Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Igilisi o se saua sauaga

I am originally from Serbia (living in Mexico for the past year) so English is not my primary language.
Non the less I have always preferred writing and reading in English.

Do you think that is absolutely necessary for non-English speakers to get a proof-reader and a copy-editor before submitting to an agent? 

There are some financial struggles that make me question if I should start saving up money, before finishing the book.

Since it is my first book and I never submitted my work to an agent, I really don't know how tolerant they are to writers who manage English as a second language.

It's not absolutely necessary, but you should.
English is a bitch of a language that delights in tormenting writers.

Things that make sense in English grammar are nuts.

If funds are limited, you may be able to find help from critique groups or beta readers.

But you should ALWAYS tell me that you're writing in your non-native language, no matter what.

When I get a query that has weird syntax, or odd mistakes, my first thought is the writer isn't skilled. It's NOT the writer is using her second (or third!) language.

It's in your best interest (and mine too!) to alert me to the fact you're following in the footsteps of Joseph Conrad, Aleksandar Hemon, Vladimir Nabokov, and Khaled Hosseini.


Mister Furkles said...

Vladimir Nabokov's first books were written in his native Russian. Later he wrote in English but was quite a linguist. Conrad spoke three languages fluently before joining the British merchant marine where he learned English--maybe after the age of sail and before the age of video, there wasn't much to do between ports except read and write.

To learn English well enough to write novels, one must read extensively and associate with native speakers.

The thing that gets me about non native speakers is their use of prepositions. We are accustomed to specific usage of some prepositions in some situations and others in other situations. There is no rule for this. There is the Royal Order of Adjectives which can be learned. But no rule for which preposition should be used when.

Doesn't mean non native speakers aren't fluent in English. But writing for publication is a bitch and takes practice, practice, practice. And an ear for it too.

nightsmusic said...

Agree! A great critique group or a couple of beta readers, especially those who have a good understanding of grammar, can be invaluable and cheap (free!) That would be the first place to start. I've utilized that path for a long time. While you'll most likely also get recommendations for your story, those are up to you to accept or decline.

Also, Grammar Girl is a great resource. She's still active on Twitter, I believe, though she's turned over her site to a more commercial format.

Katja said...

Hey, OP, welcome to the cluuuuuub!

Ha, I need to correct you: you ARE an English speaker, just not a native one. And that's okay.

I used to HATE foreign languages at school. Yes, hate.
Now I speak English, think English, dream English, and write English. Oh, and I even swear English. ;) It's so cool.

I wouldn't say that English is as much of a bitch as German. English is pretty easy compared with it. I don't know about Serbian - I speak zero of it.

I do speak French as well, and I find it harder than English, but I know it's objectively much easier than German.

After all, you have made a good choice, I find - here I'm saying it: English is relatively easy, which is why so many people in the world are able to speak it, BUT (or AND?) it is the BEST language in the world. The most BEAUTIFUL and WONDERFUL language. I find that the sound of it is just like music!

I love the English language. <3

LynnRodz said...

I have to agree and disagree with with Katja. English is an easy language compared to French and German (let's not even talk about Japanese or Chinese) but as far as the lyrical sound of a language, English doesn't compare to Italian or French. Then again, to each his own.

The only way to get the nuance of a language, OP, is to surround yourself with native speakers and when you get to the point, as Katja said, of thinking, dreaming, and swearing in another language, you know you've become fluent in that language. But, as Mister Furkles says, those darn prepositions will trip you up. Heck, they trip up even native speakers.

Follow Janet's advice, get in a critique group, find beta readers for you work, make sure English is their mother tongue and not Spanish (another easy language.) Good luck, OP.

Vanja Vasiljkovic said...

Thanks to everyone for your kind comments and thank you Janet for your quick response. Actually I am teaching English in Mexico and 99% of the books I've read were in English. I've also worked for American company for two years and me and my bf communicate strictly in English (that's actually the only way to understand each other) :) None the less, I am never going o be so confident to say that I manage 100 % of English and that my book is just amazing, I don't think anyone should. I will definitely look up beta readers and see if I can find some cheaper versions of editing and proofreading. Also, will remember to mention in my query that English is my second language... As for Serbian... It is really really complicated and 99% of foreigners never learn to pronounce it properly :) There's way too many letters and way too many rules and even though I am pretty sure Serbian is more complicated than majority of languages, English is still my second language. :)

Katja said...

