Many people I know from the United States seem confused and shocked when I mention that I did not speak English until I was in fourth grade. However, in Spanish classes, it was different. In middle school, with a teacher that did not know Spanish yet was teaching the class for a while, my grade suffered for no reason other than my work "getting lost" and her believing I did not turn it in, despite always handing my work in her hand. My mom, knowing it was a Spanish class and not knowing why my grade was so low, went to speak to the teacher, and did it only in Spanish. The teacher did not understand and wanted my brother to translate. That was when we both realized that someone without knowledge of the language was teaching the class and was giving me, a native speaker, low grades, without actually knowing or understanding Spanish.
In high school, I took second year Spanish during my freshman year. One of the first quizzes we had was to write the names of Spanish-speaking countries. However, he would say every name and we had to write it down, and he made clear emphasis on where the accents were supposed to be placed. When we graded our quizzes, I got all of the answers correct and when I turned it in, he asked me if I cheated because, to him, there simply was no way I could know how to spell all of the names and place the accents in the correct letter. I had to remind him that his clear emphasis while giving us the quiz would allow anyone in a second year class to place the accents correctly.
Fast forward to my JYA in Spain. It seems that whenever most professors hear that they have "American students" in the class, to them it means the students will not understand what is discussed or read. Despite speaking to them personally, when it's time to read in class, I get asked if I would rather skip the long passage and have a Spanish student read it. And, when they see I can read it, their eyes widen in surprise and the inevitable "Pero lees muy bien" comes next.
I have received looks and comments of shock about my command of Spanish more times than I would like, and they have not stopped, even here.
-- Karen Banda