Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#1
For years I've had a story slowly weaving itself in the back of my head and I finally decided that it was time to write it down.
As a sort of challenge to myself, I've decided that I would write it in English. There is a myriad of reasons for that choice, one which is that I simply do not want to write in my native language.

The thing is: I don't know if I'm capable of writing something decent enough for an english speaking audience, and more than that, I don't really have a way to gauge the level of my writing.

To help dispel some of the doubts I have, I have a few questions for you guys:
  • Would you still enjoy a story written with a somewhat restricted vocabulary and odd sentence structuring?
  • Do you know of any proficient author on here who's mother tongue isn't English?
  • Do you know of any external resources that could help me?
Apologies if this has been asked before, I wasn't able to find any posts that were relevant to my situation.

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#2
1: Yes, odd sentence structures now and then are fine, as is a somewhat restricted vocabulary, as long as the imagery is clear and the writing is to the point. 

If the grammar is genuinely ambiguous or obscures meaning, that's a problem, but such issues are often more a matter of haste than mastery of English. If you focus on clarity, then I think you will be at least as readable as a native speaker who is not taking pains.

2: I'm currently reading The World Traveler from the Future as part of a review trade, and the author, Luca De Rosa, is not a native English speaker.  While there are a few places here and there where the wording slips a little (as he noted in a comment, sometimes Italian sentence structures slip in), in general it is very readable. It helps that he makes stylistic choices that contribute to ease of reading.

3: * Some programs can check grammar, but these are frequently inaccurate. 
* Strunk and White's Elements of Style is a classic and not-very-long guide to clear writing in English that I recommend. However, its focus is on clean sentences more than the details of grammatical rules.
* Perhaps you could arrange a comment/proofreading trade with another member on Royalroad. They could focus on grammar and style for your work, and you could focus on clarity, pacing, and other concerns for theirs.

I'm about to start a hectic term of teaching, so I can't promise too much. However...

I could look over a chapter or two of your writing in a Google Doc and point out errors that you tend to make frequently, allowing you to keep an eye out for them in the future, and offer some suggested edits. In return, you could comment on a work in progress I'm writing, if that works for you.

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#3
If the quality of this post is any indication, you shouldn't have too much of a problem. None of your sentences seem particularly egregiously structured. Honestly, if you hadn't pointed out you weren't a native writer, I'd never have guessed.


A lot of people use Grammarly to check their work, but I'm wary of it personally. It could be useful for basic checks, but I'd hesitate to rely too heavily on any program. There are always nuances that a computer won't understand.

If you make it known that you'd welcome corrections, I'm sure people would be glad to point out how you can improve your prose if anything were to feel off. I know my readers are very good at catching any typos or weird sentences that slip past me. :) It's a very supportive and helpful community on the whole.

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#4
I don't think you have much to worry about. I'm in the same boat as you and the best way would be to try and see. Judging by your post small edits, expanded vocabulary and your English as a whole shouldn't be concerns. Be more confident and improve as you go.

Being non-native speaker is not a measure for competence and proficiency. Consuming almost all media in English and working with it in the past years definitely helped me. As for writing in general, I've seen, watched and read a lot of material, none dealing with foreign languages nor help and tips in that direction, because again it doesn't matter that much (maybe look for translation / localization aid more specifically instead for writing). Imo if you know English well enough to understand it, you know it well enough to write a story and it could only get better with time, practice and effort.

Off the top of my head I can think of Exterminatus and ELLC because we are from the same country and his writing skills are amazing. I'm sure there are a lot more non-native English writers on the site than you suspect.

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#5
I'm not a native English speaker myself, but that didn't hold me back so far. I'll let you be the judge of my proficiency. 
Judging by your post, you should be fine. If you want to increase your vocabulary, it helps if you read a lot. Personally I'd recommend anything with 'witty humor' as they tend to rely on tricks and clever use of words. The most difficult bit will be slang, proverbs, sayings and the like. 'Killing two birds with one stone' will likely be phrased differently where you are even if the intended meaning is the same.

Grammarly is an excellent suggestion, but runs into the problem that it can check grammar, spelling and context up to a point, but not meaning. A sentence may be correct and still not be what you wanted to say.

There are plenty of novels here written by non-English authors and there is a bit of tolerance for it.

One tip, pay attention to the word 'that'. Even native English writers have a tendency to over-use it. Often it can be swapped around for 'it' or 'which' or left out altogether. Example:
The item that I gave to you
The item which I gave to you
The item I gave to you

It's to avoid repetition and to cut down on superfluous words. Then, when you use 'that' in a sentence where you previously did not, it can draw extra attention to it.

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#6
Yeah go ahead. You don't need great prose to write a great story. It helps, but the story is the most important part y'know? Tight prose is secondary to that, as long as it flows decently enough. 