LynnRodz, of course, during the 5 years I was living in France, I did swear in French a couple of times, too. ;)

Only a couple of p*t**n d* m*rd*. ;D

Because English has so many words, it's so descriptive. French doesn't quite have that. There isn't even a word for 'cheap' as far as I know. You just have to say 'less expensive' or 'not expensive'.

And I just find the English language is more ideal for music. German sounds hard, and French can't be 'stretched' appropriately. I've never fallen in love with French songs all those years. English music does reach my soul, though. Some, at least.

But you're right, that's a taste thing, not so much a fact.

John Davis Frain said...


I bow toward Mexico. Great respect to you. I speak three languages, but none fluently yet, including my native English. One day...

Keep writing!

Vanja Vasiljkovic said...

Thank you John... So far I speak Serbian, English and Spanish fluently (or I like to think so) ;) Hopefully soon enough I will speak portuguese also. Never stop trying. Languages are a beautiful thing.

Emma said...

I'm not a native English speaker either. But I've been reading/writing/thinking/dreaming/cursing in it for so many decades it's more of an enhancement to how I think about language than a problem (I think). Weirdly though sometimes I want a very precise word, but I can only think of it in Russian. Then I use google translate just for that word and once in a while I'm amazed that there is no correlation.

And vice versa. Some concepts only exist in one language but not the other.

In any case, Grammar girl has been invaluable to me. I would also recommend ProWritingAid, which you can use for free for small snippets, and which is fairly affordable if you want to put whole chapters through it. SO Incredibly useful.

Good luck!

Colin Smith said...

Let's be honest: most native English speakers don't speak English well. And some strains of the language can sound completely foreign. Everyone should have at least a second pair of eyes, if not a third and fourth, looking over their work to make sure it's grammatically correct and flows well. I can understand this being especially important for a non-native speaker, if not for grammatical accuracy, for that added confidence that what you're presenting to an agent sounds competent, and even credibly native.

Good advice. All the best, Vanja!

Craig F said...

I think that the use of contractions, especially in dialogue, is the best smoke and mirrors catch of the English language.

Most other languages use a modifier where English uses contractions.

Latin languages use a version of De, German, a version of Der, etc.

Chinese is the easiest language, once you get everything memorized, because it runs in a straight line.

Katja said...

Colin, in reality you meant that most native English speakers don't speak English good, right?

Ha ha, I so know what you mean...

I watch YouTube rubbish sometimes (got no TV!)... it makes you cringe and want to pull out your hair. Or maybe the one of the person in the video. LOL

In the defence of your native country, it's not happening here so much. It really is an American fashion.

Unknown said...

The only Serbian words I know are rakija and Slava--got to start with the essentials. I imagine English is a walk in the park compared to Serbian, though. Slavic languages don't mess around.

Personally, I think the benefit to a non-native speaker's prose is that it is often somewhat more original. Native speakers can often over-use cliches in my opinion. I'd rather fix some homonym errors than try to liven up some boring prose any day.

Colin Smith said...

Katja: Absolutely. People don't speak English good, like what I does. :D

Megan V said...

Vanja Best wishes to you in your writing journey!

While I’m only fluent in English (unless we’re counting pig-Latin and ubby dubby), I am fascinated by every language. So many nuances! When I have been fortunate enough to travel to other countries-I’ve made it a point to learn as much as I can in the time that I have. Of all the languages I’ve dipped my toes into, I’d have to say that Polish was hardest, although Mandarin and Korean were close behind. (The slightest change in pronunciation can change what your saying, and it’s so subtle that I’ve found that I don’t really have the ability to perceive it).

Many of my friends are non-native English speakers and while they are fluent, I’ve noticed that there are a few small things that sometimes make them stand out (especially in the first few years of fluency). Some tend to speak/write more formally—they are way more orderly and structured in the way that they speak. Sometimes it’s as simple and nuanced as a word choice—nonetheless vs. nevertheless etc.

Grab a friend, they’ll point those things out right off.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

I feel your pain Vanja. As a non-native speaker myself, writing novels in English is a laborious process and the Imposter Syndrome hits harder. My specific difficulties are conversational English, tenses and the in/on/at usage.

Janet is right about the beta readers. I have a posse of BR's I met while swimming in the Reef who, when reading through my MS, very kindly correct my mistakes. They are worth their weight in chocolates. The things is, at the outset I tell them to please flag only the egregious mistakes because I feel it would be an imposition on my part to ask them to hunt down all the grammatical errors on top of trying to read the MS for story flow, voice, etc.

