Writing while tri-lingual
I am not trying to brag (although feel free to post your admiration in comments and send flowers to the address you see below) but speaking three languages fluently is somewhat of an accomplishment. Yet, as I am discovering in my journey of a writer, a bigger accomplishment is remembering which words belong in which language.
When I am in the flow, words just appear. They seem to tumble out of an area of my brain that literally has a feeling for what is needed in that particular sentence. But that area doesn’t seem to distinguish between languages. As a result, I produce sentences with foreign words in them and I don’t even suspect it until one of my readers says: “Err, what does this mean exactly?” Needless to say, I am eternally grateful to those readers – Nicola, Julia, Clare, Miriam, Andrew, David, Sue … you know who you are.
And then there are times when my brain pushes out a foreign word but in this case I am aware that it’s foreign. Yet when I try to find the equivalent in the language I am writing in, it goes all amnesiac on me. So I take that word and I plug it into Google translate. But, alas, as with all things Google—and especially road trip estimates—results are approximate. Which then sends me on a chase through various Thesaurus sites in order to try to find the exact word I feel needs to be there.
Writing while not being a native speaker
I write in my second language—English. Mostly because I never learned how to write well in my mother tongue. The educational system in my birth country valued math, physics, and chemistry above all else. The only writing we did was in our classes of literature and even then we copied everything we wrote. No one wanted to be called stupid for doing it wrong—out teachers’ preferred method of instruction—and so we scouted libraries for forgotten introductions and epilogues. Since there was no internet back then and no way to get caught, we got away with it. But we also never learned to write.
Because I write in my second language I can never actually tell if what I’ve written makes sense, sounds fluid to a native speaker, or even merits reading. But the worst by far is trying to find a metaphor and unknowingly ending up with a cliché. If I had a penny for every time one of my readers pointed out a cliché in my writing I’d have been able to buy a small island already. You see? Even here I could not resist.
And then there is one more thing. I feel terribly self-conscious about my writing—and especially now as I write this post. Because all I am hearing in my head is this:
“Yeah, I can totally see she isn’t a native English speaker.”
“Her writing sucks.”
“She’ll never make it as a writer.”
Which is why the next installment of Writing While… will feature “Writing While submitting and getting rejected.”