Are you blogging in a second language? (third and last part)
In my last post I promised to talk about some of those ‘dreaded’ spelling and grammar issues. As any second language speaker will well know; English’s spelling and grammar rules can be tricky. This is especially if you are learning them later in life and if your first language was not from the same family of languages. In my case I was 29 and my first language has nothing in common with English being one of Slavic languages. To add to confusions numerous variations of Standard English language rules now exist, the most well-known being American … and there is of course the school of thought that says; ‘There is no such thing as American English. There is the English language and there are mistakes’ as twitted by Elizabeth Windsor@Queen_UK
Well there are mistakes of course! The question is what we are going to do about them. I am not going to preach here how important is to read extensively (that is obvious), use the best dictionaries and grammar books you can find (also obvious), engage as many native English speakers you can find to help you (self-explanatory), and over and above write, write, write (well we are in business in writing, aren’t we -:). No, none of that forever repeated wisdom. Instead I am going to tell you a story about something that happened to me about a year ago and what it did for my language confidence.
About a year or so ago I was presenting conceptual ideas to a large audience of native English speakers. I spend countless hours in preparation, writing, reading, checking, arising, re-writing it all … and using the best grammar and spelling resources I could find both on and off-line. And yes I was rather nervous on the day. After all I, the presenter and the concept author, was the only non-native English speaker. It all started very well. I even manage to include some light-hearted English jokes that generate genuine laughs. I was gaining confidence by a minute. My inner voice was whispering to me; ‘You are doing just fine’. Until a bespectacled young woman cut in the middle of my sentence loudly exclaiming; ‘Excuse me but there are some spelling mistakes on this slide!’ and proceeded to name them. Silence swathed the room. Every single pair of eyes was on that slide. And on me. Including those that have not spotted those mistakes before. And those that were sincerely interested in the concept itself. They were all now seeing one thing only – spelling errors. I was standing there alone and despite my considerable height I felt small and terribly alone. How could anybody who can’t even spell be taken seriously?
I did not say anything except; ‘Oh I am sorry’ and proceeded to finalize my presentation in a rather meek fashion. Needless to say it did not grip the audience in the way it should and deserved to by the share value of the concept presented.
I regret reacting in that way. Because if the same thing happened now, I would react differently. I would still acknowledge the spelling mistakes but with far more confidence, lace it with humor and move on. I would not allow myself to get paralyzed by that comment. I would not allow myself to feel small in front of all those people. Because we all make mistakes, including the native speakers. Sometimes people will use those mistakes to undermine your confidence because it is the easiest thing for them to use, but mostly people will try to help you. I am unrepentant believer in humanity.
And this is the final message for all of us writing in a second language – write, make mistakes, correct them, but keep on writing. Do not let anybody make you feel small. And remember – laugh! Good people will laugh with you and NOT at you … the others are of no significance.