I recommend Grammar Girl and the book Say What by C.S. Lakin, not just for non-native speakers but for everyone.

Adele said...

When I have work (grrr), I copy-edit nonfiction written by people whose first language is not English. They are well-educated, use English exclusively, and work at the highest levels of their field - but sometimes I stare at a sentence and cannot even figure out what they were trying to say. After I've thought a bit, I usually find that they've made a tiny error that completely changed the meaning - an error that no native speaker of English would ever make.

Grammarly doesn't flag it. (In fact, Grammarly doesn't pick up a lot of things, so never rely on it exclusively.) Usually the problem is word order, or omitting a word. Something as simple as leaving out a "the" can change an adjective back into a verb and completely alter the meaning of a phrase. I also have to edit the language level - usually taking it down a notch! - or taking out extraneous words - English is more terse than many other European languages.

Your English may be perfect in conversation, but there can be subtle hiccups hidden in your writing, detectable only through the eyes of a live human reading in their native language. Make friends with one, and see if they'll do it for pizza.

nightsmusic said...


At the risk of spending eternity in Carkoon, and I'm really hoping in this instance that our Shark doesn't do that to me, I wanted to use something you wrote as an example of native eyes on the page.

You wrote: I've also worked for American company for two years and me and my bf communicate strictly in English

Technically, it would be: I've also worked for an American company for two years and my bf and I or I and my bf

The reason for this is, you wouldn't say, and me communicate strictly in English You would say, and I communicate strictly in English. I don't know if Grammarly would catch that. I've never used it. I know Grammar Girl goes into that usage though.

I agree with Adele! See if they'll work for pizza. :) It's a lot cheaper to start with.

*waves from the Carkoon boat*

Adele said...

nightsmusic - You can set Grammarly for different levels and types of detection, but the software uses an algorithm - it reads the sentence and then decides what you're trying to say, and creates "errors" based on how different your sentence is from what Grammarly thinks it should be.

Sometimes - and when I use it, probably about 5% of the time - Grammarly does not get the first step right - the sentence doesn't mean what Grammarly thinks it means - and the errors are not errors at all. For example, suppose I started a sentence with "Mary Elizabeth and June..." - a human would realize instantly that Mary Elizabeth and June were two women, but Grammarly might decide that I was trying to say "Marry Elizabeth in June ..." and would flag a spelling mistake on Mary, and insist that "and" should be "in", and based on that construction it would go on to wreck the whole rest of the sentence.

The general perception out there seems to be that "oh, I'll just run it through my software, it'll catch my mistakes", and that just gives me the heebie-jeebies. I don't think it will ever be possible for that to be true, simply because predicting the meaning of human speech is never going to be that cut-and-dried.

Adele said...

... and of course now that my post is up I've just seen a couple of grammar and punctuation issues ...

Katja said...

Colin, so glad we agree one more time. XD
The word "well" might be gone one day if you don't care for it.

Lovely, lovely, how Unknown encourages us non-native speakers, thank you SO much. I have been told I used uncommon terms in my book... making it a little, um... unnatural.

A local friend told me, when I pressed her to be more precise: "Well, we wouldn't say 'making shag' like you have said". But then she grinned, her mouth slightly covered in the café(!)... oh the people around!

She did think I wasn't aware it wasn't a term. I WAS! But when I looked at the real phrase, and my characters, the word 'love' just didn't fit. I meant it as a JOKE. And to be truthful.

At least it's not boring, I hope.

Sadly, I sometimes cause misunderstandings with my non-native English. And sometimes I really mess up and hurt people. In February, I used the word 'frosty' in my local writers group for something and it was bad usage. The lady who was hurt by it doesn't speak to me any more. Even after I tried to explain what I meant.

I must have lost a manner-filter or so on the way I was born. Yes, I mean 'way', not 'day'.

Pericula Ludus said...

Oh, there's quite a few of us non-native speakers around here! How delightful!

I've lived in the UK for more than 11 years now and previously lived in the US and Canada. These days I rarely speak, read, or write my 1st (German) and 2nd (French) languages. I wrote my PhD and three other dissertations in English, I teach university classes in English, and all my academic publications are in English. Nevertheless, I desperately need proofreaders for my fiction writing. Prepositions are a big problem for me and a Germanism I can never seem to get rid of is mixing up "if" and "when". We shall not mention sentence length. I make lots of niggly little mistakes that aren't really wrong and where there isn't a proper rule that I could learn, but they sound odd somehow.

