Writing in English When English is Not My Native Language

By guest blogger Marina Nazarov

My English learning journey began about 11 years ago when I immigrated to USA. The only English words I knew that time were: Hello, Thank You, and Please. Those are the staples of etiquette somewhat, but the reality was brutal: I wasn’t able to communicate even on a basic level.

I made friends in my community, who were kind enough to help me out for the first few months. I felt uncomfortable to ask them often, so I reserved the right to call for help only on very important subjects like renting my first apartment, opening bank account, etc. The rest I took in my own hands. Literally, I took in my hands a small pocket dictionary. I always carried it with me, and when I had issues communicating, which at that time was 95% of the time, I would find a word(s), point it out to a person, then I would pronounce it and then that person would correct me, often just smiling.

The first word I learned was attitude. One of my friends took me to a waterfront party on Lake Washington, where everyone spoke just English. I was standing at the shore inhaling beauty of the scene, amazed by the surroundings. Then I heard a chat behind my back, of course not understanding a word. I wasn’t aware that one of the guests was talking to me.

When he appeared before my eyes and started to talk to me, the only option I had was to politely smile. I dug out of my bag my slightly worn brown dictionary, that I bought at used book store at University District in Seattle, and had my “conversation”: I would point the word, then I asked the person to show me his word(s). Yes, it was sloooow moving dialogue. Then my friend came to the rescue and translated what the person wanted to know about me. We were laughing, we had a good time.

In the end, when it was time to leave, my new friend from the shore came to me and said: you have a good attitude. I looked at my friend to see her reaction: was it a compliment? Was I supposed to say something back or just plain Thank You would do? Then my new friend showed me on my dictionary, I opened it and he quickly found the word: Attitude – A state of mind or a feeling.

With that “good attitude” I left the party, and carried the feeling through.

I cannot emphasize enough how positive thinking, a good attitude affects someone’s ability to speak, write and read in English (or any other language for that matter).

On my path to this writing I had some bumps, few road blocks, even detours. But that never stops me or anchors me to the stage I am in. I am stubborn and keep looking for a ways until I find a fairway and can sail again in the ocean of English language.

A few months ago I was stuck. Some may call it a plateau, which is a natural stage in any learning process, but I call it stuck. I wasn’t ready to give up (because I am stubborn, yes). I Googled a few words: “writing stuck advice,” which lead me to this blog, to a post From Stuck to Unstuck in One Easy Step.

I left a comment and a few days later the author [guest blogger Deonne Kahler] replied to my comment, then Milli sent me a kind e-mail. This fact itself gave me so much confidence and charged my brain with the same “good attitude,” that that very moment I felt a big relieve, I had a big happy smile on my face, and I was grateful to Milli for all this.

Then I received a few encouraging paragraphs from Milli’s students, and my world changed: I had enough air to breathe again, I wasn’t afraid to be stuck anymore. I know I could always go back to the paragraphs Milli’s students sent me, read it, receive that boost of positivity and move on or . . . stay on a plateau.

I also realized that it is perfectly normal to be on the plateau – it is our body’s/mind’s defensive reaction, it’s a signal to stay put and absorb/process what we loaded in.

I received so much needed act of encouragement, which is extremely important to me and to many people as well. We all need words of encouragement, words that make us more hopeful, more determined, and confident.

Good attitude and encouragement melts fear away, and opens the door to the new opportunity. Please, feel free to comment or e-mail me, I am glad to help you.

Acknowledgement. My big thanks go to Milli Thornton, and to her students of Fear of Writing Online Course: Caroline, Meg, Karen, Cram and John.

Marina Nazarov

Marina Nazarov


My name is Marina Nazarov. Eleven years ago I came to the US with degree in journalism and TV production. My life changed the moment I stepped my foot on this land. I worked jobs far from what my degree had to offer, but I appreciate everyone of them as those jobs gave me the opportunity to immerse myself into the american life, and helped me to understand a new culture and a new language. To learn more about me and what I am working on at this time, please, visit my blog, www.picnicatmarina.com, where I unleash my creative self.

Please leave a comment for my guest writer

25 Responses to Writing in English When English is Not My Native Language
  1. Estrella Azul
    April 10, 2012 | 5:32 AM

    I really liked reading this, as I’m a writer and English is my third language. And yet, for me it’s somewhat different because I still live in Kolozsvar, and yet my writing only really “comes naturally” in English 🙂

    I’m glad the article, Milli’s e-mail and her student’s thoughts have helped you when you needed it. That is what I also love about Milli!

    • Marina
      April 10, 2012 | 10:36 PM

      Thanks Estrella for your comment. Yes, Milli is an amazing person with a biggest heart.

  2. Crysstal
    April 10, 2012 | 8:53 AM

    Actually, this is very inspirational post…There are a lot of people who want to learn how to speak and write english and you can be their inspiration…

    • Marina
      April 10, 2012 | 10:38 PM

      Thank you Crysstal! I hope to inspire people. I’ve been there and I know first hand how hard it is sometimes to make a first step, then the second, then sometimes inspiration is needed on thirty seventh step too! 🙂

  3. Patrick Ross
    Twitter: patrickrwrites
    April 10, 2012 | 4:25 PM

    What an inspiring post. Marina, thank you for sharing your story, and Milli, thank you for introducing me to her and her prose.

