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Are You a Non-Native English Speaker/Writer?

Poll closed Dec 16, 2011.
  1. YES

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  2. NO

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  1. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Non-Native English Writers' Thread

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Manav, Sep 17, 2011.

    As an aspiring non-native English writer, I face many writing and publising issues. Hopefully we can discuss those issues here with the native speakers and non-native speakers alike.

    The topic of each post should be related to non-native speakers/writers and their unique writing challenges. Any suggestion welcome.

    And please answer the poll question, which will give us an idea of how many non-native English speakers are here.
     
  2. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Topic: Using native language idioms in English writing

    Most of my stories are set in my native country, India, and hence the characters are Indians. Sometimes an idiomatic phrase in Hindi will come to my mind while writing a story. For example, kisika dhulai kerna is an idiom in Hindi which literally means "to wash somebody", but idiomatically (is this a word :confused: ) it means "to beat someone black and blue".

    I am sometimes tempted to use such idiomatic phrase in dialogues like, "I'd washed him well", of course, making it clear from the context that it meant "beating", because that's what the character is most likely to say. I think it can enriched my writing rather then deteriorate. What do you think?
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am a non english speaker, but I do write in my own language and I just discovered a problem that might be an obstacle for me to get my work published here. It seems that (some?) publishers here does not want stories that are set outside of this country, which is exactly what ALL of my novels are :(( I don't know if that is valid only for the thrillers or every genre (since our nations thrillers are synonym with the kind of small-town-police-investigating-mysterious-murders-in-the-idyllic-little-town-where-everyone-knows-everyone-novels.) I don't write thrillers but romance and now it got me seriously worried that it might be a problem, because I'm not willing to change that aspect of my stories. For me it seems almost impossible coming up with an interesting idea that takes place in such a boring place as this, the result wouldn't be much more interesting than its citizens ;) It's already difficult enough to get ones work published without having to worry about that as well.

    Manav: I have the same issue when writing because some of my characters aren't originally from my country and obviously when I "hear" them speak they do speak in their own language (sometimes english, sometimes another) and I have to somehow translate it when I write, only in rare cases I use the exact phrase when it's something particular that doesn't need translation. it's difficult, I would go with some kind of translation, I guess, to avoid being misunderstood, because not many people would know the idiom. Are little footnotes regarding this sort of expressions reserved for translated books?
     
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  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i mentor many non-native-english-speaking writers and also do a lot of editing/revising of such writers' work... in doing the latter, i work hard to retain the 'voice' of the writer, so as to not lose the charming 'lilt' of their native languages... instead of americanizing or briticising their work, i let it celebrate the differences, to give the readers a feel for how others on our planet think and speak... it's a task i enjoy greatly, as i've been to and lived in many parts of the world, get by in several languages, and love the more lyrical way other tongues allow us to express ourselves...

    so i'm happy to see so many of 'you' here, sharing your work, your cultures and your selves with us...

    love and hugs/abrazos y besos/abrazi e bacci/je t'embracsse bien fort, maia
     
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  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes... though in very rare cases, a novelist will use them... for fiction, it's best to work the translation in, if the meaning isn't made obvious by the context...
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, but I have to step in here. I have removed the quoted part from the initial post.

    Please limit the discussion to the writing and publishing issues encountered, and not turn this into a general foreign nations discussion thread.

    Also, please remember the general forum rule that all posts must be in English.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'm fluent only in English, although I do know some Spanish, some German, and am beginning to learn a little Italian. However, I don't know any of these other languages well enough to write anything of substance in them, although I can read them to a somewhat greater degree.

    Certainly, the different syntax and punctuation rules can be confusing to those whose primary language is not English. For example, I often hear people from India overusing Present Progressive tense in English, which I assume carries over from the structure of the languages there.

    Contrived example: "I am noticing people from India overusing Present Progressive tense in English, which I am assuming is carrying over from the structure of the languages there."

