Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Learning to write (and be) in another language

Chosing your writing language, out of many others is a brave but not an easy choice. Succeeding to write and think as a writer considering the deep senses and symbols of the words, describing events and feeling and more importantly, telling stories that move. This interesting interview with the very talented Jhumpa Lahiri made me think a lot about my condition as a writer in another language that the one(s) I grew up with.
I did the language switch she is talking about longl before, after starting the university in French, a language that I used to speak at home but did not love at all at the time. As I had to start learning it forced by my mother, this language was associated for a long time with rules and family obligations, when my knowledge of the language was put at test in the front of various relatives. I always outperformed and my university years were a success, but French continued to be a helmet too foreign to me. 
On the other hand, learning English was never a priority in our home. After all, by the age of 15 I was fluent in at least 3 languages, with a potential to learn fast also Spanish and Italian, thanks to the invaluable resources available at home. As my mother was able to speak fluently and flawlessly in around 10 languages, and was a languages teacher by profession, teaching me English would have been very easy. British English to be more precise, the only variant of English that she considered genuine. However, me, I just wanted to speak a good American English. I also did not wanted to learn from my mother, but decided to start doing it alone, little by little. Because I did not have any goal, learning language took the longest periodl of time in my life. 
But everything changed in the last years, when fate reminded me that I cannot be anything but a writer. Or, better said, that writing makes me happy. But I insisted that this writing is done in English, a neutral language that needed so much polish and practice though. My first paid writing assignments were a nightmare and every 2 articles I was reminded how many mistakes I make. I cried, made another coffee and kept writing. I finished two books and plan to write two more in the next 6 months. I am still doing mistakes once in a while, and I know I have some limits when it comes to expressing profound feelings. But how long was the way I went! Writing in English makes me free and self aware! My biggest achievement so far was to be able to proofread serious manuscripts and academic papers. Me, who only three years ago I was constantly admonished for the basic mistakes I was guilty of, every two sentences.
The writing moment I reached makes me happy, but I acknowledge that I have a lot to do from now on to improve and be a real English writer. As for now, English is my language of choice and freedom. Most likely it will continue to stay so for many next years. 

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