My new teacher got annoyed with me the first few times she called me by my Canadian name because I didn’t respond. I wasn’t being rude or acting contrary; I simply had not yet processed the foreign sounds of my new name. It was 1975 and I had just arrived in Canada without knowing a single word of English. While I don’t have many specific memories of my early years here, my insides still tighten recalling how I felt: lost, confused, sad.
My mother, who is an avid reader, insisted her children get public library cards. What was the point, I wondered, of getting books when I couldn’t read them? To my wonderful surprise, our local library had a great collection of vinyl records. I would listen to music, I reasoned; I could even do that with my eyes closed, thus cleverly avoiding having to read English.
I fell in love with the soundtrack from Mary Poppins. Songs like “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Chim-Chim Cheree” made me get up and dance. Without realizing it, I started singing along. When I finally learned how to say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, I was overjoyed. I loved too how the music and its changes in tempo and mood helped me relax and feel good.
Billy Joel remains my all time favourite singer ever since I borrowed his “Piano Man” LP. Joel’s songs like “The Ballad of Billy the Kid”, told stories, so I found myself beginning to pay attention to the lyrics. Singing along helped me with pronunciation practice. I would look up words and without even knowing it, I started using the slang I had picked up from one of his songs: “Well, it’s no big sin to stick your two cents in.” More than language lessons, music played on vinyl records during my early years in Canada taught me about my new culture and the way of life here. I also ended up falling in love with reading, writing, and even singing!
Ann Y.K. Choi was born in Chung-Ju, South Korea, and immigrated with her family to Canada in 1975. She holds an Honours BA and a Bachelor of Education. In 2012, she graduated from the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies’ Creative Writing Program, winning their award for top final manuscript. Her debut novel, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was published by Simon & Schuster Canada in May 2016. A high school teacher, she lives in Toronto, Canada. Visit her online at http://www.annykchoi.com or follow her on Twitter @annykchoi.