After getting over the language barrier in Kindergarten (read that story here), I spoke English fluently…but vit un accent and a stah-studd-stutter. I had to attend an English as a Second Language (ESL) class until middle school in order to get over my linguistic problems.
I always hated going to ESL because they would make me color. Even at that young age, I couldn’t understand how coloring would help me learn English and I had no patience for the arduous activity. To make matters worse, they forced me to recite tongue twisters in front of five other kids, and I was the worst one in the group.
One day, my kindergarten teacher was reading everyone a story about owls on the magic circular carpet, and my ESL teachers came to collect me.
“Stephie, time for your speech lessons,” my teacher said, getting ready to flip to the next page of the storybook.
“No! I na…na…na…need to know vhat’s gonna happen to dah ovl!”
“No, it’s time for you to learn to speak English properly!”
Everyone was looking at me. I didn’t like that. “Pa-pa-pa-pleaase, I just vant to know…”
This escalated in volume (and tears) until the two unfortunate ESL teachers had to drag me by my armpits down the hall into the other room. They stuck me in a chair next to some other, better behaved students.
“Say, ‘owl’, Stephanie.”
She sighed and placed a picture of a teddy bear in front of me. “Color it,” she commanded, unable to hide her aggravation.
I grabbed a brown crayon, scribbled a few furious line, and screamed, “DONE!” I stormed off to the corner while the other students painstakingly colored within the lines.
The other, much nicer Speech teacher came over with a broad smile on her face. I stood with crossed arms, challenging her with a furious pout. “If you complete your lessons, I will give you a magic sticker for your ESL Book.”
“I la-la-lu-luff magic!” I grabbed the crayon and colored the stupid bear. Of course, she talked me into doing a bunch of tongue twisters and annoying crap, and I did that, too.
At the end of the class, she presented me with a sticker of a shiny grape character.
“Vhat’s so magic about it?”
“Stephie! Mind your “v’s”
I pressed my hands against my cheeks and made a fish-face “Vh-vh-what’s so magic about it?”
“It’s MAGIC because it smells like fruit if you scratch it. Seriously! Give it a scratch!”
I scratched the grape suspiciously and sniffed it. It smelled exactly like grape bubblegum! I scratched and scratched that Magical Sticker until nothing was left but a pathetic piece of peeling paper that smelled like chemicals mixed with grubby fingers.
That shiny grape sticker changed everything. My hatred of coloring eventually ended, which lead to me winning a bunch of contests, getting a decent scholarship to an arts school, and a professional career in graphics and animation (hence my company name, ShinyGrape Studios, LLC). The stuttering also went away for the most part, which gave me more confidence, helped me make friends, and start performing on stage and screen. I can turn the accent on and off ; it usually comes back a bit when I’ve been hanging out with my mom (or drink too much wine – oops. Damn those grapes).
I wish I could go back in time and thank my teachers for helping me get over that debilitating stutter, nudging me into art, and forcibly pulling me out of my shell. I would probably also ask them, “Where the heck are you from?” Everyone thinks that I have a Canadian accent now (even some Canadians!) and that only could have come from one of my speech teachers. Looks like I traded one annoying accent for another, ha!
Final question: what ever happened to that stupid owl? Honestly, I never found out the name of the Owl Book…but at least I can finally pronounce the world “Owl”.