1. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    foreign fluent speakers writing in English - for or against?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by jazzabel, Mar 31, 2013.

    Hi all,
    I have a question. It's been puzzling me for a while and I wanted to hear your opinions on it.

    In today's world we are seeing an expansion of anglo culture, and it's enabled the world for the first time in a long time, to better understand each other because so many people speak good English, regardless where they are from.
    Also, there are increasing numbers of immigrants who speak English fluently, and are able to write books.

    However, I noticed that non-native speakers tend to come up with novel ways of expressing thoughts, via slightly different syntax and novel metaphors, and even if it's all perfectly correct and understandable, a native English speaker will know the writer is a "foreigner" (relative term, of course).

    What is your personal tolerance for this feeling of knowing that you are reading a book by a non-native English speaker?

    Would you advise that writing needs to be completely anglicised or do you welcome novel ways of expression, as long as they are grammatically and syntactically correct?
     
  2. ventrue
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    ventrue New Member

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    I know what you mean, even though I see the issue from a different angle, because I am one of those foreigners trying their luck with English ;-)

    My goal is to be indistinguishable from a native speaker. Mistakes are acceptable (and when talking to people sometimes even desirable) as long as a native speaker would make them as well.
     
  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know what you mean ventrue. I'm a foreigner also, living in an English speaking country for 20 years. I speak English better than a lot of native speakers, due to my education. But, when I write fiction, I notice that the more I insist on fully anglicising all my thoughts, the more my "voice" is lost. I find that I am giving up on mental pictures which I have only because I am bilingual, and thus not expressing myself fully.
    Likewise, when I write in my native language, I use a lot of anglicisms and I translate the mental pictures derived from English language into my native language (serbo-croatian), which also readers of that material find interesting.

    With German, if the English didn't accept concepts like 'gestalt', 'ubermensch' and 'schadenfreude' (to name a few) English language would be much poorer for it. Sometimes there is no other way but to let it show, either by using a foreign word, a proverb, a metaphor, or even just expressing it in a unexpected way, in order to bring something valuable to the reader.
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Any chance of hearing a native speaker's opinion?
    Some foreigners who wrote in English are Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Konrad, Salman Rushdie. Milan Kundera wrote in French (also not his native language).

    I would really appreciate an honest opinion, whatever it may be :)
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    limitless...

    NEVER!

    absolutely...

    as a mentor and professional writing services provider, i am often working with writers to whom english is an 'added' language... in doing so, i always make it a point to retain their individual cultural/national 'voice' and bend over backwards to not 'anglicise' the often lovely, lyrical phrasing/tone spillover from their native tongue that is generally missing from the much plainer american or british english...

    having done so for so long, i can almost always tell from what part of the world a non-english language-born writer is, by their writing style... i particularly love the melodic feel of prose from those on the sub-continent...

    jazzy-belle...
    for your own sake and that of your readers please don't let your 'voice' be lost!... celebrate it... revel in it... use it to allow readers to be opened up to the beauties of other languages and cultures...

    namaste/abracci e baci/abrazos y besos/love and hugs, maia
     
  6. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you maia, for such a lovely comment. I try very hard to achieve that, and I am encouraged by your words, as I hope are others who struggle with the same question.

    Ljubav i zagrljaji/love and hugs :)
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The people who would actually mind the fact that they're reading a book written by a "foreigner" are racist and it's not worth you worrying about pleasing them. I think it's wonderful that you have quirky, interesting ways of saying something because of the language spillover - keep it, don't try to change it. Write how you want to write - as long as it's grammatically correct, I don't see why it should be a problem.

    I have no idea if I have such "spillovers" - I haven't thought in Chinese for over a decade. I was far too young when I emigrated, so you can safely consider me a native speaker, which I am, but my perspective on these things will never totally be English.
     
  8. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    As long as I can understand what they are writing--and like their way of expressing themselves--then I'm cool with it.
     
  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I would enjoy the unique qualities that a non-native speaker brings to the table. However, from my experience, I can never tell if the writer is a non-native speaker or not. For example, had I not known the author of Lolita, I would never have guessed that Nabokov wasn't a native speaker (to be fair, he learned English at an early age and spoke it at home along with French and Russian, so I'm not sure this counts). Conrad is another example. In fact, I didn't know he learned English late in life until after I had read Heart of Darkness. I've read Rushdie as well, though I think he also learned English at an early age.

