Who isn't writing in their mother tongue?

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Irene Eng

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Why would you write in a second or fourth language?
What advantages do you enjoy?
What difficulties do you encounter most often?
 
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FlyBird

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Mainly as a result of living too long in the country of my second language, way longer than the time I lived in my native country. I can write in both, probably worse in the second, but my first is frozen in the past, without the newer vocabulary and lexicons of the current generation, so I find myself in this situation. I don't feel I have any advantages, maybe there are but I have yet to find out and acknowledge them. All kinds of difficulties from grammar to word usage, but I drudge along. I do think, from writing in two languages (however bad), that language is just a set of symbols, and good writing has laws that transcend languages.
 

MindfulInquirer

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Interesting question. Much to say about that. I'd rather write in English because it's more concise, and more powerful imo. I'm a fan of simplicity and plainness in anything, and I find English is more plain and packs a meaner punch.
 

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Wow, you are saying there could be such a thing as a better language for writing. Ask someone who writes in French if they agree. I do observe that in public notices with multiple languages, like on the bus I take to work, English is always shorter than Spanish. Chinese is even shorter but it's not a fair comparison because it is made up of individual characters of the same size, so there is no such thing as a long word or short word, all words (not compound ones) are the same length.
 

Irene Eng

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English is easier to learn, than French and German, imop. And Chinese is a killer :Ssh:

... wondering if that has anything to do with the English speaking countries, which in general are in better shape.
 

FlyBird

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Hi Irene, I've read somewhere (don't remember exactly) that children learn Chinese just as fast as other languages, and as long as they are younger than a certain age, maybe six? they can learn multiple languages just as easily as learning one. I don't know if that's because in China kids are forced to study a lot more, but kids here struggle to learn English too. Once one becomes adult, it's a different story, it's much harder to learn another language, but easier if you are learning a closely related language like one of the European languages with lots of similar Latin based words. Much harder to cross from an Eastern language such as Chinese or Korean to an Western language, and vice versa.
 

Irene Eng

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Hi Irene, I've read somewhere (don't remember exactly) that children learn Chinese just as fast as other languages, and as long as they are younger than a certain age, maybe six? they can learn multiple languages just as easily as learning one. I don't know if that's because in China kids are forced to study a lot more, but kids here struggle to learn English too. Once one becomes adult, it's a different story, it's much harder to learn another language, but easier if you are learning a closely related language like one of the European languages with lots of similar Latin based words. Much harder to cross from an Eastern language such as Chinese or Korean to an Western language, and vice versa.

Hi Birdy, I think six is right ... the preschools and kindergartens are the best place to start but unfortunately, for some reason, it isn't so in some countries. A while ago, my kids' nursery and pres-K asked the parents to submit suggestion and I said, a foreign language!! And school replied: Great but did nothing :cry:
 

Tazlima

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Wow, you are saying there could be such a thing as a better language for writing.

Makes sense to me. Some languages are certainly better choices when it comes to music.

One reason so much opera is composed in Italian, for example, is because Italian has mostly pure vowel sounds (compared to English, which is loaded with dipthongs), and even better, most Italian word end in vowels, so you don't have to cut off that lovely ending note with a hard sound, which can be a real pain to nail.

Example: Check out this clip from "The Lion King" and really listen to the "D" at the end of "Doomed." Now imagine trying to get a chorus of 40 people to hit that "D" sound at exactly the same moment. If they fail to do so, the resulting sound will sound like a machine gun: d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d

A classic example of the difficulty with dipthongs is anything containing the word "alleluia," specifically the second syllable. It's meant to be sung with a pure "Eh" sound (like in "bed"), but English speakers, at least in the U.S., typically pronounce that second syllable as a long "a" (like in "bay)."

That "a" is actually a dipthong, containing an "eh" and an "ee" (like in "beet"), but folks who have used it their whole lives generally don't notice it unless someone points it out. (If you've never noticed it, try saying the word "bay" reaaaaally slowly. Draw out that vowel sound and pay attention to how the vowel sound changes partway through). It's like listening to a chord and hearing the chord as a whole vs. picking out individual notes.

So if you DO want singers to sing a solid "alleluia," you have to either teach them to sing a pure "eh" or make sure they all change the vowel in the dipthong at the exact same time, which can be really difficult.

Anyway, yeah. I could completely see some languages lending themselves more to writing, and likely different languages being better choices for different KINDS of writing, too. I'd be really interested to see research on the subject.
 

Marian Perera

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Why would you write in a second or fourth language?

Because if I wrote in Singhalese, I'd have a far smaller market.

What advantages do you enjoy?

