Thursday, April 21, 2011

R - Reaching Out

If you've been around for a while, you know English isn't my first language. French is. I love French. It is beautiful, lyrical, impassionate. I become quite rant-y when it comes to defending it (which is, for the record, a big issue in Quebec).

Why, then, do I write in English? 

Perhaps the hardest question I've ever been asked. It comes from strangers. It comes from friends. It comes from my mom, and that is perhaps the hardest to deal with.

After years of fumbling about, trying to come to terms with it, I think I have an answer. It is a simple one. All I needed was to look at why I write.

I write to reach out. I hope these novels, these characters, will one day touch someone's heart. That there'll be a reader emerging from my story with the feeling they're a little more human now, a little different.

If I hope to reach out one day, to as many as I can, I need English. I'm good with it. It's a wonderful and powerful tool to have. I'm not going to ditch it.

French is what I am. It defines me in more ways than I dare count. English is what I use. It might be a fine line, but to me it is an important one.


  1. I know you're heard before that your English is so good I had no idea until you mentioned it that it wasn't your first language. Ah, but what a beautiful language French is. My French has fallen to ruin, and it wasn't that good to begin with. I fear I do not have the ear for it, though my print translation skills used to be passable. I'm the opposite with Gaelic. Couldn't read it to save my life but can pick up and recognize the phrases rather easily. I also recently discovered how much I love the sound and the feel of pronouncing Scandinavian languages. I'm a language tart, I guess. Alas, my favorite of all is classical Latin.

  2. I think you are one of three people I am on-line friends with whose first language isn't English. Yet all of you are magnificent with the language. I only ever notice slight little grammar things here and there that are probably more idiosyncratic than anything.

    It makes me feel bad as an American, because so many of us don't speak a second language. I have a little Spanish, but I couldn't carry on a conversation. Anyway, keep it up. C'est magnifique!

  3. Hi Caludie, first time visitor. I'm trying to learn French on my own. I wish I had more time. Maybe I should take a couple classes at the local community college.

  4. Okay, I've got to ask: do you think of your posts in French then type them in English?

    Sorry if that's totally weird!

  5. Margo: I have a thing for Scandinavian languages too! I heard a Danish and a Norvegian guy talk together once and fell in love. Sadly, none of them were offered at my University. I'm a bit of a language tart too. I feel each of them as something unique to offer -- a new perspective on the world.

    LG: I wish I could carry on a conversation with my spanish, but it's completely useless now. The problem with languages is that you have to keep practicing, but there's no easy way to do so, except for English.

    Stephen: Hey, welcome around! Taking classes is a great idea, if you can afford them. I know, I tried learning Italian on my own and it's always relegated to the background. Too many things to do.

    Miss Cole: That's not weird at all! I don't, but when you start with a language, thinking of your native language first and translating afterwards is the natural thing to do. It's when you start forming sentences directly in the second language you know you're getting more fluent.

    But no, I think directly in English. The same is true for my writing. In fact, it's often difficult for me to translate certain terms back to French when I want to explain what the story is.

  6. Vous êtes courageux, Claudie. You`re also correct.

    Cheers --- Larry

  7. I'm glad I've found your blog! (L.G. of Bards and Prophets recommended it, which puts you in the 'highly recommended' category as far as I'm concerned). :-)

    My native language is Flemish, and I write in English. It's also been a difficult choice, because I love Flemish, but for many reasons (reaching out being one of the main ones), writing in English made more sense.

    I'm Belgian, and we have a particular relationship with languages here. Belgium is a tiny country (+- 10 million inhabitants) and we have 3 official languages: Flemish, French and German.

    Most people here have a decent command of at least 3 languages (usually Flemish, French & English), often with basic knowledge of a 4th (like German, Spanish, Italian, etc.)

    Like you, I tend to think directly in English. I have the impression the languages are separate clusters in my brain, and they only partly overlap.

  8. In an ideal world (or maybe I mean an ideal Canada), you would be able to write in French and reach an equally capacious audience. The reality for French speakers in Canada is not nice at all. Sadly, however, writing in English is a good strategic choice.

    My sense is that people who approach writing in English from your situation have an edge when it comes to developing voice. You've got the whole structure of another language in your cranium. Do you think you can use that to your advantage?

  9. Larry: Thanks! :)

    KC Woolf: This is the biochemist in me talking, but I've heard that there's actually two clusters in your brain for language: one for the "main" and one for the "secondary". So when someone learns two secondary language that are similar (Spanish and Italian, for example), they end up mixing them a lot.

    I've heard of Belgium's situation before, but I never knew most people typically spoke three languages. That's a lot!

    Elizabeth: I think it's as much an advantage as it is a danger. There are some things that are grammatically correct in French but are considered mistakes in English (comma spliiiice) and I've learned those the hard way. On the other hand, I have access to a whole range of sayings and idioms that can be translated, still evoke the same thing and become more unique.

    It's a matter of balance, I believe. On the other hand, I firmly believe that with a language comes a worldview and a culture and *that* gives me an edge. Or so I hope. :)

  10. Thanks so much for answering my question. Being bilingual must be so amazing!

  11. I hope that you can at least have your books re-published in French once you make it big. It's sad that it has to be that way, though.

    Good luck with your writing, as well as with the A to Z Challenge!