    I don't doubt that Native English speakers trying to speak or write in one of the languages of India would speak in a way that seems similarly just a little off to a native of India.

    Even when reading Spanish, which is structurally pretty close to English, I am often surprised by the different punctuation rules.
     
  8. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Tesoro, I understand your frustration. Is it only the setting the publishers have reservations? Or, is it because your chars are also native to the foreign setting? I am asking this because as a reader when I read an English romance novel I expect the main chars to be American or British, even though I don't care where they are. The chars live and travel in Paris, vienna, Milan, Africa... in many of the romance novels I have read. So, I am sure there are many publishers who don't care about the setting, if of course, you have a great story.
     
  9. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I still consider myself one of your mentees, and I'll come to you when I need help. Thank you maia.

    Cogito, the edited post looks much cleaner now :) I was considering the fact that this is in the lounge and people might want some general discussions.

    I have no intention of using any other languages other than English (the idiom was just an example) otherwise, the purpose of my being here will be defeated.

    It can be true because when I translate your sentence word by word (almost) in Hindi, it makes a very fine sentence. But you cannot generalize that because there are more than two hundred languages spoken in India. Hindi is not even my mother tongue.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I am aware there are a huge number of individual languages in India. Sadly, I know none of them, so I don't know how much they have in common structurally. So I can only guess by what I hear that at least some of those languages grammatically resemble present progressive tense when speaking of present actions. It's gratifying to learn that my guess is not completely off target.

    As for posts being in English, that was a pre-emptive warning, not a reaction to anything posted up until now.
     
  11. Lydia
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    Lydia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm from Belgium. I learned to speak English (besides Dutch, of course) from when I was quite young, but I only started learning how to write it when I was about 12. My first English essays were terrible. :D
     
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  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You should totally do that - a lot of books do that to make their characters and setting sound authentic. I've seen a few books do that definitely. Love the phrase "I'd washed him well" btw! It's very colourful!
     
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  13. Shahar
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    Shahar Member

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    English is not my first language. I've been taught English by my mam since I was 7 years old, and by the time my friends and I reached the 6th grade I was years ahead in my vocabulary and my ability to speak and write. I read books which are only written in English rather than in my native language, and so I also wrtie only in English. I find English much reacher in substance than my native language which through my own eyes seems dull and shallow.
     
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  14. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know exactly, I've only heard people saying it, and on one writing blog I read the writer said she got rejected because of this, so it seems to be common. I hope this doesn't hold true for ALL of the publishers though... My mc is from here and even one of the supporting chars, aND a little part actually takes place here, but the rest of it is abroad. In the novel I'm currently working at my characters are brittish and it's even set in england.
     
  15. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Lydia, Shahar.. Thanks for sharing. I learned the English alphabets before I learned the alphabets of my mother tongue. English was the medium of teaching and English as a subject was compulsory, while native languages were optional subjects in my school. But the quality of English teachers upto high school is not so great. The quality of English teachers is very high once you are in college, but unfortunately I opted for Civil Engineering and never got a chance to learn higher English.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    manav...
    i'm so happy to see you are still writing... and of course you're still one of my mentees... 'once a mentee, always a mentee!'

    what are you writing these days?... did you ever do anything with 'homecoming'?

    hugs, m
     
  17. natsuki
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    natsuki Active Member

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    My native language is Portuguese and I write in English, too. Although I've been studying English for quite some time (on my own, I did some courses when I was a teenager, but most of the things I know I learned by reading and writing) it's still a challenge.

    The differences in punctuation and grammar bother me. In Portuguese I use a lot of commas. In English they are not needed as much although some times they can be used. My limited vocabulary in English frustrates me. If you try to write in a language, the richer your vocabulary, the better. I spend a lot of time trying to remember a verb, for example, that I know would be perfect for something I have in mind and sometimes I can't.
    What I started doing a while ago is to write new word, that I picked in novels, or simply read online, and write them down in my notebook, with the meaning beside it. When I have some spare time I open the notebook and read these words I wrote and try to memorize them.