    I've read plenty of short stories written by non-native English speakers (from Asian and South American countries mostly), and I don't remember any distinguishing quality in the writing that immediately made me think that these stories were written by non-native speakers. The thing about literature in general is that there is plenty of room to explore with style, syntax, etc. Therefore, you have native English speakers who use unorthodox syntax when writing, and you have non-native speakers who use an easy-to-read style.

    The bottom line is that I enjoy uniqueness in a writer so please don't anglicize your writing. If I read your book/story, I would simply assume that you write in a unique style and not that you're a non-native speaker.
     
  10. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    Learning a second language will help you master your native language and thus improve your writing. With that being said, a writer will always perform better in the language he uses the most unless he is exceptionally gifted. Personally, I've attempted to write in English, but I feel much less confident as it always seems that I am a fraud for doing so and I fear that native speakers will find tons of mistakes that I don't even understand. I really do enjoy the English language, and I dare say that I read more novels in that language than I do in French. On the other hand, even though I've been learning English for several years, and despite all the efforts I put in mastering it, I am not totally comfortable writing in it (Heck, most of the time I'm intimidated by posting on this forum, so I would never consider trying to publish an English novel).
     
  11. ventrue
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    ventrue New Member

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    Yeah. If I saw no other way, I would of course express something in an unusual way. But I would want to do that intentionally, and that is what would separate it from a mistake or accident. I'm not comfortable writing something if I don't know for sure that it will make sense and come across the way I want.
    When I'm writing in the dark like that (so to speak ;-)), I always think of Germans who use bad English: I know what they're trying to say, because I can translate it back literally into gramatically correct German sentences, but in English, it's just plain wrong, there's nothing creative about it. I guess it works the same way with things like proverbs (which I find particularly difficult). Making mistakes here just isn't as obvious.
     
  12. cswillson
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    cswillson Member

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    You mean someone like Joseph Conrad? I love his novels. Chance changed the way I look at life. The African Queen is iconic.

    I guess you could say, however, that English is my second language. I was raised in Arkansas.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    jb...
    thanks for adding a couple of croation words to my list of languages!

    mckk...
    i'm floored!... never would have guessed you weren't born in the us... and i sure missed the panda avatar hint at your birth-land... you've absorbed english so completely that i've always considered you one of the most helpful/knowledgeable/experienced writing advisors we have here on the forum...
     
  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Wow thank you for the high praise, especially coming from someone like yourself, as you have pretty high standards :D Haha the panda's actually only there 'cause it's cute, it's a Japanese merchandise character, but I forget what it's called. I was born in Hong Kong actually. Cantonese is technically my mother tongue, but it's not really anymore, if that makes sense. My English is far better lol. And I was raised in the UK actually ;) but my share of Hollywood movies and American novels may have influenced the way I write - never did quite work out the difference between British and American English when it comes to writing!
     
  15. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Nee: That's enirely understandable, and I feel the same way :)

    @thirdwind: that is a very interesting point, that you'd assume it was an unique style. That's exactly what it is, I didn't realise before :)

    @ Rebel Yellow: I know what you mean. I've been speaking English almost exclusively for many years, and I wrote loads (non-fiction mainly) and I became 100% comfortable. The only thing I don't do yet is maths calculations in my head in English (they say that's a true sign of what is your mother tongue). And yet, it took me 2 years of self-imposed studying to dare to attempt a novel in English, due to the concerns you mentioned. But in the end, the desire to write and be published overtook and I am glad it did because what I am capable of writing now is actually quite promising.
    For what it's worth, it is not obvious from your words that you aren't a native English speaker at all. Your English is excellent :)

    @ventrue: hehe, I know the bad German English, it's a classic :D But your English is so not like that at all. I sometimes intentionally try to translate something, like a really cool proverb, and they can be difficult. Currently I am working on one, see if it makes sense yet:

    @cswilson: I really like southern American accents, they are very soft and warm :)

    @maia: my pleasure :) they are exactly the same in serbian, bosnian and montenegrin ;)
     
  16. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    Thanks for the compliment. I find your experience inspiring, and perhaps I should consider trying what you did. :)
     
  17. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    You know, I always thought people in Canada are bilingual (English and French). It's a pity it isn't actually so because both languages are useful and very beautiful. But you are very close to a lot of English speaking world, and moving there for a while is the best way to completely immerse yourself. I live in an English speaking country for the past 20 years and I studied medicine here, and worked, I don't think I'd learn it this well of it wasn't for all that. When I emigrated I was 17, I knew English from school, but that was pretty shoddy.
     
