Thursday, March 14, 2013

5 Ways a Foreign Language Affects Your Writing

Guest post by Israel-based writer Gila Green

Does living in one language affect how you write in another? According to Gila Green, there are five main ways that it does:

  1. Diction. Slang and other everyday words sneak into our vocabularies. If you don’t live and write in the same language, it takes an extra effort to root out unintended foreign words from your work.
  2. Names. Many writers spend time enhancing their work with thoughtful character names. But when you live in one language and write in another, naming characters can be frustrating. Names from your adopted country often seem awkward in your mother tongue or worse, become words that take the reader out of the story. Yet mother tongue names may appear mundane.
  3. Setting. If you choose to write about your adopted country, it may appear too exotic or you may worry you lack the background to make the country come alive. How long do you have to live somewhere to feel you have the authority to write about it, especially if the country operates in a language that is not your own? And if you choose to write about your birthplace, what if your notions are outdated? Are you destined to depict your birthplace only in the past?
  4. Humor. Because humor is cultural, anything you satirize or depict as humorous can throw you off balance. Is a funny everyday experience in one language going to be understood in the language you use for your writing?
  5. Layers. There are layers and depth to your work that can only come from the experience of complete otherness. True, not everyone will grasp your meaning, but the sense of being the ‘other’ allows you to see both your native culture and adopted culture with a broad lens; a powerful tool for any writer. 
If you speak a foreign language where you live, how does it affect your writing?

Canadian Gila Green's debut novel KING OF THE CLASS will be released in April 2013 by Vancouver literary press Now or Never PublishingHer first short story collection WHITE ZION was nominated for the Doris Bakwin Literary Award. She teaches regular virtual fiction classes from IsraelPlease visit Gila:


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