    I considered writing in Portuguese when I first started writing my stories, but I can't. English seems richer, more complete. Portuguese, or at least Brazilian Portuguese is not well-spoken by anyone. For example, I think I NEVER met anyone who spoke grammatical Portuguese, so every time I read a book in Portuguese where the writers (or translators) strove to make it perfect, it always sounds false and awkward because no one would speak like the characters in said book do, and I can't relate to it.

    My husband and I are trying to speak English at home at all times to practice, but my hubby's English is still clunky regarding sentence structure and grammar. Of course, mine is not that great either and considering that he learned it all by himself, it's amazing. But it ends up not being much of a challenge to me. He is the only person I can talk in English since he's the only person I know IRL who can actually speak it :p

    I had some tough personal problems this year and wasn't able to write almost anything. I'm returning to the writing world now, researching and plotting before I start writing my next novel... I think any one who really tries and works hard for something can be successful. For us non natives, it's probably harder since we need to discover a whole new language and be as good in it as natives. It's tough, frustrating, and at time it feels impossible, but I really do think we can do it if we push ourselves :)


    PS: I had to edit this text for commas before I posted and I think I removed more than 10 commas! Too bad punctuation is not the same with every language.

    ---------- Post added at 12:53 AM ---------- Previous post was at 12:49 AM ----------

    This may be very ignorant of me, but I thought that depending of the city in India, English was the main language and people spoke it fluently. I know there are dialects inside the country, but in the largest cities is English more widely used?
     
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  18. Marcelo
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    Marcelo Contributing Member

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    I'm fluent in both Spanish and English, and I'm currently going for my third language: French.
    I was born in Tucson, Arizona, but I've lived my entire life in Mexico—eight hours away from the Sonora-Arizona border. Me and my family do all our shopping in the United States, so we visit the country twice a year. Though my pronunciation is not good enough to pass inadvertently, the fact that I had to learn English from scratch has helped me to obtain a high grammatical level; something that I see missing in some native speakers every once in a while. :confused:
    Once I finish high school (next summer) I'll be moving my undergraduate studies to Tucson, so I'm not particularly worried about my pronunciation: I'll have plenty of time to perfect it. :p
     
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  19. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I did edit 'homecoming' taking into consideration everything you and others recommended. I am not finish with that story yet, may be I'll use it as part of a novel.

    @natsuki

    Yes, English is widely spoken in most parts of India, and it is one of the official languages of India. But nobody has English as their mother tongue. Most can read and speak very well. Most can write very well too, but writing a book (fiction or otherwise) requires a deeper/higher understanding of English. A large number of Indians write very good quality books in English too, but unfortunately I am not one of them, and I am trying hard.

    I speak and write English on a daily basis, because when I deal with (for business or any other purposes) fellow Indians from various corners of the country, I don't know his mother tongue and he doesn't know mine, so English becomes the medium of communication.

    That's very true, when I first joined this site I was surprised by the grammatical mistakes some native speakers make. That is why I say speaking and writing for day-to-day communication is very different from actually writing a book.

    Natsuki and Marcelo... thanks for sharing.
     
  20. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I find it one of the pillars of perfection to absorb the manifold grammatical structures along with the rich profusion of vocabulary and apply these where they should be applied in second language. Brilliance resides in that one is capable of circumventing mother tongue conventions at the expense, and in exchange for, more apt, accurate wording/expressions in the target language. It is an ever-reneweing, re-defining quest, one, maybe, of self-denial. There is something of "doublethink" involved in the business. Having said that, I beat my head against the wall every time I remember the time possibilities I had to enrich my English at university, and, consequently, squandering of those possibilities. Now that I teach elementaries, I'm bogged down to the basic fluff.

    @natsuki
    "If you try to write in a language, the richer your vocabulary, the better."

    Absolutely.
     

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