I have yet to pay anyone for nitpicking my shoddy grammar though. My beta readers always enlighten me with gems of "dunno why but no" in every single round of feedback. Don't think the process differs too much whether you are a native speaker or not. Every piece of writing has to be seen by many eyeballs during editing. And those should include multiple native speaker eyeballs. I'm also a great advocate for non-native speaker eyeballs on native speaker writing. I keep telling my students that. For example, non-native speakers tend to be magnificent at spotting misused homophones. They simply don't make much sense if you have learned a language through writing/reading more than speaking.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I stand in awe of those who speak multiple languages and can write in multiple languages. I still struggle with English. The only language I speak. I had a good command of French once upon a time, but no more. Once I left Europe, I let it go. Wish I had not.

nightsmusic said...

EM, you're not alone. I spoke Scots gaelic when I was very young because my grandparents spoke it almost exclusively in the house. Unfortunately, when they passed, my mother no longer wanted to use the language and now, it's dying out though there are revivals thanks the the education system in Scotland and DuoLingo which is offering their entire Scots gaelic classes for free. There's a whole community on FB for it. I imagine there is for most other languages too so you should take it back up again! I'm encouraging you :)

And that's my three so I'm outta here.

Brigid said...

Adele, that's been exactly my experience. I'm editing for a brilliant Russian writer right now, and she is absolutely fluent, but that isn't the same as perfect. We have had many conversations about articles--she frequently omits "the" or adds it in randomly. She nearly always puts adverbs in the wrong spot. Sometimes her sentences are technically correct, just not something a native speaker would say. And that matters because it is a disruption. Anything that pulls the reader out of the text is a problem. And of course I have my own disruptions in my writing. Which is why a good editor is worth her scotch.

Alina Sergachov said...

How did you find a CP or a beta? Any recommendations? I would love to get some feedback on my MG WIP (and yeah, English is my third language).

Pericula Ludus said...

Alina Sergachov, I found critique partners through NaNoWriMo, through the authortube community on YouTube, through writing classes, and through a Meetup for writers in my city.

AJ Blythe said...

Nightsmusic, I am using Duolingo to learn French. I did 6 months of French at school, but then they made me switch to German which I didn't enjoy - finally getting my chance to learn French.

If anyone is wanting to try and stumble their way through a new language, Duolingo is a free app which is easy to use. Whether it can teach me to learn French, time will tell.

Although, who knows when I'll ever get the chance to use it, lol.

Vanja Vasiljkovic said...

Wow... So many comments.
I am so happy to know I am not alone in this boat. Sometimes, when writing, I tend to judge my work too much and re-read and re-write, constantly finding better ways to say it. I don't really mind, because I do believe that good work needs a lot of re-writing, but sometimes re-writing while writing seems like a really bad idea. It gets me further away from the story and deep into an ocean of technicalities. Unfortunately, it is easy to drown ideas and the original story in that ocean. It is a deep and dark place for us non-native speakers.

I just want to thank you all for your comments, corrections, and encouragement. Unknown, thank you for your statement that we make it more interesting. I hope you will learn more words on Serbian, my boyfriend is certainly struggling a lot. I was actually struggling with that when deciding to use a phrase we use in Serbia in my work.

Nightsmusic thank you for your advice. Probably most of the native speakers would laugh hearing the conversations that my boyfriend and I run in the house.
"Can I use this word in this phrase?"
"Well, when you say ...... normally you shouldn't say that after."
"But I didn't say that"
"No, I know you didn't"
"But you said "when you say" "
"But I didn't mean you, I meant in general"
"So why did you say you?"....
I will stop here to be polite to you guys but this could go on for hours. Luckily when it comes to writing, he is my biggest support pushing me forward. Sometimes I get so caught up in all the rules, word counts, what sells, what doesn't, POVs, quality of my English language... I get so caught up that I forget about my story and instead of producing I start doubting everything I've ever known about writing... It is true that we are our own worst critics.

Again thank you so much and I will share with you a quote I wrote a couple of days ago while drowning in the sea of rules and risks of being different.

"When did writing get so complicated? Don't get caught up in the rules, #mswl, and publishing details. Be different. Be bold. Be willing to take risks, break the rules, and take on a different path. If you're not willing to take a risk, why would an agent take a risk with you?"