Writing in a non-native language

ESL stands for “English as a Second Language”. ESL authors are all those who write in English despite not being native speakers.

A question I have often been asked is: why do that?


Sometimes it’s just a matter of necessity. Being able to write in English is a skill required in almost any field. Anyone who’ll ever plan to attend an international conference in their life, sooner or later will have to write a paper in English. The Academic world is therefore where most ESL authors are born.

Then there are people like me: ESL authors in creative writing. Answering the “why” question here is definitely harder. I suppose everyone has their own reasons and I could tell you for sure only about mine. Before getting there, however, you have to know that:

  1. Indeed, we all have our native languages that we (supposedly) know perfectly;
  2. Writing in our native language is easier, faster and most likely more effective, especially in terms of style and vocabulary;
  3. We don’t need people to underline point 1 and 2 for us: we know. We simply decided to write in another language anyway, because of reasons.

My reasons are mostly connected to my studies. I’m a translator and a linguist, and close to the finals of my Master course I wanted to know how good I could get if I tried to write a book in English. An amazing tip for language-learners is that to get results you don’t have to think in your own language and translate, but you have to think directly in your second language. Doing that while developing my story brought to a natural outcome: my book must be written in English.

Writing in a non-native language can be challenging and fun, but at the same time hard and tiring. You are constantly facing your limits in general as well as the feeling of wanting to say something and not being able to do it properly.

Moreover, most people won’t believe in what you’re doing. Even if they do to some extent, it’s unlikely someone will encourage you into continuing when you’re feeling down and are about to give up. At least that has been my personal experience, but I’ve heard a lot of “it isn’t worth the hassle”, rather than an encouraging “don’t give up, it’s totally worth it!”.

Hearing all that is frustrating, and if you really know what you’re doing, deep down inside of you there will be a voice whispering “they’re right.” Still, if you are stubborn, naive and with an abnormal self-confidence, you will eventually finish your writing. That’s incredibly satisfying. You probably worked twice as hard as a native author, and the result will probably be half as good as theirs, but you will feel invincible.

Writing in a non-native language will teach you a lot of words, idioms and slang. It will change your style, and to some extent also the way you look at the world. It could make you more open-minded or make you understand better a different culture.

So, yeah, why do that? Everyone has their reasons, but most of all, it’s because it’s a life changing experience, and it’s totally worth it.

Publishing after that is another thing… but I’ll leave that for another post!


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