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What Is Literacy Essay, Research Paper

When I think of the word literacy, I think of the ability to read and write in a way that enables a person to function as a contributing member of society. A couple of weeks ago, I would have considered myself a very literate person. However, after reading the texts for this class, this view of myself has changed. I have become aware that there are many types of literacy existing in today?s world. These include textual literacy, writing literacy, oral literacy, visual literacy and technological literacy (Howard). These five examples support the idea that the definition of the word literacy is very ambiguous.

Learning to read is a very exciting accomplishment in a person?s education. I can remember the first time that I read a bedtime story to my mother, instead of her reading one to me. I felt so proud and smart and wanted to read a lot more. As I continued my education, I developed a better understanding of reading, which allowed me to read more difficult texts. I learned that words mean nothing by themselves, but as a text they represent a plethora of ideas. A person needs to interpret and think about a text so that important ideas come forward. They need to be taught to think critically or as the saying goes ?read between the lines.? According to Rebecca Howard, a professor at Syracuse University in New York, critical thinking involves ?the ability to make connections between a text and others that you have read- as well as connections between the text and what you have previously thought or experienced.? It also involves being open minded about what you have read and being respectful towards other people?s opinions. Reading includes having the ability to interpret what you have read and being able to pick out the author?s main points. Therefore, although being able to read ?The Cat in the Hat? was a big achievement for me, the actual process of learning to read continued as I grew older.

Interconnected with reading literacy is written literacy. Writing is a major form of communication that is essential to a person?s success (Anson, Schwegler, & Muth vii). Having the ability to express one?s thoughts, ideas, and feelings on paper is extremely important, especially in the business world. For example, although some people have secretaries and assistants to write for them, they themselves also spend many hours writing in their often-busy schedules. Becoming a good competent writer requires time and practice through hard work and learning. People become familiar with writing techniques through reading books and other texts as well. Writing literacy may take many years to acquire; however, it is a very important part of one?s success. Learning the proper techniques that should be taken into writing various forms of texts can help people become better writers (Anson, Schwegler, & Muth 7).

Speech is a highly interactive process, which is often forgotten about because, by its nature, speech leaves no permanent record except in the minds of the speaker and the listener. Language is the most important element of humanity (Langer 371). Building one?s vocabulary and being able to convey ideas and thoughts by means of talking is a major component of literacy. For this reason, it takes a while before a language is truly mastered. First parents teach young children to say simple words like ?mama? and ?dada?, then they go on to learn the alphabet, and finally learn how to use those letters to make up more complex words, which in turn make up sentences. Speaking is a major part of communication. We use it to explain certain situations, how we are feeling, and to tell stories. Knowing how to get your thoughts across to another person so that they are able to understand you is an important skill in today?s society. In turn, being able to listen and understand other people is also a significant part of oral literacy.

Visual literacy involves the ability to understand and produce visual messages (Howard). With the ever-expanding proliferation of mass media in society, visual literacy as a field of research, study, and teaching becomes increasingly important. As more and more information and entertainment is acquired through non-profit media such as television, the ability to think critically and visually about these images becomes a crucial skill. Both signs and symbols are a part of every day human activity, as they are used to represent things and events, which provoke a reaction from the observer. For example, if a person sees a stop sign when they are driving they would stop. However, if humans were to live in a world solely based on signs it would be very boring. This is the reason why symbols are also a very important part of human life. Symbols bring to mind what is being symbolized. Rather than thinking of the thing doing the symbolizing we think of what is being represented. For example, a dove is a symbol of peace. Understanding how these visual texts cause you to think about or do something is a major part of everyday life (Langer 368-372).

Technology has evolved to become a powerful medium. The trouble with technology is that it is always changing, usually at a rate that is too fast to keep up with. Computers, the World Wide Web, word processors, and databases are constantly being upgraded to do more so that people are required to become more knowledgeable about them. To be informed about the storage and retrieval of data on computers and reformatting this data into presentations alone does not make one literate, let alone give one information technology literacy. Almost everything in today?s society involves some type of technology. One can talk with a person from Switzerland via the Internet, change a television station without having to get up from the couch, and travel to outer space and the moon. All of these things are due to recent developments in technology that are being discovered every day. This is why technological literacy is so hard to attain because it involves so many things and new developments are made on a daily basis– so what is new one day, is old the next (Fanning).

If you were to look up the word literacy in the dictionary it would probably read as: ?the ability to read and write?. This definition, however, is very incomplete. Having these skills is only part of what it means to be fully literate. Many different types of literacy are being taught in the world around us making it highly unlikely that any one person to be fully literate in every aspect of our complex society. The student who got a 1600 on the SATs and is now attending Harvard may be the smartest student in the class, however, may know absolutely nothing about how a computer works (Rose 316-320). Therefore, there is not just one definition of the word literacy. Textual literacy, written literacy, oral literacy, visual literacy, and technological literacy are just five examples of the types of literacy that exist. There are many more. Simply having the ability to comprehend what is written in a text or knowing how to write letters and words is not all of what literacy is. Having the ability and/or the opportunity to practice these skills in other areas of study are what stimulate and promote full literacy (Robinson 346-351).


Anson, Chris M., Robert A. Swegler, and Marcia F. Muth. The Longman Writer?s

Companion. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 2000.

Howard, Rebecca. Home page. 19 Aug. 2000. 30 Sept. 2000.

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