1. Maria Mirabella
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    Maria Mirabella New Member

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    Writing in English: Native English Speakers vs Non-Native English Speakers

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Maria Mirabella, Jan 2, 2012.

    Today, the English language has increasingly become the Global Language used all over the world. The number of non-native English writers is growing and this tendency will, for sure, continue into the future.
    What is your opinion on this matter? Being an English writer...is it a tall order for non-native speakers of English?
     
  2. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    I think writing in English requires the ability to think in English, not just think in your native language and translate to English. When I write in English, I think in English. When I speak French, I think in French. It's only the languages I'm not fluent in, like Spanish, that I tend to think in Dutch and translate it into Spanish.
     
  3. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    yes it is a tall order and hard work if English is your second language.
    Still I am not put off by it nor discouraged. The experince is worth it and the learning is ongoing which is sometimes I appreciate.
    Maybe one day I will succeed and will become as fluent as the native English speaker themselves. This is keeps me going and inspire me to carry on in the field of writing in a second language.
    Learning is fun especially languages and I love words and meanings.
     
  4. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do not usually enjoy works by a non-native speaker of the language, and I would not try to write in my second language, either, even though I'm fluent in it. It lacks depth and nuance, I think.
     
  5. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    Have you read the works of Joseph Conrad?
     
  6. Anarchist_Apple84
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    Anarchist_Apple84 Senior Member

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    I'm just curious Cacian, what is your native language?

    I only speak one language and despite my many, many attempts to learn a second I always fall short! Luckily I speak a language which is spoke widely abroad :D
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i believe she said it's either french or arabic [algerian]... possibly both...

    ...exactly, AA!
     
  8. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel that I write better in English than in my native language. It probably stems from me starting my writing "career" with fanfiction. However, I am currently studying English literature and I lived in the US for a period of time, so I am (hopefully) pretty fluent. However, I notice that if I have been speaking/thinking/reading Norwegian and then start writing, my English is suddenly a little off (like right now).
     
  9. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    French then Arabic.
    I also speak Spanish.
     
  10. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    what workd have you read that are by non English speakers?
     
  11. AmyS
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    AmyS Member

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    Kazuo Ishiguro. Vladimir Nabakov.
     
  12. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    QFMFT. There's no reason to think that writing in a non-native language is inherently worse than writing in the native language. Nabokov's works are profoundly and positively influenced by the fact that English was his second language, but the one he loved most and found most beautiful.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Joseph Conrad is another example. He is regarded as a master of English prose, though he didn't learn English until he was an adult. (Nabokov learned English as a child.) Conrad went so far as to say that he would not have become a writer if he had not known English.
     
  14. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    See post #5 above. Whenever I'm confronted with ignorant people claiming non-native English cannot write English fiction, I'll ask them about Joseph Conrad.
     
  15. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    You have to be good at writing in English no matter what. I'm from the US but hobby-wise I didn't get into writing until a few years ago. In school I was always better at math than any of the other classes even though I wasn't horrible. I remember I did pretty terrible on the English section of the SAT when applying for colleges. The point is... I consider finding the right word sometimes to be a weakness of mine. Whereas someone that isn't a native speaker maybe approached the language through literature and was able to build his vocabulary fast that I can... they would be a better writer than me assuming they weren't complete slouches at other aspects of writing that aren't effected by language.
     
  16. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't feel confident enough to write stories in english, and I don't know if I ever will. I think one has to speak a language on a daily basis and for many years in order to master it to the point where one can write a novel. In my case, it doesn't make sense, because publishers here around only accept mss in swedish. I prefer having my work translated eventually, rather than trying to write in english, but of course it's a dream to one day see my stories in more than one language.
     
  17. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes. Lord Jim was possibly the only set book I was never able to read to the finish at school. Of course, I have enjoyed some good translations and books by people who knew English as a second language, but they were more the exception that proved the rule.

    Kazuo Ishiguro came to England as a small child and always identifies himself as Japanese-British. He was educated in England and went to my university, so I don't think he counts as using English as a second language. It's his first now.
     
  18. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Heart of Darkness = possibly the most overrated book in the English language. Apart from Catcher in the Rye. That was abysmal. Couldn't even read past chapter 2.
     
  19. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    Well, then I won't suggest Jerzy Kosinski for your perusal...
     
  20. iabanon
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    iabanon Member

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    How many 'masters' do you think are out there? Or in here? Please, just because a couple people out there mastered English a long time ago doesn't mean anyone can learn english and have a go. I really don't think pointing out one guy who did it is much of an encouragement.
     
  21. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    One doesn't have to be a 'master' to have a better command of English than a native speaker. I find plenty of mistakes* in books published by the Big Six - fiction written by Americans, edited by Americans and published by Americans. And while my command of English is exemplary, it's by no means exceptional for a non-native speaker.

    *I'm not talking about typos either - I'm talking about confusion between 'decapitated' and 'severed', 'livid' and 'vivid', 'nauseous/nauseated', 'they're/their/there', 'you're/your'. I'm talking about generally atrocious prose and misplaced metaphors.
     
  22. AmyS
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    Wow. I wonder if anyone ever communicated this to Conrad. Obviously, if so, he did not listen. Good on him, eh?
     
  23. agentkirb
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    I think iabanon brings up a good point though. It's certainly possible for a non-native speaker to come in and write "better" than native speakers. There are two obvious roadblocks for just anyone that wasn't brought up speaking English. One being the obvious grammar/vocabulary issues. Some people can overcome that, but it's not easy. The other has less to do with the language and more to do with the culture. I think it's hard for someone born in a European country to write a story in the same way that an American would (and vice versa) because of the culture difference. Obviously this can also be overcome with research but again... it's not easy. And also, you could easily write a book where knowing American culture doesn't matter. And it sounds like I'm being discriminatory almost, but its kind of the same thing that you would say about any "cultural" world. Like... if you are writing a book about baseball, you either need to research the hell out of that topic or you better know the sport coming in.
     
  24. AmyS
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    AmyS Member

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    Of course it would be hard. I don't see the point in discouraging difficult work.
     
  25. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    First of all, America has done its utmost to spread its 'culture' around the globe [one of the reasons muslim extremists are so dead set against 'the American Devil'], so it would be foolish to assume that a non-American doesn't understand American culture. Second, American history is about 400 years old [the earliest non-native American settlements were around 1607, I think], while European history is some 2500 years old. Third, American history is much better documented than European history, so an American writer wanting to write about European culture and history would be at a severe disadvantage compared to a European writer wanting to write about American culture. Fourth, while America is a melting pot of sorts, with slight cultural differences between states, Europe is a union of countries, all with vastly different cultures and histories. And while there are cultural differences between an inhabitant of Texas and an inhabitant of Maine, the difference is probably less than between a Swede and a Spaniard.

    Last, as underlined in your quote, if a novel had few American characters and a non-American setting, like my novel for instance, a more than general understanding of American culture is sufficient. Although my novel is written in English, most of my characters are non-Americans [Dutch, Jamaican, Japanese, Chinese] and the setting is my hometown, Amsterdam.
     

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