European Mama: Blogging in English as a non-native speaker
9th April 2013, 6 comments
Maybe you remember that when this blog first started, it was trilingual. I saw it as an exercise for my mind, a way to present the different sides of me, and write about different topics for different audiences.
Then I decided I wanted to reach a bigger audience. I found I was writing more and more about multilingualism and being an expat – things I could perfectly write about in English. So I started looking for some advice on how to write better in English. Among others, I found this article. While it seems helpful, I found a lot about it unfair. First, the writer assumes that mannerisms and "accents" in writing are a bad thing. Why? Speaking or writing with an accent isn't necessarily bad, because it shows that we're making an effort to speak the language.
Another thing that was a warning: "Perfection may forever elude you". What does it mean? That native speakers write in "perfect" English while we do not and never will? I often find that non-native speakers think about language in a very creative way, and often ask questions that natives can't answer. And it shows in their writing. Joseph Conrad is one of the most acclaimed writers of the English language, and yet he had a strong Polish accent when he spoke it. Salman Rushdie's command of English is awe-inspiring. It's not always the English speakers who speak perfect English.
Many times I heard from friends that it's hard to write in a language that's not your own – especially when we're talking something as personal as blogging. And it is true. I have the comparison because I already write in Polish for the website EgoDziecka. Writing in English is very different than writing in Polish – after all, I write for a different audience about different topics.
But it can be done. The fact that we have an "accent" in the way we write is not so bad. Blogging is about personal expression. It is as much about the bloggers as it is about their audience. We all have our personal styles, our way of writing. Some of these characteristics come from being a native speaker of a language that is not English.
This is who we are, and why should we be ashamed of it? After all, it is possible to write in English as a non-native speaker and still be read. I found that in most cases, people are more interested in what you have to say than how you're saying it, at least in writing – unless you make very obvious mistakes. I very honestly say in the header of my blog that I am Polish, and my readers don't expect perfect English from me. On the contrary, they want to read about my experiences as a Polish woman living in the Netherlands – and all that comes with it: accent, mannerisms, and my linguistic inventions – "techerous" anyone?
For all that would like to blog in English but are too afraid to try, I'd like for them to try to write at least one post. You can write about any topic, and it's a great mental exercise! For those of you who write in English and it's not your mother tongue – don't worry! I think the important thing in blogging is being yourself, mistakes and all.
Olga moved to the Netherlands in 2009 with a 6-week-old baby to be with her German husband. She is now mum to two trilingual daughters and expecting her third child. She is a translator, and trainer in intercultural communication. She blogs about her experiences on The European Mama, which focuses on expat life and raising trilingual children. It won the Expat Blog Award in 2012 and continues to gain readership from all over the world. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo credit: erink_photography.
6 comments on this article Add a comment
11th April 2013, 12:15:40 caroline posted:I think YOUR English is terrific! And who cares about accents. It's my native tongue and I get 'oh but you're Scottish'!! Great article/blogpost! So well done you... but I'm pretty sure Salman Rushdie also speaks English as a 1st language, as do many born in India, especially from his 'privileged' background.
11th April 2013, 13:46:30 Hugo Lindsay posted:Your English is excellent, and far better than that of many native speakers of English, who have not learned how to write their own language correctly.
11th April 2013, 17:15:35 Olga@ European Mama posted:Thank you for your kind comments, Caroline and Hugo. I was lucky enough to be raised in a language-rich environent (my parents are also bilingual and my mom is a native speaker of English). But I wanted to ancourage other bloggers and writers to write more in English, or at least to try- because what counts is what they have to say and not their language mistakes.
17th April 2013, 15:11:31 Charles Griffin posted:While writers of English sometimes give clues that it is not their first language, it is not easy to determine what might be their base or native language unless the name of the author has a distinct ethnic flavor.
Writing dialogue to show regional or national accents is another difficulty.
I suspect Mark Twain can be read differently by non-Americans than by Americans.
19th April 2013, 11:58:12 Mo Riddiford posted:What a great piece and I can only offer my respect and appreciation.
I only wish I could blog in German (my second language) as you're doing in English.
Having said that, and since your post concerns the meta-level of language and not just the content in a language, may I point you to the glories of the Present Perfect in English?
Despite its sad decline within American English, please compare "I've cooked some food" compared to "I cooked some food".
The first literally demands the reader/listener's greater curiosity to work out the implicit and definitely still current consequence/s of the explicit past action of cooking. It shoults present consequence of past action.
The first is fascinating, powerful and present whereas the second is ambiguous in an unhelpful way and only has power according to a context that is perhaps unclear when only seen written down.
The second could have happened twenty years ago and is now utterly irrelevant.
Choose the Present Perfect any chance you can, and your writing will pop!
24th April 2013, 20:23:02 Cristina posted:After reading this article, I find your English to be flawless and had you not revealed it, I would have never guessed that you are Polish. I agree 100% that one does not have to be a native speaker to speak or write "perfect" English. The notion of perfect English is laughable because my verbal and writing skills are superior to my husband who is American. I grew up bilingual and became trilingual when I moved to the US as a teenager. I lived there 20 years so naturally, I became fluent... like a native and very few thought that I had any accent.