The Impossibility of Impossibility | Teen Ink

The Impossibility of Impossibility

January 23, 2017
By Selena.zd SILVER, Wilmette, Illinois
Selena.zd SILVER, Wilmette, Illinois
5 articles 1 photo 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
Nothing is impossible if you allow the possibilities.

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

What are some words that come to mind when you think of moving to a new country? Probably somewhere along the lines of excited, worried, nervous, and bittersweet. My move to the states fours years ago definitely fell close to those words—if I could actually remember that time period. It wasn't too long ago, and, at the age of nine, I wasn't too young, so I got used to the surprise on people’s faces when I tell them I can barely remember my move. It was the biggest event that had ever occurred in my life, and I could hardly remember it. I only have these tiny snippets of memory: saying goodbye to my friends in school twelve days before the move on my birthday, January 7th—I can’t even remember my last day at school. Playing Plants vs. Zombies on my old iPad with my brother at the airport. Reading one of my favorite Warriors books in Chinese on the plane, and telling my brother to not watch too many movies. The long, black limo picking us up from the airport, and my brother falling asleep on my mom’s lap. The grand and golden lobby of the hotel we stayed for a week at. Those were my only memories of that new starting point in my life, and most of them were blurry.

What I do remember clearly, though, was what people told me after we settled. It’s impossible to learn a completely new language in under two years. It’s impossible. These were words that came out of the adults in my life, trying to reassure me. But it was also used by someone who didn't want me to learn and grow, as you'll hear more about later. It didn't matter to me what their intentions were though, as I hate the word impossible. I wasn't going to argue or disagree with them, because that would be rude to the people trying to comfort me, and there’s no point in getting into a petty argument with someone acting out of jealousy. So when I heard those words, I just smiled and nodded along to whatever they were saying, and set out to prove them wrong with action instead of words.

On January 19th, 2012, my new life began. I started school in March, and it was near the end of third grade. There was one other Chinese girl in my class at my old school in Lincoln Park. Being the only other Chinese person in my grade that I knew of, I immediately became friends with her. Very soon, however, it was obvious how competitive she was. She was very nice to me at first, until she learned that I could play piano at a dinner party. She also played piano, but it was clear who played better, as I have been playing since the age of three. After that, whenever we had dinner together, she insisted her parents choose places inaccessible to a piano. Then, one day in a library at Chinatown, she realized I could read Chinese books her parents themselves read in high school. I was not yet ten. She could only read second grade level books—just barely— but was actually pretty good for Chinese kids born in America, so I never said a word when she bragged. The topic of Chinese learning was never again brought up in conversations. Similar events happened with art classes, math homework, and even swimming when I got into swim team with eight months of lessons while she took four years. The only disadvantage I had in this little game was that I didn't speak English. She used this every chance she got, saying, “It's impossible to learn a language in under two years’ time,” with a smirk on her face. We stopped hanging out soon after things got really uncomfortable, but I had already made up my mind to prove her wrong. Only if to set an example for the next fourth grade Chinese girl who meets someone like that, to make sure she wouldn't get discouraged.

I have always loved reading, and learned how to read when I was four years of age. This was in China, of course, and I read books only in Chinese. I would read junior high and even some high school books by the time I moved here in 2012. Then, because my mom thought that I needed to learn English faster and knew that I couldn't go long without reading, she took away all my Chinese books. So, because I had no other choice, I started actually paying attention in class, listening carefully to what everyone around me was saying, and very quickly my English picked up. I remember we were reading The Sign of the Beaver as a class when I first started, and by the time we got to the second half of the book I could mostly understand the story line. I found that I could also understand the basics of what people were saying around me by the end of the book—but only if they spoke slowly, and used simpler words. I went to a completely recreational summer camp where I had to speak English at, and that’s where I improved my English, as it was a very verbal environment. It was when the journey of proving “impossible” possible started.

When school started again in fourth grade, we read Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs. My teacher recorded the audiobook for me to follow along, and by the end of that book, I could really understand people but spoke only to three of my friends. Shortly after that, I started reading novels the other kids in my grade were reading, with the first one being The Name of this Book is Secret, as it was a popular book in my class. After independently reading that series, I gained more confidence and started to try out the kind of books I would have read in Chinese. During Chinese New Year in 2013, I went to a party hosted by a family who was friends with that first Chinese girl. The three of us—the host’s daughter, the competitive girl, and I—were talking about books during dinner, and I realized that I have read all the books they were talking about and have read more books that they didn’t. I read more books in my second language than these natives after just one year. The look on the other girl’s face was the highlight of my Chinese New Years. After all, she was the one who had stressed over and over again how it was impossible, right? And here I was.

Over the course of the next year, my reading skills soared. Not only was I understanding the individual words, but also the overall meaning of what I was reading—in a brand new language. My English reading level caught up to, then bypassed, my Chinese reading level. I started being able to read even faster in English than in Chinese, which was huge because the only person I've ever met in my life the who could read faster than me in Chinese—adults included—was my mom. By the time I got to the middle of fifth grade my classmates were asking me about book suggestions, even though I still barely spoke. My breakthrough moment was Halloween of fifth grade, when my school hosted a grade level scary stories contest, and I won first place out of my entire grade. From March of 2012 to October of 2013, I went from not knowing the alphabet to beating my grade of around 150 people in a writing competition. Not only did I learn a new language, I also beat its native speakers. I proved impossible to be possible.

How did I do it? I never believed it to be impossible. If I listened at the start and genuinely thought there was no way I could have learned English in the amount of time I did, I would never have even tried. So remember, never listen when someone tries to tell you something is impossible. Because it’s not. What truly decides what is possible is your way of thinking, which means as long as you give it the possibility of being possible, it's possible. Next time, when you're about to face something extremely challenging, tell yourself this: nothing is impossible if you allow the possibilities. This I believe.

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