That said, consider writing in your first language and translating it to English if good prose is important to you. I didn't use to do that, and I only begrudgingly tried it out when an editor gave me the suggestion. Turned out it made a huge difference, and that's coming from someone who has probably written ten times more prose in English than in my first language, over the course of nearly two decades of writing. My English is good enough that people very rarely call me out on my mistakes, I even think in English most of the time, but translation is just... tighter, less ambiguous in the end. And it's faster for me to write like that. 

I've thought a lot about why. It's counter-intuitive after all. I guess in the end it boils down to the fact that writing in a second language is just a lot of stuff to do at once. I need to do all the things I need to do when writing in my first after all - convey the story, stay on topic, convey moods, 'show don't tell'. That's a lot of things my brain has to do. And if writing in English slows me down even just a little.. well, that adds up and is really noticeable. Plus, translating into English is more mentally interesting than simply editing. 

Just my thoughts. As I said it doesn't really matter, I want to read good stories, if I want great prose I'll read poetry. But I recommend giving translation a try, write a scene in ENglish, then write it in your native language and translate it. Compare the results and the time it took you to do it and weigh the pros and cons. 

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#7
There really are a lot of people here who write in English even if it's not their native language. In my experience, the quality is pretty mixed. I agree that just judging from your post, you don't have much to worry about.
 
I think readers here are pretty tolerant of small mistakes or weirdness in language or style.
 
I'm also not a native speaker, but no one seems to mind. At least so far.
 
What I find helpful is to have at least an online dictionary and thesaurus open when I write, and look words up. That helps to expand your vocabulary, especially your active vocabulary. And, of course, reading a lot. I've probably read hundreds of English novels, at least. Although I'd advise you to make sure that what you read has good grammar and style, at least until you're confident that you'll catch all the mistakes yourself. Since there's quite a lot of books where that's a problem, especially self-published ones.
 
Personally, I can't recommend writing in your native language and then translating. For me, it's easier and I make fewer mistakes writing in English in the first place, instead of translating. If I try to translate something from my native language into English, I have to be extra careful not to use the wrong sentence structure and such. Maybe it's just a personal difference.

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#8
Wow, first off, let me thank all of you for the kind replies. I had NOT expected such an awesome feedback when going bed yesterday after writing my post.

I don't use forums so I don't know if this is how things are supposed to be done but I've highlighted what struck with me from each reply, feel free to add to the discussion if you have anything else to add!


ferdielance Wrote: I could look over a chapter or two of your writing in a Google Doc and point out errors that you tend to make frequently, allowing you to keep an eye out for them in the future, and offer some suggested edits. In return, you could comment on a work in progress I'm writing, if that works for you.

Thank you very much for the offer (and for the super useful feedback!), but coincidentally I'm also about to start a somewhat chaotic term of teaching, so the logistics of this seem somewhat uncertain at the moment...



Asviloka Wrote: If you make it known that you'd welcome corrections, I'm sure people would be glad to point out how you can improve your prose if anything were to feel off. I know my readers are very good at catching any typos or weird sentences that slip past me. :) It's a very supportive and helpful community on the whole.

It is indeed! Thank you!



flssdd Wrote: Imo if you know English well enough to understand it, you know it well enough to write a story and it could only get better with time, practice and effort.

I feel like I needed to hear read this. Thank you!



Oskatat Wrote: Personally I'd recommend anything with 'witty humor' as they tend to rely on tricks and clever use of words

Very true, it's been too long since I've read a Discworld novel, that might help greatly! Thank you!



Llamadragon Wrote: That said, consider writing in your first language and translating it to English if good prose is important to you.

As I've said, I'm not keen on the idea of writing in my native language. Maybe in the distant future, who knows... Thank you for the suggestion!



Tejoka Wrote: What I find helpful is to have at least an online dictionary and thesaurus open when I write, and look words up. That helps to expand your vocabulary, especially your active vocabulary.

I tried doing just that a few weeks back and now https://www.thesaurus.com/ is an automatic tab on my browser. But until now I hadn't thought of having a separate dictionary, thank you for the suggestion!

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#9

Llamadragon Wrote: That said, consider writing in your first language and translating it to English if good prose is important to you. I didn't use to do that, and I only begrudgingly tried it out when an editor gave me the suggestion. Turned out it made a huge difference, and that's coming from someone who has probably written ten times more prose in English than in my first language, over the course of nearly two decades of writing. My English is good enough that people very rarely call me out on my mistakes, I even think in English most of the time, but translation is just... tighter, less ambiguous in the end. And it's faster for me to write like that.


I am really surprised that works for you. I did start out by writing my stories in my native language and translating them afterwards, but the result was nearly unreadable, because somehow, my brain was then set on my first language's sentence structure. I find it much easier to write in English from the start. 

Penicillin Wrote: Wow, first off, let me thank all of you for the kind replies. I had NOT expected such an awesome feedback when going bed yesterday after writing my post.

I don't use forums so I don't know if this is how things are supposed to be done but I've highlighted what struck with me from each reply, feel free to add to the discussion if you have anything else to add!

Oskatat Wrote: Personally I'd recommend anything with 'witty humor' as they tend to rely on tricks and clever use of words

Very true, it's been too long since I've read a Discworld novel, that might help greatly! Thank you!


