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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What is it like to learn English as an adult in order to practise your profession of... novelist?

I did everything I could to avoid Dunglish, the unintentional but often funny mistakes Dutch speakers make in English. I had to stop myself from saying nonsensical things such as “let’s fall with the door into the house,” which is what we say in Dutch when we mean “skip the non-essentials.”

Trying to write in English was even worse. It required more than knowing the correct words to name things, the right prepositions, the difference between “come” and “get.” Writing is about sending a message, with all the nuance I intend. I wondered about tone and voice, the landscape upon which readers and I need to find common ground. I struggled to express myself in a way that would establish a shared intimacy with my readers. I felt vulnerable and worried about being misunderstood.

That is Pia de Jong, a Dutch novelist expressing herself admirably in what, to her, is a foreign language. De Jong, who now lives in America, wrote this heart-felt piece in The Washington Post a week ago, attracting a variety of comments. Here are just a couple:

CURMUDGEON: "Excellent. And today in the paper, we also have a story about an English teacher in DC Schools trying to teach the 'best and the brightest' how to write a five-sentence paragraph. Many don't know what a 'subject' and a 'verb' is. And this all in their native language, allegedly." 

SEMARI1: "What a wonderful piece. Thanks so much for it. I speak, in varying abilities, English (native), French, Italian, German, some Japanese, modern Greek, Hebrew... and I find I tend to have something of a different personality in each of them as if the modalities and idiomatic aspects of them liberate, in each case, something new about myself that surprises me. Merely from reading your English it would appear your adopted language will certainly lead to continued marvellous results."


Read Pia de Jong's article in its entirety here: "A novelist learns to write".

And if you want an expert's views on what it means to write English as a second language, then check out "In one place, everything you need to know about writing in English".

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