Well, I can't read or write Singhalese at all, given that my family left Sri Lanka when I was six, and since English used to be the national language there (back in the day because we were colonized by the British) my parents spoke it at home and I grew up speaking, reading and writing it.

So the advantage is that I write in a language I'm fluent with, but that language is not my mother tongue.

What difficulties do you encounter most often?

None. Though I suppose a few other Sri Lankans might consider me a coconut (brown on the outside, white on the inside).
 

FlyBird

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Makes sense to me. Some languages are certainly better choices when it comes to music.

One reason so much opera is composed in Italian, for example, is because Italian has mostly pure vowel sounds (compared to English, which is loaded with dipthongs), and even better, most Italian word end in vowels, so you don't have to cut off that lovely ending note with a hard sound, which can be a real pain to nail.

Example: Check out this clip from "The Lion King" and really listen to the "D" at the end of "Doomed." Now imagine trying to get a chorus of 40 people to hit that "D" sound at exactly the same moment. If they fail to do so, the resulting sound will sound like a machine gun: d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d

A classic example of the difficulty with dipthongs is anything containing the word "alleluia," specifically the second syllable. It's meant to be sung with a pure "Eh" sound (like in "bed"), but English speakers, at least in the U.S., typically pronounce that second syllable as a long "a" (like in "bay)."

That "a" is actually a dipthong, containing an "eh" and an "ee" (like in "beet"), but folks who have used it their whole lives generally don't notice it unless someone points it out. (If you've never noticed it, try saying the word "bay" reaaaaally slowly. Draw out that vowel sound and pay attention to how the vowel sound changes partway through). It's like listening to a chord and hearing the chord as a whole vs. picking out individual notes.

So if you DO want singers to sing a solid "alleluia," you have to either teach them to sing a pure "eh" or make sure they all change the vowel in the dipthong at the exact same time, which can be really difficult.

Anyway, yeah. I could completely see some languages lending themselves more to writing, and likely different languages being better choices for different KINDS of writing, too. I'd be really interested to see research on the subject.
What you said is so interesting. I just learned a thing or two about dipthongs! I can totally see how Italian can be better for singing - if someone asked me how my Italian friends talk, I would say they are singing. Still, I am not convinced that one language can be better for writing than another, but maybe one language is better in some areas than another. In other words each language has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, take a paragraph in English describing an Victorian mansion and try to translate that into Chinese, it becomes hard to do because there are no Victorian mansions in China and many of the items and furnishings have no equivalent Chinese terms. Conversely a paragraph in Chinese describing Chinese bamboo hats may be hard to translate into English because there are no such hats in England. So languages could be more effective with respect to their own culture but less effective when applied to foreign cultures. This is different from singing where ending in a vowel make it easier to sing universally.
 

FlyBird

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Hi Birdy, I think six is right ... the preschools and kindergartens are the best place to start but unfortunately, for some reason, it isn't so in some countries. A while ago, my kids' nursery and pres-K asked the parents to submit suggestion and I said, a foreign language!! And school replied: Great but did nothing :cry:
It is probably for financial reasons, it’s expensive to hire dedicated foreign language teachers in nursery and pre-K. In my area though, Spanish is automatically offered, because many teachers already speak Spanish.
 

EstherJ

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I write in English because I'm just as fluent in it, and because the market is way larger :u If I wrote in my first language, the only people to read it would be my parents......
 

Luke_s

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Why would you write in a second or fourth language?
What advantages do you enjoy?
What difficulties do you encounter most often?

I am currently trying to learn Spanish, I would love to give it a go, but I don't know enough at the moment. I think It would help you when learning a second language though?
 

Tazlima

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... maybe one language is better in some areas than another. In other words each language has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, take a paragraph in English describing an Victorian mansion and try to translate that into Chinese, it becomes hard to do because there are no Victorian mansions in China and many of the items and furnishings have no equivalent Chinese terms. Conversely a paragraph in Chinese describing Chinese bamboo hats may be hard to translate into English because there are no such hats in England. So languages could be more effective with respect to their own culture but less effective when applied to foreign cultures. This is different from singing where ending in a vowel make it easier to sing universally.

Upon further pondering, there are many ways one language could be better suited to writing than another, although I agree it would depend on the particular concept being conveyed, or the format of the writing itself. Rhyming works and poetry are a biggie, as they occupy a halfway point between prose and song. Not all languages have the same quantity of available rhymes, for one thing. They also have different cadences. English most commonly emphasizes the first syllable of a word, while Italian tends to emphasize the second-to-last.

There are also ideas that have their own words in some languages but not others. "Schadenfreude," is a classic example. And I don't remember the word or the language, but I remember reading about a language that had a single word to convey "the situation where there's an unpleasant task to be done, and two people are both kind of standing there, each hoping the other will volunteer." ALL THAT in one word!

