I was born without the ability to see or hear. For the first few years of my life, I was cut off from the world around me, unable to communicate with anyone. But then, one day, everything changed.
A woman named Annie Sullivan came to live with us, and she began to teach me how to communicate using sign language. Slowly but surely, I began to understand the world around me. Language opened up a whole new world for me, and I will be forever grateful for that.
Helen Keller’s short story “The Day Language Came into My Life” is an inspiring tale of how the power of communication can change someone’s life.
Helen Keller (1880-1968) lost her sight and hearing as a toddler due to illness, at the age of eighteen months. Keller became increasingly wild and unruly during the next five years of her childhood as she fought against her dark and silent world. In “The Day Language Came into My Life,” Keller recounts how Anne Sullivan, her tutor, came to teach her language when she was seven years old.
Sullivan began by teaching Keller the meanings of common objects such as “mug” and “key.” She then moved on to more difficult words, spelling them out in Keller’s hand. Finally, Sullivan showed Keller how to express her own thoughts and ideas in words. For the first time, Keller could communicate with the world around her.
The experience was both exhilarating and overwhelming for Keller. She later wrote, “That day I learned that everything has a name, and that language is the key to all doors.” From then on, she was determined to learn as much as she could about the world through language. Thanks to Sullivan’s patient tutelage, Keller went on to become one of the most famous and inspiring figures of the twentieth century.
The day I recall most fondly in my life is the day Anne Mansfield Sullivan, my teacher, came to me. When I consider the incalculable difference between the two lives it connects, I am filled with awe. It was on the third of March 1887, three months before I turned seven years old.
On that memorable day, I stood on the threshold of a new life, at the opening of a door which I had never suspected was there. Miss Sullivan brought me my first doll, a beautiful big-eyed baby which blinked and smiled just like any other child. I was so happy that I hugged and kissed her, as any other little girl would have done. It was through this doll that I learned the word “baby.” From that time onLanguage began for me to have meaning.
When Miss Sullivan came to me, I was living in a great black night. The morning after my teacher’s arrival, it seemed to me that everything in the room had changed overnight. The furniture appeared lighter and more cheerful; even the walls seemed to have changed color, and the windows seemed larger and more friendly.
It was not long before I began to understand some of the words which Miss Sullivan spelled into my hand. I knew then that “m-u-g” meant cup, and I was eager to learn more. My teacher had brought me a key to unlock the door which had shut me in so dark and lonely a prison. As the days went on, more and more words were learned, until they fell into place like the pieces of a puzzle, and I could see patterns and meanings emerge.
On that exciting day, I was standing on the porch dumfounded and expectant. Something odd was supposed to happen, according to my mother’s signs and the racing around in the house, so I went to the door and waited on the steps. The sunshine streaming through the honeysuckle canopy fell on my face as it illuminated it.
I was bareheaded, and the sunrays played about my hair with a strange delight. Suddenly I heard a new sound–a very faint, peculiar sound. I did not know what it was, but I knew that somehow it was connected with me.
I tried to walk toward the noise, but something held me back. Then my mother spelled into my hand the word “water.” Eagerly I ran down the steps and felt my way along the path to the well-house, where the cool water gushed forth from its granite cup. I scooped some up in my hands and dashed it over my hot face and neck.
When I returned to the house, they were all gathered on the porch–my father, my mother, Aunt Ev, and Martha. I did not know why they were there, but I was glad to be with them.
Then it was that Annie Sullivan came. When I first saw her, she was standing on the porch with my family, looking at me intently. Something in her eyes made me trust her at once–the kind look, the helpful look, that has never left her face since that time.
She spelled “H-E-L-P” into my hand. That was the beginning of a new life for me; for from that moment my spirit began to grow wings. Language had come to set me free. It gave me a power I had never dreamed of–the power to understand and the power to be understood.
From that time on, my world has been filled with words. Language has given me a way to know the thoughts and deeds of other people, and has made it possible for me to share my own thoughts and feelings with them. It has opened wide the gates of paradise, so that now all nature is mine, and I can enjoy it to the full.
I owe Annie Sullivan more than I can ever repay her; but I am glad that I can show my love for her by trying to help other deaf children who are still in the dark prison of silence. And that is why I have told you this story so that you, too, may know the joy and happiness that come with the power of speech.