  18. ventrue
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    ventrue New Member

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    Yes, it does make sense. I am unable to really grasp it right now (by that I mean the deepest of deep meanings of it), but that's because I haven't slept in 27 hours. I'm quite sure it is there ;-)
     
  19. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Aw, thank you :) And I hope you get some good sleep soon.

    It means, for example, when you find yourself in a really bad situation, because of a setup of some kind, somebody wants to hurt you and you are going through tough times because of it, to remember that in all that, whoever is trying to hurt you will eventually reveal him or herself to others or slip up in some way, so you can use that to bring them down.

    You are the hill, the enemy is the beast and the trouble and all that stuff is the snow. It's an old Serbian proverb, we've had just about everyone try to take our land throughout history, it just keeps happening because it's crossroads between East and West, so there's a lot of patience and subversion in our culture.

    It'sa battle advice if you wish, but like Sun Tzu, it's applicable in a lot of situations in life.

    In the original, it says

    It's a thought I'd like to share with my readers :)
     
  20. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've never really paid attention to the native tongue of authors - I rarely pay attention to anything other than their name (if I want to read more of their books). I do think it's important for the language to be correct for the country the book is being published in - it's not just English, after all. A book published in Germany should follow the grammatical rules for German; in France, the rules for French, etc. There are many examples of using a 'foreign language' phrase or word to get the author's point across, and I have no problem with those (although I don't always know what they mean). The main thing, for me anyway, is to make sure the words/phrases are communicating to the reader what the author wants to communicate. If the language used is too 'foreign', it won't do that.

    Don't know if that answers the OP or not...
     
  21. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    Canada is a billingual country, however Quebec consists mostly of French speakers and there are laws that prohibit the use of the English language to protect our language and culture. In example, you cannot go to an English high school if both of your parents are francophone and companies also have strict regulations (there are even talks to force companies to adopt a French name in Quebec). While I understand we are a minority and we need to take protective measures, it is also very limiting and creates a language barrier with the rest of the country. Most people who are bilingual around here have taught themselves because what little English we learn in school isn't sufficient for proficiency.

    On the other hand, too few anglophones bother learning French here, or they learn it and don't use it. It is really sad that this problem divides our nation, and it is one of the main reasons the government of Quebec wants independence. You are right though, I should probably move to another province for a year to improve my skills.

    Where did you live before you moved?
     
  22. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @shadowwalker: yes of course, I feel the same. I also try to go a step further and translate those proverbs or metaphors in a way that's truly understandable. I'd be pretty anxious about putting something in my book that wouldn't be easily understood, I wouldn't do it. It's more a flavour to language, @maia described it best. I recognise it in others and in myself, but I am also a bit paranoid, I'm sure :)

    @Rebel Yellow: I was in Serbia, in Belgrade. We are all about those kinds of divisions, and it never works to the society's advantage. The best way is to have a truly bilingual nation, everyone has to be fluent in both.
    In Belgrade we had to learn two foreign languages plus our own in school, and it worked really well :)
     
  23. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    I completely agree with you, but it's hard to convince a whole nation.
     
  24. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is an interesting topic to me as well, and I have to admit that I'm surprised at the positivity in this thread! On another distinguished writing forum, let's not name it to avoid forum wars, the consensus was that as long as you didn't mention your nationality, your WIP was critiqued without a hiccup, but those who did mention it, were greeted with reactions such as: "why do you have to write in English?" "why don't you write in your mother-tongue?" and even "please don't write in English, just stick to your first language". I mean, when ESL/EFL writers wrote very, very well, no grammar mistakes, and still you get this kind of feedback?!

    Anywhoop-de-doo, I am absolutely AMAZED when I read a novel written in my mother-tongue, Finnish, by someone whose first language is not Finnish. It's so fascinating! Ok, I'm a bit of a linguist, aaand a language teacher to boot, so no wonder, but it just seems to enrich the language so much to have the input of FFLs to be added into our literary canon.

    I suppose I wouldn't directly translate idioms and proverbs though. "Fuck this tilted field" must make sense in Bulgarian, but in Finnish and English it just seems a bit... weird.
     

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