I’m proud to introduce an author who, like me, knows what it’s like to write in her second language. Anne Marie got her MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University, and has worked as a translator and proofreader. She’s currently working with a Norwegian publishing house on the first book in a historical romance series, and blogs (infrequently and inexpertly) about food and writing. She also tweets.
Just Like Cinnamon
When I was a child, cinnamon was something you sprinkled on your porridge, or in cinnamon buns and gingerbread. It was a sweet seasoning, nothing else.
However, when I grew up, I got more adventurous, and started to move away from the standard meat-and-two-veg diet I grew up with. New dishes revealed themselves to me – exciting Middle Eastern and Caribbean dishes that used cinnamon with meat and vegetables. Weird! That was my first thought. Surely that wouldn’t work. But of course, it did, and I discovered wonderful flavours – and learned to think differently about flavours I thought I knew.
‘Isn’t this supposed to be a blog post about writing? Where is she going with this?’ Come on, you’re thinking it. Patience, I have a point.
I learned my craft as a writer abroad, in Australia and England. There are many challenges to writing in a second language: How to give the text a convincing ‘sound’, getting your head around colloquialisms, steering clear of false friends. I’m sure I could write long blog posts about each of them. However, the biggest challenge, for me, is that I had to think more than my native English-speaking colleagues. Every word I used had to be weighed in my mind – was this really the word I wanted? Did it mean exactly what I thought, or could it have alternate meanings? Often, we did exercises where we had to write as much as possible in a set time frame. No preparation, no dictionaries. If I couldn’t remember the word I wanted, I had to rephrase my sentence and use other words that meant more or less the same.
All of this made me think harder about the meaning of words. I had to view words in a new way – much as I had to rethink the concept of cinnamon. Just like cooking within a different culture made me more aware of ingredients, writing in a second language made me more aware of language and its components. And now that I’m writing in my native language, this experience has enriched my relationship with Norwegian. New possibilities lie within familiar words. Just like cinnamon.