• Caitlin Evans
  • You Can do It: Tips and Tools for Non-native English Writers
You Can do It: Tips and Tools for Non-native English Writers
Contributor
Written by
Caitlin Evans
January 2020
Contributor
Written by
Caitlin Evans
January 2020

Putting thoughts on paper is liberating. It is an act of self-love, a process of contemplation, a moment of complete honesty. But most of all, it’s self-expression through a medium that has been around for millennia, yet still continues to evolve.

However, I know how difficult it can be to find the right audience – people who are willing to lend their attention to my musings and thoughts, the constructs of my imagination. And in this, I’m extremely lucky. I write in a language that is understood by millions of people, and that’s become the Lingua Franca of the modern era. But I’m also aware that not everyone who wants to write had the same good fortune as I.

Through blogging, I’ve come to meet a great number of writers, inhabiting places all around the world. Sometimes, they ask me whether producing content in English is possible for non-native speakers. The answer? A definite yes!

Just thinking about writers who weren’t brought up speaking English brings to mind genius people who are a constant source of inspiration – Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Conrad, Chinua Achebe, and the brilliant Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, all of whom chose to write in a way that would allow their work to speak to the greatest number of people.

So, whether you’re a blogger, journalist, or an aspiring novelist, it’s important that you’re aware of the fact that it is, indeed, possible to write in English. Even if it’s not your native language.

 

Start Right Now

The only way to develop a skill, including your language proficiency, is to work on it constantly. The same goes for writing. If you’re unsure about your ability to produce quality content in a language that’s not native to you, you are going to have to work twice as hard as everyone else.

The first thing to do will be to set aside as much time as you can for practice. Those lucky enough to be able to do this full time can take a page out of Isabel Allende’s book and structure honing their craft around a strict schedule. The Chilean author writes Monday to Saturday, from 9 am to 7 pm. If, however, you don’t have 10 hours to dedicate to writing every day, make sure to still take at least 1 or 2 hours per day to create content. By establishing a routine, you will find it easier to tackle the numerous challenges you’ll inevitably have to face on a daily basis. After a while, you’ll see the number of obstacles you run into diminishing, thanks to your dedication.

 

Invest in Your Language Skills

Let me confess something: not a single blogger I know is entirely happy with their writing. Including myself. 

If you’re struggling with vocabulary or grammar, the best thing you can do is invest in a course. Having a structured class that helps you focus on these can be of tremendous help in not only allowing you to write better, but also encouraging you to be more confident in your art. 

Students, in particular, can benefit from certified ESL programs accepted at universities worldwide. Most often, these focus on grammar, writing, listening, and speaking, in order to provide a well-rounded course giving you knowledge applicable in any situation. For example, the IELTS writing task focuses on several different forms of writing, and it can be especially beneficial for bloggers and those looking to publish in academia.

If, on the other hand, you want to improve your style, read. As much as you humanly can. Combining this stress-relieving habit with fun assignments such as writing short stories on a given subject, or even imitating your favorite authors, can be a great way to hone your craft. One of my favorite activities all through high school was re-writing famous sonnets to deal with topics my teenage self found more interesting than unrequited love.

 

Be Unique

While choosing to blog or create in a language that is universally understood around the world, it’s still important to stay true to yourself. After all, what makes your work interesting is the perspective only you can bring to your readers.

If you think about non-native authors who have achieved massive success, you’ll find that they worked in a way that made their use of language not just individual, but a tool for expressing their multicultural identity. Salman Rushdie, for example, the winner of the Booker of the Bookers, is a great author to look up to. In Midnight’s Children, he utilizes several techniques to decolonize English – he uses Hindi words, offers direct translations of vernacular phrases, and chooses a storytelling structure that is rooted in the tradition of his native country. It is this (conscious) practice that makes him the great writer he is. So, you can draw inspiration from him, and work to establish your own, inimitable style.

 

Handy Tools You Can Use

As you begin to put out more content, you’ll find that you’re slowly shortening the amount of time spent writing and committing more hours to editing what you’ve written. That is a step in the right direction. After all, the editing process is just as important as the first draft, and often even more important. And good editing can make the difference between a piece that is barely OK, and one that is splendid.

To make it easier, however, there are a few tools you can use to improve your material.

  • Grammarly: This app goes a step beyond your regular spell check. It identifies common grammatical and punctuation mistakes, and can even give you stylistic suggestions to help improve your writing. To get the full version, you will have to pay for a monthly or yearly subscription, but if you’re on a budget, even the free version will suffice.

  • Thesaurus: A must-have, according to Margaret Atwood, along with a sharp eye, a dose of self-criticism, and a grip on reality. Just make sure you’re using it correctly!

  • Online Editing Software: There’s an abundance of free and paid online resources, all aimed at improving your writing. From websites that help reign in those long sentences, to those that eliminate excess adverbs, these are worth checking out.

 

Your Biggest Ally: Time

Last but not least, the one thing you will need to do is give yourself enough time. You need time not only to get into the habit of writing on a daily basis, but also to get enough distance between you and your material. Remember, the best way to identify and fix mistakes in any piece is to step away for a couple of weeks and return to it with fresh eyes and new knowledge. And who knows, you may just find that you’re pretty satisfied with your English after all.

 

Do you write in a language that’s different from your mother tongue? What are the biggest obstacles you’ve faced? How do you cope with the insecurity that comes with venturing onto paths unknown? Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear more from writers from all corners of the Earth!

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Comments
  • Nino Gugunishvili

    Great Article! Thank you!

  • Ineke Kruger

    I am born Dutch; my mother tongue was Dutch for the first six years. We migrated to South Africa, where I had to learn Afrikaans, which was my language for 55 years. We had to do English second language which I still couldn't speak at the end until I went overseas and had to use it. I became an English second language teacher and taught for at least 25 years. Now I'm in New Zealand where I only hear and speak English. I started writing my memoirs in a writing group in 2012. At first, I wrote only short pieces (half a page). Today I am writing up to two pages. My tutor and fellow writers are impressed with what I can achieve today. It takes me at least 4 hours polishing the pieces. It is essential to write every day. That's the only way to improve. The big problem with me is that I first write the passage in Afrikaans and then translate it into English. It works better for me to do my first draft in Afrikaans because then I can keep on writing without thinking, while in English, I still need to concentrate too much. (Grammarly helped me)