'skive' off school so that I could stay at home and write stories. I won prizes at school for English, and at the age of 14 my writing was assessed by external examiners as "exceptional".