I’ve never written about blogging so far. The reason is that it’s a hobby for me in the first place and though I take writing and blogging seriously I don’t think of myself as a professional. On the other hand, this blog is about travelling, not about blogging. Still there’s one topic I have a lot to say about: blogging in English as a non-native. Not that I’m so perfect and confident doing it… on the contrary, I have a lot of doubts and fears. But I’m motivated to do it and do it better. That’s what I want to tell you about.
Why blogging in English in the first place?
The answer to this question is usually straightforward: you can reach more people if you write in English. I thought of that for sure but for me there was an even more important reason. When I started this blog I had just moved back to my home country, Hungary after spending a year in California. Speaking English became part of my life there and I didn’t want that to change. I very well know from my experience with learning German that if I don’t use a language, I forget it. (No, don’t even ask whether I speak German.)
So my reason for blogging in English was simple: I wanted to use and improve my English. I know, I can read books and watch movies. I do and they help, but that’s passive. Luckily I need English in my daily job, too, but as a software developer the vocabulary I use when I work is really just a small part of English vocabulary. (Though I’m better in discussing anything IT related in English than in my own language since I learned about most of those topics in English in the first place. 😛 )
By writing this blog in English I wanted English to be part of my everyday life. I wanted interactions with people – other than my colleagues – in English. I wanted to be able to articulate my opinion about various things in English. I wanted to learn to think in English. I wanted using English to become a second nature to me. And I wanted to learn to write entertaining and thoughtful posts in English.
Well, if you’re a native English speaker just read through my post again and count the grammar mistakes I made – after reading it through several times and consulting with Google in all the cases I was not sure about. This is the most obvious challenge. I know I make tons of mistakes. Sometimes I notice them before publishing, sometimes after it and there are those I’ll never know about.
But beyond grammar mistakes, I have a bigger challenge. It’s fairly easy to write simple guides about the places we visited but when it comes to articulate opinions, being funny or being ironic, that’s when it becomes really rough. Does this expression even exists? Is it too harsh to put it this way? Do they even use this word to describe people? And how on Earth can I be ironic in English? I definitely try because it’s part of me, but if you read some weird sentences on this blog and you have no idea how to interpret them… that’s probably me trying to be ironic in English.
While grammar rules are relatively easy to check, having a writing style in English when it’s not my native language is something I truly struggle with. It’s not easy in my native language either, by the way.
The bright side
But not all hope is lost. Reading the first posts I published on this blog more than 2 years ago definitely makes me feel hopeful. Because they are horrible and I clearly see it now. The time I wrote them I thought they are quite okay. (Ironically enough, some of them are among the most popular posts ever in the short history of this blog. I guess because they are about Kauai – and Kauai is wonderful even if I write about it awkwardly.)
This is the same thing I experience with photography: looking back at my earlier pieces makes me realize how much I actually improved. And this is something to be happy about! There’s no point waiting for the time when I’ll be perfect in English and then start my blog because that time will never come. (Can you ever be perfect enough in any language including your native language, anyway? I don’t think so. But I’m a perfectionist so you may ignore me.)
I strongly agree with people saying that whatever you want to do just do it. Start it and do it wrong so that you can improve and do it right or at least better. But if you don’t start, you won’t improve.
How to improve?
I’ve always had a passion for both reading and writing. And it was mostly my reading experience that taught me writing – if anything. I read both books and blogs and I have my favorites in both genre. I don’t only pay attention to the content but also to the style when I read. I ask myself why I love reading that particular piece so much. If it’s engaging, what makes it engaging? If it’s funny, what makes it funny? I ask myself what I like the most about my favorite writers. Answering those questions help me examine and criticize my own writing with a fresh eye. (Yes, it can hurt.)
Of course, I read a lot of travel blogs, too. I’m interested in travel topics, that’s what. I’m curious what other travel bloggers have to say. (Here’s the list of my favorites from last year that hasn’t changed much.) But I realized they are also very good teachers. I learn a lot of new phrases and expressions used in connection with travel topics from these blogs.
In addition, I am planning to read books about writing (this post just came right in time) and doing some online courses both in writing and English. But one thing at a time, I need to finish my psychology course first. 😀
The final verdict
I’ve been writing this blog for 2 and a half years now and I never regretted I started writing it in English. It gives me challenges, but it also gives me joy and motivation as I become more and more confident (hopefully better as well) writing in English. I’m not sure whether it’s possible to ever master a foreign language as much as your native language. But I reached the point when I started to truly enjoy writing in English and that’s the best encouragement to keep it up.
In the meantime, I’ve fallen in love with blogging and writing so much that I started a second blog in Hungarian a couple of months ago. It’s title is “Akarsz-e játszani?” (“Do you want to play?”) – the question has a symbolic meaning, too, from one of my favorite Hungarian poems. It’s about various topics I’m interested in – from social topics to psychology or minimalism – and there’s a high chance (based on the statistics of our readers’ languages) that you don’t understand a word of it. 😀 Anyway, it’s another happy playground of mine to practise writing.
Well, as the final verdict I hope I’ll read back this piece a year later and find it terrible.
Do you have a blog? Do you have any experience in writing in a foreign language?