Discworld is my go-to novel, too! No other books I know play with the English language as Terry Pratchett did, and it really helps build vocabulary. 

I also like to use this website: http://www.woerterbuch.info/?query=&s=thesaurus&l=en 
I realize German is probably not your first language, but the synonym search should still work for you. You can enter any English word, and if you check "synonym" instead of "Übersetzung", you'll get a list of English synonyms. 

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#10
From one non-native to another - go for it! As @Oskatat has mentioned before, the English in your post is pretty impressive already. This community is intended for authors to grow. I have personally received great help from all my readers concerning grammar and spelling issues. Besides, if your story itself is a good one, readers tend to gloss over minor mistakes. 

About some practical tips. I am personally very satisfied with the performance of Grammarly as an editing program in addition to my Word-spellcheck. The online version of Grammarly is also free of charge. Another software that was recommended to me by one of my readers is Hemingway Editor. This program tackles mainly the sentence structure and the use of tenses and adverbs.

For enriching your vocabulary, I recommend using a thesaurus SPARINGLY! Too many fancy words from a dictionary and they start to pop out in the text like poisonous mushrooms after rain. It becomes glaringly obvious, disturbs the reading, and the text turns out heavy. But checking in from time to time to get inspiration or find a suitable alternative to avoid repetition is completely acceptable. The best way to improve your language skills, though, is by reading, reading, and reading again. Besides famous and well-published authors like Stephen King, Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and all other stars of the World Literature, here on Royal Road, you can find some pristine works from non-professional authors and some that still need a lot of polishing. By comparing them you can see what counts as good English and story-telling.  

In a nutshell, just start writing, don't get discouraged if someone criticizes your work and strive to improve both your style and story-telling. 

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#11
From my own experience (I'm a non-native English speaker as well) I'd suggest to think-and-write in English, and don't translate, though I admit it is a matter of choice.

I found that writing in my native language (Dutch) and subsequently translating it into English caused the text to become somewhat stilted, less fluid. My writing becomes slower, and the 'Dunglish' accent becomes even more pronounced after translation.

I know my vocabulary is somewhat limited compared with the native speakers, but I hope to give the reader a story that's good enough to overcome that limitation. Besides, I've deliberately chosen style, format, tense and plot to hide my shortcomings :-)

(Working on a YA urban fantasy, lot's of snark, little magic, some bullets, in the horrendous :-) first-person present tense.)

So, write and publish!

The only limitation here on RR is that people are focussed on LitRPG, so if you're writing something different you might not get the response you would like. On the other hand, the community here appears to be quite friendly, so I don't mind.

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#12
English is my third language. I mostly learned it from video games :D So far, all the advanced reviews I got rated my grammar 4.5 or 5, so in this regard I guess I'm doing fine. There are many world famous authors who wrote in English despite coming form non-English speaking cultures: Vladimir Nobokov, Chinua Achebe, Salman Rushdie and many others. I actually learned about this site by googling a book I bought on Amazon and really enjoyed -- Everybody Loves Large Chests. I believe the author is a Russian-speaker.

Unusual use of English can be really cool too. For example, the way people speak in Spartacus is very cool because their English is strange. Sometimes, when I want to make a char sound "exotic" I just use English with foreign grammar and proverbs.

Last but not least, it's not like they execute writers on this site (except for the annual blood sacrifice for the greater good) so you aren't risking anything by giving it a shot. :)

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#16
Kerma Wrote:
Ariana Wrote:
Quote:Ah! A volunteer! This way please...

I was just starting to sharpen the knives. Do we take the silver or the obsidian ones?

A writer obviously needs to be sacrificed using reforged type metal.

By the holy alphabet! You are right! Please, don’t tell the old and established RR masters about my beginner mistake. Otherwise… they will sacrifice me! Then selling my black soul to them for protection would have been for nothing!!!

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#17

Ariana Wrote:
Kerma Wrote:
Ariana Wrote:
Quote:Ah! A volunteer! This way please...

I was just starting to sharpen the knives. Do we take the silver or the obsidian ones?

A writer obviously needs to be sacrificed using reforged type metal.

By the holy alphabet! You are right! Please, don’t tell the old and established RR masters about my beginner mistake. Otherwise… they will sacrifice me! Then selling my black soul to them for protection would have been for nothing!!!

My lips are sealed.

Re: Advice for non-native english writers?

#18

Kerma Wrote:
Ariana Wrote:
Kerma Wrote:
Ariana Wrote:
Quote:Ah! A volunteer! This way please...

I was just starting to sharpen the knives. Do we take the silver or the obsidian ones?

A writer obviously needs to be sacrificed using reforged type metal.

By the holy alphabet! You are right! Please, don’t tell the old and established RR masters about my beginner mistake. Otherwise… they will sacrifice me! Then selling my black soul to them for protection would have been for nothing!!!

My lips are sealed.

Mine are not. Yet. But perhaps we can reach an agreement? That's a lovely daughter you got there...