My earliest memory of learning to read and write in school is of learning the alphabet. I can still see the small blackboard my dad put up in the kitchen for just such a thing, how it was the perfect size and height for a seven-year-old. I vividly remember printing the first half of the alphabet, my homework assignment from Sister Michaelynn. After practicing and practicing, I was so excited about being able to “write” that I decided to print the last half of the alphabet as well, staying in the kitchen long after the dishes were done and the only sound to be heard above the ticking of the clock was my chalk, talking to the blackboard. I fell in love with writing that night.
The next day, unable to contain my joy, I told Sister how easy and wonderful it had been to print all 26 letters. With devastating speed, she crushed my enthusiasm. Rather than the words of praise I expected, she scolded me for disobeying her by doing more than I was assigned to do. She told me that I wasn’t allowed to move ahead of the class, and admonished me to do as I was told the next time. Although it was clear that I’d done something wrong, I didn’t know why it was wrong. I remember feeling defeated, but at the same time I felt a rising defiance. It was the first of many times I would question the wisdom of the nuns, even if I was too frightened of them to voice my thoughts out loud. That night, I went home and practiced the alphabet—the whole alphabet—on the small blackboard behind the kitchen door. Fortunately for me, Sister Michaelynn presented the only obstacle to my education as a writer. Like some kids love sports or science, I truly loved English, and as the years went by and the little girl grew, that love only deepened.
I’m the grownup version of that girl, and my love of writing has never diminished. I’ve learned, though, that not everyone shares my passion. For many people, writing is a chore at best, and for some it’s almost painful. For an English language learner, getting beyond conversation to putting words on paper can be especially intimidating with grammar, punctuation, and spelling to be reckoned with. Yes, learning to write in English can be an enormous challenge, but it’s a challenge worth taking because once a writer finds her voice, she’ll never have to be silent again.
Command the written word!