Some time ago, on one of the Polish writing forums, I came across an interesting discussion. The users were pondering whether it is possible to successfully write in a second language or not. And although there was no definite “impossible” expressed, the tone of the discussion suggested trying was a waste of time.
Is it really?
As a person who has her first attempts of writing in a second language behind, I would disagree – it’s not necessarily waste of time, but it surely will require time devoted to… writing. But wait a minute! Isn’t it the same for our native languages? We spend years learning: words, style, grammar structures. Some of it comes naturally, with us growing up and being immersed in a language, but let’s be honest – it’s not enough to know the language to be a writer, right?
The same goes with a second language – we learn words, simple grammar structures and strive to put our knowledge into some sort of communication. As time passes, our language gets more sophisticated and rich, our expressions full of flavour and more accurate. We learn in school and later by immersing ourselves in the language – watching movies, listening to the songs, reading. Finally, if we have a chance, we interact with native speakers or watch them communicate and we pick up even more.
But we do start handicapped – at later age, when acquisition of the language is less natural, when the consciousness of possible mistakes holds us back. When we think we won’t be good enough. And in the end, in many cases, we don’t even try because of all the obstacles we see. We fear to be wrong, to be incorrect. And we never start.
So if you want to write in second language stop thinking about it – just start writing.
It’s not going to be perfect, it’s going to be full of awkward sentences and weird words accidentally dug out from linguistic non-existence. Let’s be honest: chances are it’s going to be bad, really bad. But unless you are a literary genius, so were your first writing attempts in your native language. And as time passes, you will get better if you put enough effort into your writing.
I still remember the day when I finally broke through the barrier of fears and started writing a novel in English. And when I look at it now I can see how poor my language was. But then, after glaring with contempt at the first pages, I scroll all the way down to the bottom to read the last ones. They are not perfect, but I can see so much improvement! Needless to say I still have a lot to learn. And I do learn every time I try to write something in English. Not trying is wasting a chance for getting better.
Instead of thinking of an advantages that every native speaker has and what have come to them naturally, simply through growing up within the language, focus on your aim of getting to the same place. It’s true that you are “years behind”, but if you are fluent enough to communicate, it is a good start. And if you work hard you will catch up sooner than you think.
Of course I am not talking about miracles – if you have difficulties learning languages or your foreign language level is only letting you ask how to get to the bank, you might reconsider writing in a second language, otherwise it’s just a matter of time and effort. And to make it a bit easier, next time I will share a couple of tricks that helped me enhancing my second language writing skills.
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.