One thing I know, from personal experience, is that English is more suited for lies of omission than other languages.

I remember one time in college when I had to stay out late. It was well past when the buses stopped running, and I didn't have money for a cab, so I originally planned to walk the four miles home. However, I was tired, and when a male friend offered to drive me, I gladly accepted. The only problem was my then-boyfriend. He was red-flag levels of jealous. I was young and inexperienced enough at the time that i didn't recognize the red-flag nature of the behavior, but I DID know that if I mentioned the person who drove me home was a guy, I'd have to deal with paranoid accusations that I was sleeping with this guy, probably followed by a couple days of pouting. I didn't want to deal with that BS, and decided not to mention the ride at all. However, boyfriend noticed I was earlier than expected and asked how I had gotten home.

I simply said "a friend drove me."

Or at least, that's what I WANTED to say.

Unfortunately, this conversation took place in Italian - which has gendered nouns. I couldn't just say "friend" and let boyfriend assume the friend was female. No. I had to choose: "amico" or "amica."

I went with "amica," turning my half-truth into a full lie, and that lie was believed, and life continued without incident. Yet somehow that small change etched the incident into my mind so strongly that even now, many years later, I remember every detail. And I was angry about it. Not (as I should rightly have been) at the boyfriend for being so stupidly jealous that I felt the need to hide the sex of someone who had done me a favor. Not at myself, for being too cowardly to state the truth and too foolish to leave Mr. Jealous.

No, I was angry at the language itself, angry that it lacked a non-gendered word for "friend" and forced me to choose between pure truth and pure lie.

Writers often talk about word choice - that joyous moment when you find the exact right word to convey the meaning you're trying to impart, those subtle nuances that means synonyms are never truly synonymous.

If you think of a translated word as a synonym, then it actually makes perfect sense that different languages would be better suited to conveying different ideas, and that's just looking at individual words. When you add in grammar, context, subtext, and an entire linguistic history's worth of baggage piled on (not even getting into different colloquialisms and expressions), it gets really complicated really quickly.
 
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Curlz

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I prefer a pen ;). But I want to write a romance in French. But I can't write romance.
 

FlyBird

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Upon further pondering, there are many ways one language could be better suited to writing than another, although I agree it would depend on the particular concept being conveyed, or the format of the writing itself. Rhyming works and poetry are a biggie, as they occupy a halfway point between prose and song. Not all languages have the same quantity of available rhymes, for one thing. They also have different cadences. English most commonly emphasizes the first syllable of a word, while Italian tends to emphasize the second-to-last.

There are also ideas that have their own words in some languages but not others. "Schadenfreude," is a classic example. And I don't remember the word or the language, but I remember reading about a language that had a single word to convey "the situation where there's an unpleasant task to be done, and two people are both kind of standing there, each hoping the other will volunteer." ALL THAT in one word!

One thing I know, from personal experience, is that English is more suited for lies of omission than other languages.

I remember one time in college when I had to stay out late. It was well past when the buses stopped running, and I didn't have money for a cab, so I originally planned to walk the four miles home. However, I was tired, and when a male friend offered to drive me, I gladly accepted. The only problem was my then-boyfriend. He was red-flag levels of jealous. I was young and inexperienced enough at the time that i didn't recognize the red-flag nature of the behavior, but I DID know that if I mentioned the person who drove me home was a guy, I'd have to deal with paranoid accusations that I was sleeping with this guy, probably followed by a couple days of pouting. I didn't want to deal with that BS, and decided not to mention the ride at all. However, boyfriend noticed I was earlier than expected and asked how I had gotten home.

I simply said "a friend drove me."

Or at least, that's what I WANTED to say.

Unfortunately, this conversation took place in Italian - which has gendered nouns. I couldn't just say "friend" and let boyfriend assume the friend was female. No. I had to choose: "amico" or "amica."

I went with "amica," turning my half-truth into a full lie, and that lie was believed, and life continued without incident. Yet somehow that small change etched the incident into my mind so strongly that even now, many years later, I remember every detail. And I was angry about it. Not (as I should rightly have been) at the boyfriend for being so stupidly jealous that I felt the need to hide the sex of someone who had done me a favor. Not at myself, for being too cowardly to state the truth and too foolish to leave Mr. Jealous.

No, I was angry at the language itself, angry that it lacked a non-gendered word for "friend" and forced me to choose between pure truth and pure lie.

Writers often talk about word choice - that joyous moment when you find the exact right word to convey the meaning you're trying to impart, those subtle nuances that means synonyms are never truly synonymous.

