This week’s post is going be amazing! About a month ago, I participated in a thread on Your Write Dream about writing in different languages. It honestly blew my mind that there are so many young international writers that are publishing in English—their second or third language! I can hardly imagine writing confidently in my own native language, let alone if I tried to in Danish or German (I’m fluent in both).
I wanted to learn more about what it’s like to take on such a crazy task, and these three awesome writers were willing to answer my questions. So today, I’m sharing those interview questions and their responses. I’m excited for you to meet these amazing writers!
1. Tell me about yourself! Where are you from & how many languages do you know?
Elitsa Boneva: My name is Elitsa. I’m 18 years old and from Bulgaria. Apart from my native language I know English (obviously), German, and bits of Spanish and Russian.
Andrea Marques: I’m from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil! I speak three languages more or less well (Portuguese, my native language; English my second language; French my third language), and a couple more on a very basic level (Chinese, Japanese, Swedish, and Norwegian being the main ones).
Marina Costa: I am from Romania and I am an economist by profession. Besides Romanian, I have a diploma of certified interpreter for English, French and Spanish.
2. Which language do you primarily write in & why?
Boneva: It really depends on what kind of story I want to write and what genre it fits. When I began writing it was mainly in Bulgarian. I got inspired by Agatha Christie’s books and I wrote my own criminal story (it’s not finished yet though).
Later I discovered Wattpad and decided to give it a try. English is now the language I primarily write in because I find it easier to express myself when I write Teen Fiction or Young Adult books. It is also easier to reach a wider range of readers, since basically everyone on Wattpad knows English.
Marques: I write primarily in English. There are several reasons why: English is an excellent language for literature, in my view, and also a very natural one to write in. It has enough flexibility and fluidity that I can express myself well in it.
As I have several foreign friends, it also works as a lingua franca, the one I write in so everyone can read. Many of my Brazilian and European friends also speak English, so it evens out. I get a wider audience.
Costa: I write primarily in Romanian, but I also write in English. I write my historical fiction books in Romanian because I write them for my friends and for other people who might not speak English.
But I write interactive stories on the internet (roleplaying games) in English, (also historical fiction adventures) because there are more people who speak English in the world and on the net. I have writing partners from US, UK, Australia, Canada (both French and English native speakers), all Scandinavian countries, Indonesia, Germany, and other countries. I had more in the past.
3. What’s the best & worst thing about writing in another language besides your native language?
Boneva: See, it shocked me how different expressing yourself is in Bulgarian and in English. Most authors acquire a
certain type of writing style throughout the years and they stick to it. I, on the other hand, have to switch between my Bulgarian-writing self and my English-writing self, and let me tell you—it’s not easy.
They’re two different personas: the former is a master of description—sceneries, nature, almost anything; the later prefers to focus on the inner world of the characters. My Bulgarian-writing self is used to the 3rd POV, whereas my English-writing self usually uses the 1st POV.
Sometimes there are no words in the English language to describe what I want to say; sometimes it’s the other way around. Knowing other languages as well causes me to mix words and definitions in my head.
What’s great about being able to write in two languages is that it expands my perspective.
Marques: The best is the wider audience, I think, considering English is one of the most spoken languages in the world. The disadvantage is that sometimes, I can commit very basic mistakes if I’m not careful.
Costa: The worst is that no mater how fluent, one still can’t master the vocabulary in the way a writer should. It is more limited by nature. The best is that you write for a larger audience.
4. Which languages does the writing market in your country favor?
Boneva: Definitely Bulgarian. My generation, the young people, are more likely to read literature in other languages, simply because most of us know English. The world around us is speaking English and since it has become way more global than it used to be 30 years ago, we have no other choice but to learn the language. That’s not the case with the older generations.
My parents, my grandparents—they don’t speak English and they don’t need to. So naturally, they can only read books in Bulgarian, so that’s what the market is offering them. I am cool with that, though.
Reading generally benefits our language skills and that’s a much needed thing in a world where teens massively don’t know when to use they’re, there, or their. Bulgarian kids also have a poor spelling and grammar knowledge, so I am all for reading books if that is going to help them.
Marques: Portuguese, as it is the official language of Brazil. My country has an active market for books, though it’s considerably smaller than that of other countries such as the US and England. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon to find books in English (imported), and most of the books sold end up being translations from foreign books.
Costa: The writing market in my country favours Romanian books which are published on paper, not electronically. But I know a few Romanian aspiring writers who write in English aiming the international English language market (Wattpad, fanfic sites, electronic books).
5. What advice would you give writers who want to publish books in their non-native language?
Boneva: Go for it! Be brave! It takes a lot of time to write something you’re satisfied with. I am often afraid that my grammar or vocabulary are not as good, but the truth is there are so many sources on the Internet nowadays that can help you get better.
I am forever thankful for Tumblr—I found so many useful materials on there—from how to describe smells and texture to how to build Archetypes. I can recommend a blog called Ink&Quills—it has helped me a lot. My main advice would be research and don’t be so harsh on yourself—good things take time.
Marques: Find a good editor; read a LOT in your writing language, so you can catch the flow and fluency of language beyond the textbook basics and vocabularies.
A lot of people end up writing in a way that feels unnaturally stiff and too correct. Real natives never write or communicate like that. Explore idioms and proverbs, clichés and expressions, which enrich and give flavour to your writing. Also, while the thesaurus is a friend, it can also be a foe. Be wary of purple writing!
Costa: Have their books revised by a native speaker. Not being native speaker shows, no matter how well one has learnt grammar and how wide a vocabulary one has.
That’s the end of the interview! I hope you found it inspiring, fascinating, and motivating. I’d encourage you to reach out to your fellow writing friends and support them—no matter where they’re from or how confident they are with English. Writing karma is a beautiful thing!
Do you have further questions or experiences concerning writing in other languages? Let us know on social media or in the comment section below!
If you’d like to follow and befriend these fine writers, here’s where you can find them on the internet:
- Instagram/Snapchat: @ellitssa
- Wattpad: @ell_bon
- Articles on mental health on the Mighty: @Elitsa Boneva
- Facebook: Moist Robots and Nya Saëns
- Twitter: @dreforall
- Website: www.nyasaens.com
- Website: https://solpicador.wordpress.com/
- Facebook: Marina Costa
4 comments on “International Interview: When Authors Write Novels in Their Second Language”
Interesting. For myself, yes, English is my “second” language, in that it’s the second one I learned, but it has now become the first in that it’s the one I’m surrounded with in spoken and written language and the one I think and speak in. The sad fact is that I could no longer write in German – I lack the linguistic ease I have in English, which I absorbed through decades of reading English books. I could probably get it back if I lived in GErmany again, immersed in the language, and read lots of German books, but while I live in English-speaking Canada English is my go-to language.
See, this is just so wild to me. Like, I can’t imagine submersing myself in a foreign language enough that I couldn’t express myself in my first language. It’s crazy how much effort people put into learning English so they can compete in the publishing industry. Major respect!
This is very helpful and encouraging! My first language is Spanish, so I’ve been having some doubts about writing and publishing in English, but now I feel better knowing that I’m not the only one going through the same thing.
I’m glad you don’t feel alone! Sometimes I view the writing community as a bunch of writers who doubt themselves somehow but find courage and confidence in the fact that at least one person understands your struggles. I’ve definitely had my doubts. 🙂