Marcel Proust said that “les beaux livres sont écrits dans une sorte de langue étrangère”—“beautiful books are always written in a sort of foreign language.” The very use of “sort of” makes it clear that Proust didn’t mean “foreign” in its literal sense.
An unusual book stands out like a foreigner in a strange land. An uncommon perspective, distinctive voice, unique style — these “sort of foreign” qualities make a book beautiful. However, there’s a lot to be said about writing in a language that isn’t your mother tongue. Here are some potential benefits of writing in your second (third, etc.) language:
1. Developing a unique style.
Sometimes our native language can prevent us from doing so. The weight of tradition, constraints of grammar and stylistic norms can crush our creative efforts. A foreign language can liberate your writing.
Samuel Beckett, an Irishman, claimed that writing in French made it easier for him to write “without style.” Often this absence of style—or rather freedom from style—becomes style in itself. Treat a foreign language as “tabula rasa” — “blank slate.” It’s up to you to fill it with writing. So, pick up your stylus, or pen, or hit those computer keys — and write.
2. Rediscovering your mother tongue.
True, your native language may become what Beckett called “a veil that must be torn apart in order to get at the things (or the Nothing-ness) behind it.” Yet, you might find that the more you escape into a foreign language, the closer you feel to your own.
You may even come to appreciate the grammar rules you ran away from in the first place. Or you might invent creative ways of bending and breaking them. Maybe you’ll be a bilingual (multilingual) writer. Maybe you’ll come back to your mother tongue with a deeper understanding of it. Only one way to find out.
3. Achieving a sense of connection.
We all crave connection. To each other. The universe. Everything seen and unseen. When we learn a foreign language, we open an invisible door to a different culture. When we write in a foreign language, we immerse ourselves in that different, new world. Comparing it to the world we know, we arrive at the inevitable conclusion:
People everywhere are very much alike.
One needs to experience this eureka moment to understand how powerful it is. And you’re bound to experience it sooner or later when you write in a foreign language. So, do it. Feel connected.
Writing is good for you.
Writing Therapy pioneered by James W. Pennebaker employs different types of writing, such as expressive writing and poetry writing, for instance. Writing in a foreign language is another branch of knowledge worthy of attention.
When we write, we tap into deeply hidden, often dark, thoughts and emotions. We all have personal demons lurking in the shadows. Writing in a foreign language creates a buffer between ourselves and the truths we uncover. It brings the eerie duality that happens in dreams and occasionally in real life, when you’re both—the doer and the observer—at the same time.
Arm yourself with a foreign language to become a more perceptive writer, bring to light and defeat your demons, and heal.
5. Boosting your self-esteem.
When I first began writing in English—my second language—self-doubt was my middle name. What right do I have? Why not my native Russian? Who am I anyway?
I’m happy I was able to stand up to myself and say,
“I happen to be a human being, and a writer. At this point in my life I want to write in English that’s not my mother tongue. And guess what? I have a perfect right to do so.”
Writing in English is something I need and enjoy. Sharing my writing is equally important to me. Every time I post a poem to my blog, or enter a contest, or submit my work to a publisher — it’s a small victory. It takes guts to write in a language that’s not your own and put your words out there for the world to see.
C’mon, show the world how gutsy you are.
Write in a foreign language. Try it. Just go for it. You have nothing to be afraid of, nothing to lose. You’re bound to gain something from the experience. Quite possibly — a lot. It might be life-changing. Or just plain fun.
If anything, you’ll be in good company. Joseph Conrad, Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac…— can you hear them cheer you on? They did it, why not you?
Ready, Set, Write!
Good luck! Bonne chance! Удачи!
Image credit: Pixabay [author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://writingtipsoasis.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sasha.png[/author_image] [author_info]Sasha A. Palmer (aka Happy) is a Russian born, US based translator, copywriter, and author. She’s writing in English—her second language—for a living and pleasure. Visit Sasha at www.sashaapalmer.com.