1. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    Writing in a second language

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Aprella, May 8, 2013.

    I thought this was the right spot to post it, if not, I'm sorry :) As for the prefix, it concerns a couple of aspects.


    I was wondering if it is possible to get published in English if English is your second language? I have been writing more in English than in my native language, Dutch. I started writing with Fan Fiction and the obvious reason to write in English is to reach more people with it. I consider my English to be fairly good and it is improving every week (since I study English literature and linguistics) though I master Dutch better. While writing I notice that I lack synonyms and I sometimes have a difficult time describing things very lively because I always end up with more or less the same constructions. I aspire to write a fantasy novel but the market for Fantasy in Dutch is rather small and that when this question came up.
    Together with a friend I am trying to write a fantasy novel and we are opting of publishing it ourselves as an ebook, though there is still tons of work to be done and I'm actually doubting if it's such a great idea since it will be in English and our English isn't perfect but we have a really cool concept, if I may say so myself. I was never able to find anything about this subject and I'm really curious if it's doable.
     
  2. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Well, Aprella, let me tell you - your use of English is considerably better than some people who live in English-speaking countries, and even certain people on this very forum have a worse understanding of English than you do. If you are planning to self-publish and write as well as you are now, I see no reason why you can't write a novel in your second language (it may be harder to get agents and publishers on board if you plan to publish traditionally). If you can make sure your writing is error-free, you'll already be far ahead of the self-publishing competition; some authors' proofreading is truly hideous.

    Welcome, and I hope your novel goes well! :D
     
  3. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    I don't claim to be an expert in matters of book publishing and translation, but why not write the book in Dutch and then translate it into English yourself? Surely your grasp of English is strong enough to do that, which could help mitigate any problems that you're having with synonym deficit. :)
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    some writers can do this successfully, while many more can't... simply a sad fact of life...

    since you're going to self-publish, as noted above, you won't have to be good enough at it to impress an agent and paying publisher, but you'll still have to be good enough to make people want to pay good money to read it...

    i've helped many mentees and clients whose first language is not english to make their writings work well enough for the english-speaking market, so if you want to post a small excerpt here, or send it to me, i'll be glad to give you some free feedback on whether it'll do the trick or not...

    love and hugs, maia
    maia3maia@hotmail.com
     
  5. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    The writing in Dutch and translating in English doesn't seem like a bad idea...
    Thanks for the advice :D I already like it here on the forum!
     
  6. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    i was wondering this myself, but in the sense that i am english and would like to write in my second language, French, could what you have said apply to that?
     
  7. RHK
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    RHK Member

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    I don't see any reason why you can't publish work in your second language, as long as you are proficient enough: there are many writers around the world who do so successfully.

    I personally think that writing in Dutch and then trying to translate it into English might actually prove harder than just persevering with English. Translation is very difficult, an art in itself, and a good translation involves a great deal of rewriting. It takes a lot of skill to balance reinvention (finding equivalent meanings/senses etc in the new language) with maintaining the stylistic integrity of the original. Though obviously translating from Dutch to English isn't going to pose as much of a challenge as say, Chinese to English, but still.

    So my vote would be to keep at the English. It's good practise. Just like a 'native' speaker, your vocabularly and feeling for literary English will expand as you write/read/study it. :)
     
  8. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    Okay thanks :D
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Joseph Conrad is the stellar example of a writer who became one of the greats in English, though it wasn't his first language.

    ChaosReigns, Samuel Beckett's first language was English, but he wrote his later works in French. You'd be following in Nobel Prize-winning footsteps.
     
  10. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    thanks Minstrel, thats good to know, i shall have a look at his work.

    RHK, i speak French fluently, i spent time living in france immersed into the lifestyle, and have a good understanding of the language
     
  11. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    I don't think this is such a good idea, because it might result in doing a significant part of the work twice – in both languages. Both in writing and translating, one usually spends time looking for the right words. Often different languages work differently for specific situations, so the sentences will have to be totally rephrased to sound smoothly. When the translator is the author, it's easier, not having to guess someone else's mind, but it's still a lot of work.

    To the OP: Maybe it could work if you wrote the first draft in Dutch, to put down on paper (or computer) the story itself, the ideas, without having to struggle with a foreign language. And then translate it before any editing and polishing. But anything more than that will only slow you down. It's frustrating to have a perfect phrase in one language and then find that you cannot use it because it doesn't translate well.
     
  12. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    Hmm that sounds like a plan :D thanks for the great tips :D
     
  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think you should write in the language that works for you, the one that you enjoy the most. If it's English, write in English, and the more you write, the better you get. As long as you don't start translating Dutch idioms to English...

    My mother-tongue is Finnish, but I could never ever write a novel in Finnish. That language is so difficult to get right.

    Seconded.
     
  14. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    No I'm not going to write Dutchy English :p I know people who do it on facebook and stuff... it annoys me so much. And I think a lot in English so it seems only natural. Dutch feel a little forced sometimes.

