December 8, 2011

Writing In Your Second Language

It's been about four years now since I started writing in English.  I mean in a serious way.  I had of course written in English before: for school, for work, or to write love letters to my English wife.  But about four years ago, I decided to start writing fiction in the language of Shakespeare and Stephen King, as opposed to that of Molière and Daniel Pennac.

I have, occasionally, been asked why.  And also pourquoi.

The first answer is: to make tons of money.  This is working out splendidly *coughs in hand*.

The second answer is: I'm not sure.

The third answer is: I've had a fascination with the English language for a long time.  I think it began with a great English teacher, in high school, who would take us to the park to read poetry out loud, analyze Leonard Cohen's work, and tell us about how he'd moved from Ontario to Montreal because you could buy beer at the corner store in Quebec. That's when I realized English was beautiful.  And that I would never move to Ontario.

As I started to explore English, its strange spelling, unfathomable pronunciation and wonderful music, what I discovered was that writing in my second language freed me from constraints I hadn't even realized I'd felt.  Whereas in French I'd been obsessed with sounding literary and deep, in English I could concentrate without guilt on doing what really interested me in writing: telling stories.  And so what if it didn't sound quite so deep?  After all, it was only my second language, so this was just for fun, right?

That's what I've been doing ever since.  Having fun.


  1. That second-last paragraph is awesome. This entire post is awesome.

  2. I often ponder that same question.. why do I write in English? How can I call myself a proud Québécoise and continue to choose the language of the Empire over that of my ancestors?
    I like your perspective. I do have fun in English, and I do feel that I can reach more people too. I still love my mother tongue, with passion, but English gives me a certain freedom...