your composition, and I’m afraid you don’t belong in my class. In fact, your writing skills are so poor I
suggest you explore other options. College may not be in the cards for you.”
professor’s words stung, and fiercely. I
had just turned eighteen and had recently returned to California. The previous seven
years I had been living in Nicaragua, completely immersed in a Spanish-speaking
universe. English—the language of the
first eleven years of my life—had retreated to a dormant part of my brain.
It would be a few years before my
birth language returned to the forefront.
in spite of the instructor’s admonition, I remained in college. His words, however,
severely traumatized me. For years, I believed myself incapable of writing clearly
But I loved
to write. Of that much I was sure.
My teachers in Nicaragua had
validated my affection for the written word. They often praised how well I
expressed myself in what was, in essence, my second language.
But on that day, as I stood before
the professor, English was hiding in the nether-regions of my brain. I was
frustrated because I couldn’t produce the correct words to ask him to be
patient, to allow time for my birth language to return—which was something I
knew would eventually happen.
And, yes, the
language of my childhood did return.
Still, my confidence when writing in English remained low. I never imagined anyone
would take pleasure from something I composed in my “native” tongue.
Under these circumstances, Spanish,
my adopted language, became my creative outlet. During my idle hours, I filled
notebooks with poetry—and English was reserved for term papers, reports, and
The college instructor’s statement would
haunt me for decades. And although a few
years later I ended up writing and editing newsletters for several
organizations—professionally, and in English—I felt like an imposter.
I only spent a week in his classroom, I have often thought about my first
college English instructor. Because of
his remark, writing in English became an intimidating mountain that I had to
struggle to scale.
present, when I’m feeling somewhat proud of how far I’ve come, I wonder what he