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Monday, 18 February 2013

Blogging in English when you’re not a native speaker

Maybe you remember that when this blog first started, it was trilingual. I saw it as an exercise for my mind, a way to present the different sides of me, and write about different topics for different audiences.

Then I decided I wanted to reach a bigger audience. I found that I was writing more and more about multilingualism, and being en expat- things I could perfectly write about in English. So I started looking for some advice on how to write better in English. Among others, I found this article. While it seems helpful, a lot about it unfair. First, the writer assumes, that mannerisms and “accents” in writing are a bad thing. Why? Speaking or writing with an accent isn’t necessarily bad, because it shows that we’re making an effort to speak the language.

Another thing was the warning: “perfection may forever elude you”. What does it mean? That native speakers write in “perfect” English while we do not and never will? I often find that non-native speakers often find themselves thinking about language in a very creative way, and often ask questions that natives can’t answer. And it shows in their writing. Joseph Conrad is one of the most acclaimed writers of the English language, and yet he had a strong Polish accent when he spoke it. Salman Rushdie’s command of English is awe-inspiring. It’s not always the English speakers who speak perfect English.

Many times I heard from friends that it’s hard to write in a language that’s not your own- especially when we’re talking something as personal as blogging. And it is true. I have the comparison because I already write in Polish for the website EgoDziecka. Writing in English is very different than writing in Polish- after all I write for a different audience and about different topics.

But it can be done. The fact that we have an “accent” in the way we write is not so bad. Blogging is about personal expression. It is as much about the bloggers as it is about their audience. We all have our personal styles, our way of writing. Some of these characteristics come from being a native speaker of a language that is not English.

This is who we are, and why should we be ashamed of it? After all, it is possible to write in English as a non-native speaker and still be read. I found that in most cases, people are more interested in what you have to say than how you’re saying it, at least in writing- unless you make very obvious mistakes. I very honestly say in the header of this blog that I am Polish, and my readers don’t expect perfect English from me. On the contrary, they want to read about my experiences as a Polish woman living in the Netherlands- with all that comes with it: accent, mannerisms, my linguistic inventions - “techerous” anyone?

For all that would like to blog in English but are too afraid to try, I’d like for them to try to write at least one post. You can write about any topic, and it’s a great mental exercise! For those of you who write in English and it’s not your mother tongue- don’t worry! I think the important thing in blogging is being yourself, mistakes and all.  

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  1. Hi European Mama,

    I am an English language teacher and if my students could write as well as you I, and they, would be over the moon.

    Everybody has their own style which reflects where they come from, their education, their job, their beliefs... Perhaps the writer of the article was saying that 'perfection may forever elude you' because it is impossible, even for native speakers writing in their own laguage. Many great writers say that they could continue to hone their books forever, given the chance.

    Personally, I love the made up words that non-native speakers of English come up with. The creativity at play, and the way it forces me to think differently, are a wonder to behold.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Stephen,

      thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging comment. I'm glad you like this blog! Maybe you are right in saying that one can never be perfect, regardless of their language! And yes, regardless of language, personality and background are reflected in their way of writing and speaking. The cool thing? Once you think about speaking and writing in another language, your insights gained from this reflect back on your own language. I suddenly started seeing Polish from a non-native speaker's point of view, and I find myself wondering about so many things we consider normal, especially after my husband started learning Polish. And I found myself amazed at his creatvity in using this language. I suppose both sides could learn something from each other!

  2. Well done! I also really admire your English. I've recently started blogging myself and I realize now what a great commitment it is. I also considered writing in English or making the blog bilingual, but just didn't have the courage. So it is in Polish but still very much about bilingualism and biculturalism. I hope maybe one day it evolves into a blog like yours :-) but at the same time I worry if I wouldn't let down my Polish readers???

    1. Hi Aneta, thanks for commenting! I am also incredibly surprised how much time blogging requires. And writing posts is actually the least of it- most of the time is trying to promote my posts, reading other blog posts, thinking about blogging and being active on social media. And that's not all of it! I also thought long and hard about the decision to start blogging in English. I wanted to keep writing in Polish, but noticed that my audience is mainly english-speaking...bilingual blogs are easier than trilingual, and many platforms offer plug-ins for bilingual posts (I don't think Blogger does, but Wordpress does for sure). You can try to translate your posts or alternate between Polish and English. Think about it- good luck with your blog!

    2. Thanks for all the tips! Feel welcome to have a look at my still monolingual blog about bilingualism:


    3. You're welcome! And I do read your blog and find it very interesting!

  3. Ah. I have been through a similar thought process. And I am ominating you for a Liebster blog award. Do whatever you want with it, ignore it or act on it. I am just passing it on. Just know that you have at least one avid reader. http://www.thepiripirilexicon.com/2013/02/liebster-blog-award.html

    1. Hi, Annabelle! Yes, it must be something that many goe trough- as you know sometimes I wish my mother tongue was English then I wouldn't have this problem. For me blogging has so many functions, and for example I would like my children to read some of my stories, sometimes I don't know what to do- it's like choosing between having an audience, and telling my children stories about their lives...and I can't write ten thousand blogs for all the purposes here...thanks for the nomination, I just saw your post on it- that's so nice of you!


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