The hardships of writing in a non-native language.

I was born and raised in Russia, which is where I learned to speak, read, and write. Unlike America, where the Language Arts class is both reading and writing, Russia’s school had divided it into two classes: Literature and Russian. In Literature class you read, and in Russian class you learned grammar and spelling.

When I was little, I wanted to be a Literature teacher because I loved to read. My parents would “ground” me as punishment by kicking me outside to play instead of letting me sit at home and read. I looked forward to Literature class because it meant new stories. I hated Russian class because it was hard. So many rules and exceptions.

So you can imagine how much of a shock I was in after coming to the United States and seeing just how much worse the English language is. I was 11 and starting 6th grade. I didn’t actually go to the regular classes but spent my days in ESL learning the ins and outs of why there’s a silent e that doesn’t actually do anything, or why in the world English has so many useless filler words like the and a (words my parents still don’t use because why?).

I would say I did pretty well in learning a second language and making it my own. I think in English, I imagine in English, and I write in English. I can still speak and read Russian but that’s not the point of this post. The point is, even though I am in many ways an American, it still feels like a huge roadblock in my writing.

First of all, there are words I know exist but can’t think of. I’ve heard it before, or read it before, but I just can’t think of it and it’s the perfect word for this sentence so I’m going to spend a half hour skimming through similar words on until I find it.

There have been days when I spend more time on than actual writing. I’m so grateful for its existence, because without I would never be able to actually say what I see. And that’s the hardest part. The scenes I see in my head sometimes seem impossible to put on paper because I feel like I don’t have enough words.

I’ve told myself many times I can’t do it. I can never measure up to anyone who writes in the language of their birth. But then I remember back in high school, a teacher pulled me aside one day and told me that my writing has a special style. It’s simple, but elegant. I use the least amount of words but still get my point across. And I feel hope.

Maybe I can do this.

And I hope that others who struggle like me find hope too.

Because you can do it too.


4 thoughts on “The hardships of writing in a non-native language.

  1. Know your pain. I am of Danish heritage and spent my childhood and youth in Denmark. 22 years in Denmark and now, 33 years here in America. Danish is my first language, but I also went to school here, in fact, college and obtained a Master degree in Scandinavian Languages and Literature. Danish is more like English, however, so on that front, perhaps easier to learn for me. But i still am at a loss for words sometimes and know what you are going through. The fact is, we have a vocabulary of TWO languages, and sometimes, a Danish word fits better than an English word, but of course, we cannot create a new combined language like that, even though it may feel natural to us 🙂


    • I absolutely agree! There have been several times that I have a Russian word for a feeling or action, but the direct translation is not a literal translation and doesn’t work. Then I wreck my brain at trying to find an alternative to something that’s perfect and it’s impossible.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Some of the best writing is the most simple and elegant. Too complex, too many long words, and the meaning is obfuscated. Having read your blog I’d say you’ve nothing at all to worry about. The words you have now are more than enough, any you add in the future will be a bonus.


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