Writers Word – Language – In what language should you write?

A new story starts with an idea. The idea grows, and before you know it, it’s time to put the idea down on paper. It’s in this moment that many of writers have to ask themselves one question: ‘In what language should I write this?’

I know that this really isn’t an issue for those that grew up with English as their mother tongue – and maybe it’s the only language you know. However, for those of us that grow up with another language, writing often require us to make a decision concerning this.

So what should you do then? How are you supposed to know what language to write in? Well, there are no right and wrong way to make this decision – and some might just feel what’s the right thing for them to do, but for those that have some doubts; here are some things to consider to help you make the right decision for you:

The audience:

When choosing their language, a lot of people consider their audience. Why? Well, they are of course interested in letting as many people read it as possible, and one of the things you can do to make this possible is to make it accessible by using a global language.

There is no question about that English is the language that is understood (at least to some degree) by the most people. Reasons behind this is most likely that because of the English colonization, the many countries having English as a mandatory second or third language at school, and the massive amount of entertainment produced in English.

«Finnish stories are not as popular and I want to catch more audience.» (Sakuchii).

Many writers that try writing in both English and their own might notice the difference in view. The reasons behind this is mostly caused by the lack of readers that can understand the language, but it might also be another reason that might not seem that obvious: people might not think of their language as a literal one. Sounds crazy, I know, but I’ve actually gotten comments like that. In their opinion there is no good reason to go search for stories that are costumed to their nation. They are more interested in reading international literature – books that are more known and global. To me that sounds crazy – and maybe to many of you readers too, but just keep in mind that this might be a reason for the lack of views.

«Of course you can write in native language, but the viewer base would be low» (Alsodef).

Personal:

When I first started writing, I was often told by those around me that it was strange that I chose to write in English instead of Norwegian (my mother tongue). I didn’t quite understand what they meant and we discussed it for a while. Personally I felt like writing in English because I was planning to post it online and in that way would get more readers if I wrote in English. This made perfect sense to me, but as I heard some of my friend’s arguments, I really felt like I understood what she meant.

When you write, your write from you, she told me. Whether you want it or not, you’re pouring out parts of yourself. Many authors use this ability to awake certain feelings in their readers by letting their heart control the pen. However, she noted, even though a writer might be good at a foreign language, it’s still foreign. You can put down the words, but many times the feelings might not translate as easy. Because of this, she feels that you have a much bigger chance of hitting the emotional string if you play your original instrument.

«Writing is an expression of humanity. I would hope writers choose the language they can best express the ideas they want to convey.» (Allen).

The media:

Just as we humans have our very own personality, so have the universes. Well, that might not be entirely true, but many people sure feel like it. A lot of people are writing fanfiction, and when doing so, this is something that they have to take into consideration.

«I’ve grown to read manga and watch anime in English, so I don’t find my native language fitting enough for it.» (Sakuchii)

When you read or watch something in a certain language, you unconsciously make a connection between the two. An example of this would be watching a disney movie you’re familiar with and grew up watching in one language, and now watch it in another language. Sure, the story is the same, and the characters are basically saying the same lines, but it still doesn’t feel the same, does it?

It’s the same way with writing. Even though you can’t hear any voices, you still have an idea of how they would talk. If you then are thinking of writing a new story about something you’ve seen in English, you might feel strange and that what you’re doing is foreign. As Sakuchii said: it would feel strange to write a story in Finnish about something you yourself never have seen, read or heard in Finish.

I’ve personally done a similar thing. It was my first fanfics, and even though it went quite well, I still had this strange feeling that something just wasn’t right. Later, I translated the story into English, and to my surprise, it suddenly felt a lot more natural.

So what if you don’t know the language? Well, in some way you have to know it. Sure, Anime is originally from Japan, but that doesn’t mean you should write in japanese if you can’t speak it. What I meant was that you alway have a language that you as a person connects to the story through. So, if you’re watching Anime in Japanese, you’re probably reading the subtitles in english, french, spanish or another language, then this is your language.

So, what should you do?:

Well, there’s no correct answer to what you should do. In the end of the day it’s all up to you and what you feel is the most natural for you to do.

«I think that writers should write in the language their comfortable in. A writer should be free to create as they are inspired to, the reader can choose to read or not.» (Ann Shannon)

Whatever might happen to you as you write, there is always something that you must remember: The story is yours and does not belong to anyone else. It is a gift that one gives away. It is up to the reader to accept it. However, even though it’s yours, it’s always good to try something new.

«I personally feel like if a writer is able to write in another language other than their native, they should do it from time to time. It not only increases their aptitude in writing, but at the same time, makes them gain more experience with that secondary language. The latter is especially true for someone who is still trying to learn a secondary language.» (Kevin Velez)

Doing is always a great way of learning, and so is failing – or in this case mistakes. Most errors that occur when you write in a foreign language is the grammar and structure of the language. This is something that you might not notice yourself – possibly due to the fact that your own language does it differently. An easy solution to this is getting a Beta Reader to go through your material before you publish it. By doing this, a Beta Reader can help with the language and the story itself, and they might even give you some tips and rules for future writing.

«When using a foreign tongue, don’t be worried about grammar and lexical mistakes, you probably make them every day in your native language too. Just make sure everything is fixed in the final product.» (Laura)

But what if you still don’t feel good enough? You find yourself comparing your language to that written by a native. Looking at it, you might get the feeling that there’s something different about it, but you can’t figure out what it is. You might see this as something discouraging, but that’s not necessarily the truth.

«If your first language isn’t English and you want to publish in it, you may actually have some advantage. Non-native writers use English differently and if done well, the wording comes off refreshing and unique rather than clumsy.» (Laura)

So why not try a to do a little of each? Write something in you mother tongue, something in English, and why not also try yet another language that you’ve taken a few lessons in? What’s the worst that could happen? And you might learn that you have a different preference depending on what you’re writing.

«All of my fanfics are in English. For long original projects I prefer my native language. Short stories can go either way.»

Conclusion:

So, I hope that this article helped you in your choice, and if not, then at least gave you something to think about. As I mentioned earlier, there are no real rules to follow, and as Laura says: «All that matters is getting some words on the page.» 

How you do it entirely up to you, and it’s likely that you will make your own unique path. Like Sakuchii puts it:

«I think each person should go with what they’re more comfortable with. I have chosen to write in English because I find it more smooth. If writer is perfectly fine with their own language and for example are far stronger in native than in English, why should they struggle to write in English? Of course writing in English catches more audience, but writes write mostly for themselves not for the audience, right? I’d say it’s the writes individual choice to choose the language they want to write it.»

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