If you think of a translated word as a synonym, then it actually makes perfect sense that different languages would be better suited to conveying different ideas, and that's just looking at individual words. When you add in grammar, context, subtext, and an entire linguistic history's worth of baggage piled on (not even getting into different colloquialisms and expressions), it gets really complicated really quickly.

In your specific example, using Chinese would be the same as English, which does not have male and female forms as well. In addition, Chinese words don't have tense.

You are absolutely correct about some languages have words for certain ideas and other languages don't, which makes translations difficult.

Thinking of translated words as synonyms - that's so true, and they are never perfect synonyms, I guess that's the whole "lost in translation" issue.

I wish I could speak Italian. It's such a beautiful language to hear! I lived in Italy for two years but never picked up the language. Maybe I'll start learning again...I need a new year's resolution.
 

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Ask the French why they developed a written language for the Vietnamese using Roman characters (and an extended character set using diacritic marks.) They couldn't comprehend the original written language which employed Chinese characters. Visualizing the words is an important part of me learning a language. Chinese? Forget it. I have a little bit of a handle on Vietnamese. I'm not fluent but I can get around on my own for the most part.

Interesting side note: There is a popular tattoo that women often get of a Chinese character which means 'Peace and harmony.' The same character means 'Dirty whore' to the Vietnamese.
 

Tocotin

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Interesting side note: There is a popular tattoo that women often get of a Chinese character which means 'Peace and harmony.' The same character means 'Dirty whore' to the Vietnamese.

That is very interesting. Could you please post this character? I've always thought that Chinese character meanings rarely vary so much in different languages (of course the pronunciation does).
 

FlyBird

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That is very interesting. Could you please post this character? I've always thought that Chinese character meanings rarely vary so much in different languages (of course the pronunciation does).
I think in countries that adopted Chinese characters such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, the meaning of many of the characters did change during the process of adoption and throug internal use. So without knowing which country the Chinese character is from, sometimes it is hard to tell its exact meaning.
 

Tocotin

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I think in countries that adopted Chinese characters such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, the meaning of many of the characters did change during the process of adoption and throug internal use. So without knowing which country the Chinese character is from, sometimes it is hard to tell its exact meaning.

I'm quite aware of that. I work for a Tokyo-based company. We get a lot of bookings from our Chinese partners. Sometimes they leave the instructions in Chinese, and it can be confusing. For example, 酒店 is "hotel" in Chinese, but in Japanese it is "liquor store".

The thing is, liquor store and hotel do have something in common - both are places, both are businesses, etc. But "peace and harmony" and "dirty whore"? I do know that the character for harmony, 和, is popular in the West. It is one of the components of 平和 (peace in Japanese) or 和平 (peace in Chinese). But its primal meaning is universal in all languages that use Chinese characters, and it's certainly not a slur. So the whole thing sounds a bit like an urban legend...
 
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FlyBird

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I'm quite aware of that. I work for a Tokyo-based company. We get a lot of bookings from our Chinese partners. Sometimes they leave the instructions in Chinese, and it can be confusing. For example, 酒店 is "hotel" in Chinese, but in Japanese it is "liquor store".

The thing is, liquor store and hotel do have something in common - both are places, both are businesses, etc. But "peace and harmony" and "dirty whore"? I do know that the character for harmony, 和, is popular in the West. It is one of the components of 平和 (peace in Japanese) or 和平 (peace in Chinese). But its primal meaning is universal in all languages that use Chinese characters, and it's certainly not a slur. So the whole thing sounds a bit like an urban legend...
I agree, it is probably urban legend, or some other character we are not expecting.
 

Irene Eng

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Interesting side note: There is a popular tattoo that women often get of a Chinese character which means 'Peace and harmony.' The same character means 'Dirty whore' to the Vietnamese.

I'm very interested to know too.
 
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Irene Eng

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I'm quite aware of that. I work for a Tokyo-based company. We get a lot of bookings from our Chinese partners. Sometimes they leave the instructions in Chinese, and it can be confusing. For example, 酒店 is "hotel" in Chinese, but in Japanese it is "liquor store".

The thing is, liquor store and hotel do have something in common - both are places, both are businesses, etc. But "peace and harmony" and "dirty whore"? I do know that the character for harmony, 和, is popular in the West. It is one of the components of 平和 (peace in Japanese) or 和平 (peace in Chinese). But its primal meaning is universal in all languages that use Chinese characters, and it's certainly not a slur. So the whole thing sounds a bit like an urban legend...
and Birdy

I googled this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_writing_in_Vietnam didn't help much with that 'dirty w' - very suspenseful!
 

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