Would you like to know how to write a regular blog, novel or a nonfiction title in another language?
When I tell people I’m a writer, the first thing they ask me apart from what I write (Nordic contemporary fiction), is what language I use. I graduated from a Finnish College with a Baccalaureat and went onto study economics in Hanken, a Swedish language university in Helsinki. Apart from my thesis which I wrote in Swedish, I’ve written all of my twelve books in English.
English is one of the most widely spoken, and certainly read, languages in the world, so it makes sense for me to write in English. But there are other reasons why I choose to use what technically amounts to my third language.
I’ve lived in the UK for over 35 years, so it’s natural for me to write my fiction and nonfiction in English. But in addition to this practical lifestyle reason, I also feel that using another language gives an author a richness to their work that is unique.
Research into human behaviour has shown that when we use another language, we follow a different set of moral and social norms. There is a sense of detachment when speaking and writing in a language that is not your mother tongue. As writers, we can use this disengagement to delve deeper into painful or difficult subjects. We can find new, unique ways to describe the human condition.
Using a language that is not your own mother tongue is not all good news. Especially with the spoken word, there is a common phenomenon called linguicism, a term coined in the 1980s by a Finnish linguist Tove Skutnabb-Kangas. This phenomenon refers to linguistic discrimination against somebody based on their use of language. It can include their vocabulary, their accent, or the use of grammar.
The Importance of Grammar
When writing in another language it’s important to get the grammar right. Whether we like it or not, once a literary agent, a reader, a reviewer or a publisher know you’re not writing in your mother tongue, they will be looking for evidence of your inadequacies. This may be linguicism or language discrimination, but we have to be realistic. Readers need to hear the “foreign voice” but not be jarred by it.
The only way to arm yourself against prejudice is to turn in a clean copy of writing.
Over to You
There are many online tools we can use to improve our written word. It’s not as difficult as it used to be. There are blogs, vlogs, podcasts, online grammar tools as well as word lists and dictionaries.
As authors, we are also able to study and learn from books that have already been written. We can analyse how other writers have crafted their plots, characters and settings.
As a writer who can converse in several languages and is familiar with different cultures, you have a unique position to describe the world around you. You can gain a sense of detachment from the subject matter. And you can take your readers to another place that they may not have experienced in the same way as you, a native speaker, have.
In my book, Write in Another Language, I talk more about the benefits of knowing several languages and cultures. I’ll also give tips on how to write in your second or third (or fourth and fifth!) language. I discuss the origins of spoken communication and touch upon language discrimination. I interview contemporary multilingual authors, Heidi Amsinck, Freddie P Peters, Adrianne Lecter and Eivor Martinus, not forgetting to mention the most famous trilingual authors, Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Conrad.