    One of the writers in my writer’s group is originally from the Czech Republic. I am repeatedly amazed at how vividly she writes in a second language. Occasionally you see a problem with homonyms (using one word instead of another that sounds alike), but otherwise you’d never know. A good writer will find a way to be heard and understood.

    • Marina
      April 10, 2012 | 10:40 PM

      Thank you Patrick. Hearing about other’s writers always means a lot to me. I feel that I am not alone anymore.

  4. Marina
    April 10, 2012 | 10:15 PM

    Thank you Milli for giving me this opportunity to share my story. I am thrilled to be published on your blog: the great place to be inspired and be creative.

  5. Annie Neugebauer
    Twitter: AnnieNeugebauer
    April 12, 2012 | 1:46 PM

    Hi Marina,

    This is a very inspiring post, even to someone who isn’t learning a second language. Thank you for sharing it!

    Have you “met” 83 October online? 83 has a writing blog, too, and talks about the trials of writing in English as a second language sometimes as well. This post, in particular, is relevant: http://83october.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/why-write/

    Anyway, you’re definitely right about attitude being important. And clearly, yours will take you far. Nice post, and good luck with your future writings.

  6. Carmen
    April 12, 2012 | 10:38 PM

    That was an influential blog. Thank you for sharing these with us. I am not a native English too, and I do more studies to learn.

    • Marina
      April 12, 2012 | 11:02 PM

      Carmen, the road is not easy and not even, but it is extremely interesting! Good luck!

  7. Marina
    April 12, 2012 | 10:59 PM

    Thank you Annie. I will check 83October, sounds intriguing.

  8. Liz
    April 13, 2012 | 4:16 AM

    Until now I did studying English, its usage and correct grammar. Thank you Marina for letting me join the conversation.

    • Marina
      April 15, 2012 | 11:32 PM

      You are always welcome Liz!

  9. Carole
    Twitter: cjtreggett
    April 13, 2012 | 8:49 AM

    Hi Marina,
    Wow, what a lovely post. I agree with Patrick when he says a good writer will find a way to be heard and understood. I’m so glad you persisted with learning English so I and your other readers could enjoy your work!

    Thanks to wonderful Milli for encouraging you to share your writing here on her blog.

    • Marina
      April 13, 2012 | 11:26 AM

      Thank you Carole! Every single comment lifts my spirit and gives me more encouragement. I deeply appreciate it!

  10. lariane
    April 13, 2012 | 9:01 AM

    It was a wonderful post. Thank you that you share these. I keep studying English for my job. Its usage and right grammar.

  11. Marina
    April 13, 2012 | 11:24 AM

    Lariane, you will get there. Just remember it takes time, so don’t give up when things don’t go as smooth as you’d like. Good luck!

  12. Karen Ann
    April 14, 2012 | 1:35 PM


    The only language I know is English and I think you have a better grasp on the language than do I.

    I think you write beautifully and this piece was inspiring just to read.

    I loved your comment “I wasn’t afraid to be stuck anymore” is something I need to learn. I should never be afraid to be stuck. All I have to do is ask for help. There are many who will help me.

    Thank you…………….karen

    • Marina
      April 15, 2012 | 11:30 PM

      Thank you Karen. I completely understand your feelings, and yes, when you open up, fear starts to disappear. I think it’s all about being afraid to admit our weakness es to ourselves. Good luck!

  13. balvinder ( Neetu)
    April 18, 2012 | 7:59 PM

    Marina, Thank you for sharing this. I feel the same way now as I do not get the opportunity to communicate in English. I work for my husband, mostly the work is with numbers so there is not much conversation involves with his staff.
    I just feel my English is bad and I should find sometime to take up some short course.

    • Marina
      April 18, 2012 | 8:26 PM

      Thank you Balvinder for your comment. Reading and watching TV with subtitles really helps. Although I don’t watch TV itself, just Netflix, but the idea is the same.

  14. Ramakrishna "Cram" Chavali
    April 29, 2012 | 7:08 AM

    HI Marina, Thank you for the post. I’m currently stuck and unable to go past my current assignment in the FoW Graduate course. Reading your article has given me sufficient encouragement to get started again. It’s a beautiful you said about getting stuck – “I also realized that it is perfectly normal to be on the plateau – it is our body’s/mind’s defensive reaction, it’s a signal to stay put and absorb/process what we loaded in.” I will also remember to have a good atttitude.

    – Cram.

    • Marina
      December 6, 2012 | 8:59 PM

      Hi Cram, sorry for delayed reply. I am glad this post helped you. We all reach plateau from time to time. And we need it, so don’t be discouraged, just do your best. 🙂 Good luck!

  15. John
    May 5, 2012 | 6:42 PM

    I enjoyed reading your inspiring posting. You seem to have a very positive attitude that serves you very well. I have been alone in a few hostile countries without even the ability of basic communication. I have found that reading body language is often more truthful than the spoken word. English is still my only language which I am still trying to master. You have my admiration for your fortitude and accomplishments. This was a great posting with an important message. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Marina
      December 6, 2012 | 9:03 PM

      Hi John, I am sorry for such late respond to your comment. Thank you for your kind words. I do too need encouragement from time to time, especially when in doubts or when making a first step into a new direction. And I often find it here.

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