Chapter 3 – Learning English

SpBubble1After what seemed like the happiest time of my life, it was time to go back to school, only this time it was worse because I had little English. At first it was like a Panda trying to talk to a Kiwi bird, with question marks popping up comically. It was frustrating but nevertheless, an interesting period of our lives. I developed skills to communicate to my mates by other means.

Just before we were allowed to attend regular schools, someone from the Education department actually came to our accommodation to visit us and gave Yiyi and me a little English test. We were asked to write a short story about ourselves in English. All I wrote on my piece of paper was “Joseph”. Yiyi was admitted to the advanced ESL class at Hagley High School, as it was called then, while I studied in the preliminary class. It was already almost the end of the academic year and before I learned any English it was Crafts Week. I chose drawing and Yiyi made a dozen Christmas tree decorations. I spent more time drawing then using my English-Chinese dictionary.

It was strange having a summer Christmas, even though it wasn’t a holiday we celebrated. Yiyi was determined to go to Christchurch Girls’ High School the following year and she spent the whole holiday studying English. She even made her own dictionary. David learned how to bike, Dad had already gone back to Taiwan to make some final arrangements for his clinic, Mom tried not to break the map every time we went out, as the roads looked the same to us everywhere, and I spent my time growing taller.

Yiyi was very happy when the holiday was finally over and she was able to put on her new uniform for the first time. I was even happier because I was now taller than she was. She studied even harder now. I always thought she loved to study all the time until recently I found some of her study notes.

Yiyi's report card
Yiyi's report card


“I’ve started reading Julius Caesar today. Other girls in my class have already started it last week. I am so far away behind…I don’t think it is a good idea for me to read this book because I don’t even understand ‘proper’ English at the moment…As I opened the book, I just got tired because there are so many vocabularies. I didn’t understand them at all. I had to use the dictionary for every two or three words…”


“I continued to read Julius Caesar today. One girl in my class told me that Caesar disappears in the play pretty soon. I was glad to hear that because I wished he would die soon so that the play is going to be finished too, then I wouldn’t have to read it anymore. Every time when I open the book, I am scared and frightened. I get sick of using the dictionary. I don’t know how many times more I would have to use the dictionary for every new scene, and the play seems to get harder and harder for me to understand.”

Yiyi always wanted to achieve her best, and she always succeeded. She excelled in every subject even though English was her second language. I on the other hand stayed at Hagley for one more term before going on to Christ’s College, the home of traditional English schooling.

Please also see the ‘Graphic Design Visual Representation‘ of this chapter