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Challenge of Writing in English as a Second Language

Val is not a linguist, but an out-of-box thinker and observer.


When the English language gets in my way, I walk over it.

-- Billy Sunday

Hey, I Ain't a Writer Just Because I Write

I may have to guide you slowly towards the main theme of this post, by first saying a few about my writing at this Hub Pages website.

Now, my other hobbies and daily routines are using just enough of my time to put in a shadow this one, and the only true reason for coming back is this curiosity what my literary creations may look like when finished -- while being done in a language that's not my native.

I used to do a lot of oil painting, and there was this same curiosity driving me. So it doesn't bother me one bit to say -- just like I was not a painter by merely doing what a painter does, nor am I a writer by doing some writing.

I can also play some dozen accords on a guitar -- enough for musical background of a friendly singalong -- but I am not an Eric Clapton or an Andres Segovia.

In my professional history, at one point I was a junior machinist, using exactly the same machines as a toolmaker -- but that didn't make me a toolmaker, who was way out of my league by doing prototype machining, while I was doing production machining, meaning serial, with a simple blueprint and setup.

For example, out of a steal bar I could create a kitchen knife, whereas a toolmaker could create a surgical instrument. And both of us would be using the same machines, same cutters, same measuring instruments and a digital readout -- but results would be so incomparably different.

Likewise, if I were a writer, I would be writing for a magazine, or creating a bestselling book, not these articles and imitations of poetry, all for this fun, not for a name and a royalty.

A friend, and a long time professional editor, recently told me how she would have never detected my English as being my second language; actually, she noticed how many of those whose English was their mother's tongue kept making mistakes that she had not seen in my texts. Well, that made me feel somewhat better, knowing that she was a good and supportive friend, possibly using a white lie for encouragement.

Just kidding -- I know I am doing O.K. for a literary foreigner, LOL.

Moreover, how could I ever find out how much my writing sucks, since here we got this friendly bunch exchanging niceties and praises, and I can see the same person praising my own writing and then also praising a piece of literary crap that no one should read beyond its title, because even the title is full of mistakes.

In other words, I am safe here, the feedback serves me just fine and anything seems to go. Even those born into English language seem to enjoy a full freedom of carelessly misspelling -- as long as it "sounds" same.

Like: I see them write "to", instead of "too"; "your" instead of "you're"; "there", instead of "their"; "its", instead of "it's", etc.

Some time back I got a new follower who wrote in his Bio Profile: "I am a very interesting person..." -- and somewhere towards the end: "Read my stuff and educate yourself".

Geez, I wish I had that confidence. Reminds me of Donald Trump when he repeatedly claimed: "I am a very stable genius"..."and nobody knows more about --whatever -- than me".

Well, I must be totally new about this level of appropriateness in self-appraisal, because I always thought -- wrongly, of course -- that it was always others that had to say flattering things like that about us.

But, if one Trump can say he is a genius -- shit - it might even be O.K. for me to say that I am a writer of a Shakespearian class. Why not.


Shakespeare taught me that there are more words in English than I have got in my head.

-- Zoe Wanamaker

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Bragging Feels Good, Try It Sometimes

Nevertheless, I do have to produce my usual daily quota of bragging, so I'll say how I have a certain knack for languages. I can still remember my Croatian grammar, which is way more complicated than English; and I still remember much of my four years worth of Latin studies in my high school.

If you ever decided to read more of my articles, you might run into an example or two of my using Latin "dicta et sententiae" -- or proverbs. Well, since my niche occasionally touches topics of science, that Latin is good for my image, since it's used so much in academia.

When I first started writing on this website some eight years ago -- with two breaks when I closed my account -- I felt short of flattered that my dozen or so first pieces were not rejected during that "boot camp" period.

That "boot camp" thing was really suggesting that I'd better take seriously my new hobby.

So I kept writing like a man possessed, now all curious if that initial acceptance of my stuff had been a sort of a "beginner's luck", or I could start unpacking my liberated mind and even create something like my own chosen niche.

I was like a kid with a new toy. While to all other writers it was a natural thing to use the language they use at home, to me it was a challenge to form some of my sentences.

Now, as far as I can remember, none of my stuff has ever been rejected; and ever since HP branched out into over twenty categories, I never have to "submit" any of my stuff to wait for approval, they get transferred there in a matter of a few days.

Boy, am I good, or am I good!

Wait, I am not done with bragging. Then I also get these reviews from time to time, and I am told that this or that hub of mine "looks great".

Well, while I do like the sound of it, it does confuse my sense of logicalness a bit -- since I don't see any particular traffic collecting on those "great looking" masterpieces of mine.

But, who cares -- just like that thing with Trump's being a genius, there must be some things that my European brain hasn't mastered yet when it comes to the western sense of "what is great...who is a genius...who is a very interesting person." But I may learn some day.


When it comes to love, the English language bears no shortage of cliches.

-- Sarah McLean

It's About Spirit of a Language, Amigo!

My Croatian accent is not heavy, but it's there, so I am lucky that it's not detectable in my writing. Albeit, here in Canada "accents" mean nothing, since we are an officially and practically a "multicultural society".

But it's altogether different down south in the US -- at least judging by my personal experience. Namely, during my short-lived (legal) emigration there, at my first job interview, among the first things I was asked: "What is this accent?"

Crap-on-a-cracker!!! And I even tried to mask it imitating American dialect that I picked up from movies. Didn't do much of a good picking, looks like. I also learned that America was a "melting pot" -- it's all about them and only them, and if there is any word about any other country, it's only when that country is "not friendly towards America".

Kids there don't learn world geography, other countries' political and economic arrangements, stuff that we had to know in our school.

Well, maybe Mark Twain was not just trying to be funny when he said:

"God created wars, so that Americans could learn some geography".

So, anyway, my accent betrayed me all right.

The whole thing with accents reminds me of my attempt to surprise my long time pen pal Susana in Buenos Aires with a letter in Spanish at her birthday. Well, me and my Croato-Anglo-Espanol.

Prior to that, for a while I had worked at a place with many Chilean people, and those ladies taught me many "palabras de amor" -- words of love. Some others I picked up from romantic songs by Julio Iglesias, so I figured, with a little help of Google translator...

Well, of course, with Susana only being my pen pal, not my secret virtual lover-girl, I couldn't use those palabras de amor, but I did use some of those words in my letter.

Susana was nice in her response -- didn't I say she was also a professional psychoanalyst, so being tactful was something to be expected.

And yet, she told me something that I had known already -- that "every language has its own spirit, and it's not enough to put some words together, even in a grammatical order" -- of course, only after thanking me for my effort, and "it was so cute of me"...

But she did admit that she liked the end of my letter where I said: "Con abrazos y besos, tu gringo amigo" (with hugs and kisses, your gringo friend). Geez, I should have said only that instead of the rest of that disaster of a letter.

"Only a friend" or not, I could have even used some of those palabras de amor -- I guess, woman is a woman, and since the "spirit" is such a big deal, she would have taken those words with a good, woman's spirit.

As I am writing my articles, many times I remember her words; and I know that I say things that are not exactly in "spirit of English".

So, sometimes, when I don't know if I am using a right noun, I just say "crap". Actually I say it quite often. I also use words like "ass", and some other linguistic decorations in my articles; but "crap" seems to be my favorite.

Well, writing in a foreign language certainly is a challenge, and as long as I am finding something new to write about, or at least say old things in a new way, I will continue to know crap.

© 2022 Val Karas

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