The Journey of a Wise Man: A Fable for English Learners

1 A long time ago, there was a wise man living in a mountain country. The country was beautiful. But it was always difficult to find enough food.

2 The people of the High Country decided that they would travel together to the Low Country. When the snow began to melt, they packed all they owned into their wagons. With anticipation mixed with sadness, the wise man and his neighbors left their High Country homes.

3 The wise man noticed something strange taking place soon after they began their journey. As they traveled day after day, his right arm began to feel stiff. The further they traveled from the High Country, the weaker it became. Three things puzzled him. First, his arm always felt the weakest whenever they stopped in a village. Secondly, he noticed that when the travelers from the High Country gathered around a fire at night to talk among themselves, his arm became strong again.

4 His third discovery puzzled him the most. When he put his arm behind his back, it no longer felt stiff and useless.

5 One day the wise man was startled. As his wagon rounded a bend in a high mountain road, he looked down on his neighbors’ wagons ahead of him. He realized that many others were also holding an arm behind their back. As he looked more closely, he saw that some older people had even tied their arm in place with a rope.

6 Why, he wondered, was this happening?

7 At last they reached the Low Country. The weather was warm. The fields would produce grain and the forests would supply lumber for their houses. Life looked promising. Promising, that is, except for their weak arms. It was rumored that the Low Country’s air caused this strange weakness. Some of the people even said they must learn to live with this weakness if they wanted to stay in the Low Country.

8 The adults and children set to work. They cleared the land, planted crops, and prepared lumber to build their new homes. A High Country tailor sewed a new kind of coat that would hold the useless arm in place. He also put leather on the coat so the shoulder could push heavy loads. Even with the new coat, however, work was slow because everyone used only one arm.

9 Again, the wise man noticed a strange thing. First, he noticed that–even though it caused them pain–the children soon began using their weak arm again. Secondly, the wise man noticed that whenever the High Country people met together in their first buildings, if they shut all the doors and windows, strength returned to the arms of even the oldest men and women. “Surely,” most said, “this proves that the Low Country air is at fault.” Most agreed that the only solution was to build houses so strong that all Low Country air could be kept outside. But the wise man was puzzled most because the children seemed to become stronger while playing and working outside in the Low Country air.

10 The wise man watched his High Country neighbors trying to build their houses while using only one arm. He became fearful for his people’s welfare. The new coat helped them work faster with one arm. But winter was coming and neither the houses nor the crops would be ready if everyone continued to work with one arm behind their back.

11 The wise man learned a lesson from the children. He realized that–even though it was painful–using his weak arm for hard work was the only way to make it strong again. Because winter was coming, he knew that he could not stop working on his house in order to spend all his time trying to make his arm strong. But he also knew that he could not finish his house before winter unless he used both arms. The wise man decided that if he was to finish his house before winter, he must spend some time each day strengthening his arm so that he could finish his house more quickly.

12 The wise man spent time each day both strengthening his arm and working on his house. He finished his house before winter.

13 Some High Country people perished that winter because the snow came before their crops were harvested and their houses finished. They had worked slowly every day because they were afraid to stop working on their houses long enough to strengthen their weak arm.

14 If you live in the United States and cannot speak English well, you are living as though one arm was tied behind your back. You must work to support your family. But if you do not spend time each day learning English, you will be limited for the rest of your life. SPOKEN ENGLISH LEARNED QUICKLY was written so that you can study at home and still hold a job. If you will regularly study English each day for six months to a year, your English will greatly improve. You will be more able to earn higher wages, live more effectively in your community, and talk with your children as they learn English in school.