    @KaTrian: horses and Finland? You are perfect :O Sorry for the off-topic but I am dying to visit Finland (and I will, in September) and I actually want to learn Finnish :p
     
  15. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    Nabokov anyone?
     
  16. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I generally discount Nabokov in this discussion because he learned English (and French) as a young child. It doesn't really count as a second language with him. I mentioned Conrad because he didn't learn English until he was an adult.
     
  17. Markowen
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    Markowen New Member

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    Hi aprella, english is my second language too (but my level is not good at all) and a few of months ago I began to write some micro fiction in english.
    I can suggest to you to write directly in english, if you really want an english novel.
    At the very begin I translated some short stories of mine, but it was hard and the result was bad.
    When I start a story from scratch in english I feel it's better. The writing seems fluider, without stretchings, and I think I do less grammar mistakes.
     
  18. squishytheduck
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    squishytheduck Senior Member

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    I think if you don't have a strong command of English, you should write in Dutch and have someone else translate it. There are a lot of idioms, puns, turns of phrase, etc. that are difficult to translate, even for a professional, and a lot of the beauty of your Dutch version will probably be lost if you do it yourself.

    The majority of successful authors who write in a second language do so exclusively in that language, but it can be done. Ha Jin is a successful author who only learned English as an adult. He has some interviews/essays regarding his decision to write exclusively in English which may be pertinent to you.
     
  19. jeepea
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    jeepea Member

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    I think you could be successful writing a book in English when it is your second language. There will be obstacles, but if you have the drive, they you can make it happen.

    Jerzy Kosinski was an immigrant Pole who wrote in English. He came to the United States as an adult, and his first novel, The Painted Bird, won the National Book Award. Legend has it that he would call up telephone operators late at night to ask questions about English grammar and idiom. I always thought that this was very clever idea, even if it really wasn't true. So if you have access to a native English speaker, try to use them as a resource. If not, you can always ask questions here and put up parts of your novel for critique in the workshop.

    Good luck with your novel.
     
  20. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    Okay thank you! When I'm done drowning in school work I will see if I can find some of his essays!

    Well I have a British professor at school for Lexicon and I ask her all kind of things if I doubt about something, though school is ending soon :p
    But yes, this forum seems great to ask such questions as well :D
     
  21. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Really? That's awesome :) If you ever need tutoring in Finnish, I can try to help :)

    L2 has different definitions, one of them being a langauge acquired after puberty. In my case, my first language is Finnish, and it could be said my second language is English that I started to study when I was 8 (nowadays kids usually start it at 6-7 yo), but then again, I started Swedish at 13 and it's an official language here, so basically that'd be my second language. While English is my foreign language.

    I just usually call myself an EFL (English as Foreign Language) speaker. An ESL speaker would be a person whose first language is something other than English, but English is an official language in their country, so they learn that as well as the second language.

    Though in Scandinavia's (and the Netherlands') case this has been argued because kids start learning English so young, in Finland's case even before we start learning our second official language.
     
  22. fallenn
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    fallenn Member

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    As you know I'm also writing my first novel in English which is my second language. It's been 11 years since my English lessons started in second grade and I still struggle with the idea of publishing a book in English. I have also had my doubts about this whole project but, being stubborn as always, I've still managed to keep on going.
    My point is that I've come to the conclusion that the idea of 'not being good enough' can be quite severe with us who don't have as much experience with this language, and that's why the fear of not being able to produce text that is 'good enough to be published' feels so intense. For that reason I just want to encourage you to trust yourself because what I see from here, your English is great. :)
     
  23. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Allow me second pretty much everything stated herein. I am a professional interpreter and translator. It's how I put food on the table. I was trained at the DLIFLC in Monterey, CA. The translation of your work is going to put your baby into the hands of another. Someone like me. I work for the D.A.'s office, so style for me is less important than conserving a tight accuracy of meaning, but for an author of fiction, style is going to be very important. Tone, delivery, nuances. Your English is actually quite impressive. Stick with it in English. ;)
     
  24. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    Okay thank you for the advice :D
     
  25. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If it's synonyms you lack, why don't you go through English novels that you like and see how they describe things? What phrases do they use? etc. It's how I learnt how to write period - I memorise the phrases I like and I try to use them later in my writing, wherever it fits. Of course eventually you forget these set phrases but you'll have absorbed it in some way, and made it your own in time.

    For example, recently came across the phrase: "the moon gave the night up to the stars"
    And another: "She took a sip of her beer and a kiss from her cigarette"

    I know I've borrowed other phrases, such as, "The land rose to swallow up the sun"

    None of these are mine - the first 2 I came across just a few days ago. You don't always remember everything, but I think your mind absorbs it subconsciously if you make an effort to stay with the words a little while.

    Basically, at your level of English, there's no reason why you can't learn to write description exactly the way native speakers do - by reading, jotting down words and sentences that you like, and playing with it.
     

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