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Award-Winning High School Senior Says Struggling With Language Pushed Her To Write

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh CAPA senior Zainab Adisa poses for a portrait at her high school.

Zainab Adisa’s love for writing blossomed in high school, but it took her some time to get there. She spent several years in elementary school in English as a second language classes.

“I thought I was fine, but apparently (teachers) heard what I couldn’t,” she said.

Adisa was born in the United States, but her family immigrated from Nigeria. Her family spoke Yoruba at home, which made learning English challenging, she said. 

The senior at Pittsburgh Creative and Preforming Arts school was recently awarded the Gold Medal Portfolio scholarship from National Scholastic for her poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing. She was one of only 16 students in the country to receive the award out of more than 330,000 applicants.

One of her poems, “language barrier,” describes her struggle with language and pronouncing the ‘th’ sound in English.

“My mom says our dialect does not know of a ‘th’ sound. We do not know of a slick way of the tongue that winds and slithers like the river back home,” Adisa writes in her poem.

The poem describes Adisa’s experience in the ESL classes and being embarrassed when she was unable to pronounce words correctly.

Adisa will attend American University in the fall with a focus on International Studies. She said she hopes to minor in creative writing.