Writing in a Foreign Language

Writing in a Foreign Language

Writing in a Foreign Language

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By Ashley Elizabeth Wood

writingSo far, all of the “voices” we present here on Albanian Voices have been in English. It’s important to remember that in most cases, English is not that person’s first language. Writing is hard enough without adding the stress of doing it in a foreign language. In the case of Albanian and English, the later language has a global dominant power. It is crucial to be fluent in English in order to have a productive life and career. However, for many Albanians, writing in English can be a very daunting task. Don’t be afraid to start! Writing in a foreign language takes practice. The following are some tips for how to avoid committing some of the most common errors when it comes to writing in any foreign language, not just English.

Always write in the foreign language, never translate yourself.

Although it may be tempting to write your essay in your native language and then translate it, it is much better compose everything directly in the intended language. Many phrases, idioms, figures of speech and colloquialisms do not  translate directly, and often things like sentence structure, prepositions and pronouns aren’t the same from language to language. If you write only in your target language, you’ll be better able to think in that language.

downloadAlways think in the foreign language when you write.

If you think in the language you are writing in, you won’t be tempted to use words from your native language to describe things. You’ll be more in the mentality of the target language, in this case English. Think, if you were a native speaker, what kinds of words would you use and how  would you formulate your argument?  Watching a foreign movie or talking to a friend in the language before you begin to write might help get you into the right mindset.

When you do need to look up a word, use a dictionary and do the grunt work yourself.

Google translate can be great for getting a general idea of a webpage or translating single words, but sites like that should not be used to translate large blocks of text. It is better to have simple sentences that you have written yourself and know are correct. If you try to write like you write in your native language, you’ll end up with complex, but seriously flawed sentences that make no sense to a native speaker.

writing (1)Proof read, proof read, proof read!

Everybody makes typos and silly mistakes when they write, and those mistakes are often  multiplied when writing in a foreign language. Many languages have much more complicated rules for gender, plurals and verb conjugation, and it is important to keep those rules in mind throughout the writing process. As you write, pay close attention to agreement and grammar. When you write really complex sentences, go over them slowly and confirm each word. When you’re done, read your essay carefully. It’s best to read it outloud too. It’s always helpful to ask a friend or native English speaker to look over your writing.

Write clearly and confidently

Even if you are unsure of your ability to write in the other language, try to behave as confidently as possible. Take the time to formulate a strong thesis and prepare an outline beforehand.  When you write, refer back to the outline regularly to make sure you are on topic. Try to stay true to your voice as a writer, and don’t do anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in your native language. Resist the urge to pad your essay with complicated, flowery prose, or to use vocabulary you do not know. Unless you have a very good handle on the language, it could make your essay seem convoluted and in-congruent. Clarity, conciseness and flow are key — when in doubt, get to the point and get out.

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