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Five Ways Living in One Language Affects Your Writing in Another

  1. Diction. Slang and other everyday words sneak into our vocabularies. If you don’t live and write in the same language, it takes an extra effort to root out unintended foreign words from your work.
  2. Names. Many writers spend time enhancing their work with thoughtful character names. But when you live in one language and write in another naming story characters can be frustrating. Names from your adopted country often seem awkward in your mother tongue, or worse become words that take the reader out of the story. On the other hand, mother tongue names may appear mundane.
  3. Setting. If you choose to write about your adopted country, it may appear too exotic or you may worry you lack the background to make the country come alive. How long do you have to live somewhere to feel you have the authority to write about it, especially if the country operates in a language that is not your own? And if you choose to write about your birthplace, what if your notions are outdated? Are you destined to depict your birthplace only in the past?
  4. Humor. Because humor is cultural, anything you satirize or depict as humorous can throw you off balance. Will a funny everyday experience in one language be understood in the language you use for your writing?
  5. Layers. There are layers and depth to your work that can only come from the experience of complete ‘otherness.’ True, not everyone will grasp your meaning, but the sense of being the ‘other’ allows you to see both your native culture and adopted culture with a broad lens; a powerful tool for any writer.  
What do you think? Are you living in one language and writing in another? 
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Wednesday, 22 May 2024

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