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Language Barrier in Writing & How to Deal with It

Updated on September 14, 2019

How I Started Writing

I knew I wanted to become a writer after reading Gone with the Wind. When I finished the book, I thought to myself, “Why didn’t I write this masterpiece? I hope I can write something as beautiful someday.” So I started writing. I was almost twelve. Since I couldn’t speak English, I wrote in Russian. It was going to be a family saga and, in my dreams, a bestseller. It was inspired by Gone with the Wind, of course, and the resemblance was so ridiculous that my sister, whom I made listen to me read it, accused me of plagiarism. My mom loved it, but now I know she was just a supportive parent. A couple of years later, I realized my writing had been rubbish. I haven’t finished that novel; I burnt it instead, for I was afraid of someone digging it out. I would have died from embarrassment. But I still have the sketches I made for the book and they’re much better, which is why I decided to keep them proudly.

I kept writing for a few years, still in Russian, but I wasn’t writing to publish anymore. I was doing it for myself and I wouldn’t ask anyone to listen to me or read it themselves. I noticed my writing get better. I wasn’t cringing as often and I had discovered editing. Before that I’d thought books were just written and got published right after you typed “THE END.”

Kudos to Margaret Mitchell and Victor Fleming for giving us this magnificent movie
Kudos to Margaret Mitchell and Victor Fleming for giving us this magnificent movie

How I Got the Courage to Start Writing in English

Since I’m a native Russian speaker (though it’s not my first language), it’s natural that my first attempts in writing were in Russian. All books I’d read, whether original or translated, were in Russian. The thing is I wasn’t writing about the Russians, so it seemed unnatural to me to write, let’s say, about the Spaniards in Russian (yes, I did that too). What had always attracted me was the USA, or Canada, or the UK. I mean we all know that the movies these countries make can force anybody to try to create something as breath-taking. I knew that a book written in English about the Americans would have better chances of becoming a bestseller that would later be translated into many other languages and even get adapted to screen (That’s my biggest dream. A story that was made into a movie feels, you know, more real). I would have very few chances of writing a truly successful work of literature in Russian. So I knew I had to make that decision – start writing in English.

Learning a language is hard, but worth it, croyez-moi!
Learning a language is hard, but worth it, croyez-moi!

How I Got to Start Actually Wrting in English

I’d always been told that my English was much better than that of my classmates. My parents would always brag about my talent for learning foreign languages. But speaking a foreign language and using it to text your foreign friends on social media is not the same as writing books you hope to get published in it. That was a problem. I wanted to write my books in English so badly, but I thought I had to perfect it before I started. Then I realized it was impossible unless I read major works of literature in English, because that was how I’d begun to write at all. Even though my Russian had been perfect I only realized what good writing looks and sounds like after I read War and Peace. So I picked a few books for me to read in English (not adapted, but original – that makes a huge difference) and I understood there was a whole lot of words for me to learn (sigh). I had to look up almost every tenth word and felt so unintelligent. But you know what? After just two months I only had to look up a word every other page or two. I had already been writing (well, trying to write) in English for a while, and I have to admit my writing started getting better and better.

If you're trying to learn a language, don't just watch movies, but also read. It's a great way to replenish one's vocabulary even for native speakers
If you're trying to learn a language, don't just watch movies, but also read. It's a great way to replenish one's vocabulary even for native speakers

My Writing Today

I have read only a couple of books in Russian in the past five years, the rest was in English and I’ve read SO MANY. By the way, my all-time favorite is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, so if you haven’t read that one yet, go check it out, you won’t regret it. I have written two books in English so far, a novel and a novella, and although neither has been published yet, I’m really proud of myself. I feel like a winner.

This book is a must-read by the author of The Virgin Suicides
This book is a must-read by the author of The Virgin Suicides


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