Reading and writing are inseparable with visuals, as the written language itself is technically a combination of symbols. Nevertheless, people tend to treat texts and visuals differently in reading and writing since texts are much more heavily involved in these activities. Personally, visualization and imagination are as fundamental in reading and writing, resulting from my language learning experience and my personality.
The way I learned my first language lay the foundation of my reading habits. Visuals and imagination are powerful tools for language learning, especially for Chinese. The beauty of Chinese is that most of the characters are derived from drawings. Once you know the basic characters, more complex characters, words, and phrases are merely these building blocks piling up. With a little imagination and correct interpretation, one can easily remember the characters and their meanings. As a child, learning how to read in Chinese is much easier when your mother is a Chinese teacher who knows all the tricks and shortcuts. Under my mother’s instructions, I started with picture books at a very young age. Every night, my mother and I would read on the bed together before sleep. There were only two or three sentences on each page, with colorful pictures striving for my attention to the book. These pictures illustrated the meaning of the sentences. Because of the visual feature of Chinese characters, elements in a picture also corresponded visually to the individual characters. Using imagination, my mother would also elaborate on the sentences to facilitate my understanding and encouraged me to join this mental practice. As I became more adept, I could form visuals in my mind without illustrations and Chinese characters. Visuals would naturally emerge regardless of the language and help me understand the texts.
Reversing my reading process is how I write in my adolescence, mostly influenced by my language learning experience. During elementary school, the writing training focused on non-fiction description of daily life, whether chronologically or spatially. I would first think of a scene as detailed as possible and turned it into words. On the other hand, this technique had its limitations. I had a hard time when the emphasis of writing in school switched to argumentative essays and academic writings that required more abstract elaboration. Arising from visualization and imagination, however, this issue was later resolved by themselves through the immersive reading experience they provided.
As I grow older, my personality creates a positive feedback loop enhancing my ability to not only visualize but also immerse myself in readings. As an introvert, I am not very sociable and do not tend to share my thoughts with others. Reading is a major way for me to engage in and learn about the world. The content my mother used to teach me Chinese was deliberately selected, including idiom-related fables and folktales, that further enriched my vocabulary. When pictures books became too easy, I began to look for more books on my mothers’ bookshelves. History books and novels occupied most space, as they were extensively used for Chinese learning materials in school. Huge input of stories enabled me to empathize with the characters in the stories and imagine if I were them. With imagination, visualizing texts was just a start for me to feel the stories with more senses. From Count of Monte Cristo avenging himself to Caesar and Augustus turning the republic into an empire, I fell into the stories, observing and experiencing. Reading gives me a chance to be in the characters’ shoes, go through their lives, and communicate with them as well. In my mind, texts are transformed into ventures of my own, offering immersive reading experiences that free me from my introversion. One night when I was reading Republic, it was such a disappointment how soon other characters forwent their original points of view that I talked to the bedroom wall as if questioning Socrates himself. Using ideas from the book, I would then take Socrates’ position to respond. This experience inspired me to imagine a counterpart to debate with when writing argumentative essays. It also helps me think critically if I immerse myself in the imaginary dialogue.
In conclusion, the Chinese learning experience formed my habit of visualizing and imagining when reading and writing. I naturally employ these techniques that bring me much fun but also some difficulties. As my introversion prompts me to read more, I can empathize and imitate the characters, joining their journeys and conversations. The visualization and imagination lead to an immersive experience, through which I can truly enjoy reading and writing.
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