Teodora is a bilingual writer. She is the author of two books, a poetry volume and a collection of short stories.
As a non-native English writer, I know that it's not always easy to showcase your literary work. This article discusses the three most common challenges that exophonic writers (those who write in a language other than their first) are faced with in our contemporary world.
1. The Writing Market Is Highly Competitive
Regardless of whether you write fiction, poetry, articles, essays, lists, or some combination, the writing market is fairly saturated, and it takes a lot to stand out or get noticed.
Writing for Online Journals and Magazines
According to Khadilkar (as cited in Asif et al.), "On average, most top journals have nearly 80% rejection rates." The rates are even higher for non-native English writers. A lot of editors are sticklers for grammar and have little interest in nitpicking your texts, especially if they are longer than 500 words. You may have an excellent command of English, but you are nevertheless competing against writers whose first language is English and who may be better qualified than you, at least in the eyes of a large majority of editors.
Unless you have some serious marketing skills and enjoy a good dose of popularity in the online world, your work is likely to pass unnoticed despite its high quality. However, this is not a general rule, so don't lose hope! There are several online platforms that welcome non-native English writers, such as Tint Journal, Medium, and Spring Nature.
Writing for Bidding-Based Freelance Platforms
If you wish to write for top freelance bidding platforms such as Upwork or Freelancer, you are up for a challenge. The competition is steep due to the large number of native English speakers who offer their services. You may have a CPE or a TOEFL certificate proudly hanging on your wall, but that does not guarantee your success as a writer in the anglophone world.
You need to come up with serious proof of your experience and writing skills. Time spent living in an English-speaking country is surely a great advantage. It can increase your chances of convincing your potential clients that you are the best candidate for the job.
Reading a lot is another way to boost your odds of being picked. Check out what other native English speakers have written in your area of expertise. You will gain valuable experience and enrich your vocabulary.
2. English Grammar Is Confusing and Inconsistent
Navigating the tricky waters of English grammar can be daunting. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you turn to your native language for support and guidance. This is totally normal. It's the language that has been with you ever since you learned how to speak. It is profoundly embedded in your mind.
Mastering the subtleties of the English language can take time and effort. You might have to spend extra time looking up words and phrases in the dictionary or proofreading your texts. Here are a few of the most common mistakes that non-native English writers make:
Most Slavic languages use double negation, including Romanian, my mother tongue. In high school, I used to think that the English were probably more optimistic than other nations. They certainly steered clear of the doubled negative correlatives.
Non ho visto niente. (Italian)
Word-for-word translation: I didn't see nothing.
Correct translation: I didn't see anything.
Commonly Confused Words
Here are two of my favorite pairs:
He wanted to ensure nobody was there.
He assured me that nobody would be there.
Richard's ex-wife cannot be considered a disinterested party.
Richard's ex-wife is uninterested in attending the meeting.
Stuffing your texts with adverbs will not make them more appealing. You might, in fact, annoy your readers. Worst case scenario: they get bored and abandon your text.
Example: The phone rang unexpectedly in the quietness of the room. Mary instantly woke up. She approached the dining table hesitantly.
Don't let yourself be fooled by false friends. They are bilingual homophones; words and phrases that sound identical or similar to words in your own language but have different meanings.
The already notorious Spanish word, embarazada, sounds very similar to the English embarrassed, but it actually means "pregnant." If you go to Berlin and don't speak German at all, you’d better think twice before offering a gift, which means "poison" in German.
The Romanian infatuare, which sounds like the English infatuation, actually means "vanity" or "conceitedness."
Transition Word Overuse
I'm no stranger to succumbing to this temptation. Therefore and furthermore might be appealing in an academic text, but in everyday speech, they can come off as strangely formal. Take this sentence for example:
My friend sent me a cool email. Therefore, I answered.
This is a rather odd phrasing, not to mention that there has been an infelicitous change of register from the informal so to the formal therefore.
Some English grammatical tenses, such as the present continuous and the present perfect continuous, are absent in other languages. Depending on the context, a non-native English writer can find it difficult to choose the right tense.
3. Self-Doubt Is Common
Non-native English writers can become discouraged when faced with a pile of rejections. They may wonder whether they’ll ever be good enough.
When you write in another language, these concerns are completely understandable. You get intimidated by the large number of native speakers. You are apprehensive about submitting your work to a publication or simply showing your text to a native English writer. If you're as self-conscious as I am, it can take you hours or even days to proofread your texts before they are "ready."
We exophonic writers need to put in more effort, but then again, Rome was not built in a day. There are many examples of famous writers whose first language was not English such as Kazuo Ishiguro, Kahlil Gibran, and Elif Şafak.
At the end of the day, it's all about confidence, passion, and dedication. We just need to roll up our sleeves and keep writing. Good luck out there!
Asif, F., Jauhar, A., Tajuddin, A. J. A., & Khan, I. (n.d.). "Challenges Faced by Non -Native Writers in Publishing Papers in Reputed English Language Journals." PalArch's Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/ Egyptology, 17(4), 1576–1591.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Teodora Gheorghe (author) on September 01, 2021:
Thank you, Maryam!
Maryam Fatima from Pakistan on September 01, 2021: