Foreign tongues: what’s it like to write in another language?

Foreign tongues: what’s it like to write in another language?

In a sorry week that heard the German president of the EU quoting George Eliot to the departing British and a prominent German politician reassuring them with the French words au revoir not adieu, it seemed apt to have French EFL creative writing students reflect upon how they sound in the foreign language.

This semester’s non-fiction, creative writing course started with a simple warm-up exercise that was comprised of a couple of questions to get students thinking and writing and thinking about their writing.

After some huffing and puffing, for they are not used to reflecting on these sort of issues, here are their (uncorrected) answers:

  1. What do you feel like when you write in English?
Positive Mixed/ neutral Negative
– Pretty comfortable
– Comfortable X 2
– At ease and comfortable
– Good  
– Good but not totally comfortable
– Not totally comfortable
– Nothing x 2
– Don’t know x 1  
– Uncomfortable
– Frustrated
– Some frustration
– Lost…limited
– Like a lost man.
– I am constantly in doubt and I’m not awkward
– Insecure
– I feel like difficulty

– Quite natural
– Like I can express my real feeling  
– Like me
– I have to think a long time before finding the right word
– I just follow my instinct as I would do when writing in French
– Not natural
– A little destabilized
– I imagine I am a famous author like Jane Austen or Shakespare. I am feel like powerful
– Without saying I feel like a another person while writing or speaking English, but I feel stronger, douthless, even sometimes smarter
– Not confident. It’s complicated. It’s hard for me.
– Pas à l’aise…incertaine
– je n’ai pas confiance
– Incertaine
– I feel bad because I don’t very like and I’m never sure of me
– I feel like an idiot
– More creative and more at ease

– I feel a desire to make or, a felling of need which does find satisfaction
  – Less imagination and creativity
  • What does your written voice sound like?

Positive Mixed/neutral Negative
– Like me
– Much more interesting and rich thatn French
– More good, confident
– Descriptive and creative
– I write like I’m speaking
– Basic…very simple
– Probably basic
– Very simple
– Basic
– Emotive
– It’s not really easy for me to switch…I reflect
– More slangish
– Not puzzled enough like I understand but I do not make myself understood
– Hesitant and not really interesting
– Not really good in my head
– Pandemonium
– I’m afraid
-J’ai du mal
-My ‘writter voice’ show that I need to practice more  
– She sounds like she articulates all the world (sic), to pronounce all the letter, the better it’s possible
– As odd as it might sounds, it sounds fancy, with a thick British accent. Soft too, I suppose.
– Sounds like a drum, different sythmes but lound ones – it used to be more like a fiddle, soft, windy, sometimes vert discret but nowday, because a grew up it sounds more as as rock and folk sung
– Like when I write in French. It’s not special and different.
– Like in French
– Sound like a women voice. She doubt a lot when she want to explain something but she really wants to explain her though.
– Much more chaotic than my spoken voice. But I still believe that I can get my ideas and feelings across a page.
– My ‘written voice’ has an French accent and she has afraid because I don’t speak English
– I haven’t got a great accent with my voice, it’s very complicated
– Doubtful with a strong French accent
– I feel like my texts aren’t meant to be read at high voice
– Ma voix est très peu fort, cela ne fait mas naturel  
– Sound like a narrator in a move, and character take their proper voice across lines
– Like fiction
– I don’t know
– It’s not the same
– My written ‘voice’ have a terrible French accent. But she feels more confident thatn when I write or speak English.

– I hear that Forest Gump voice

As can be seen from the grids there are almost as many answers as students. Whilst many terms are repeated eg.  (un) comfortable, (not) natural, basic, lost, interesting…, some are idiosyncratic eg. pandemonium, fancy, chaotic. This is a mixed ability group of students and (unsurprisingly, sadly?) many of the negative expressions are written by less advanced learners and the more positive expressions by more advanced learners.  However, there are exceptions eg. I feel like my texts aren’t meant to be read at high voice was written by a more advanced student and sound like a narrator… by a less advanced student. And leaners with only basic English are able to express humour and cultural knowledge I hear that Forrest Gump voice. Very few students chose to write in French (it was specified that they could use French if they couldn’t get across what they wanted to say in English).

If we accept that words are dialogical and written ‘in an intense relationship with another’s word, being addressed to a listener and anticipating a response’. How might the teacher reply to these particular words?

The immediate response will involve using the answers as a basis to open up and enrich personalised dialogue and teacher/learner interaction. In large mixed-ability classes where teachers only see students once a week for one and a half hours, the value of this is not to be underestimated. Having introduced marks for progress based on

perhaps learners’ emotional attitude to their writing could also nuance the idea of progress in the foreign language. If the same questions were asked at the end of the course, differences in response could be a tool for thinking about how the course has affected learner beliefs (which in turn might affect learner performance). Not bad for an exercise that started out as a simple five-minute warm-up exercise.

Whatever the long-term response, next week’s lesson will begin with me thanking students for sharing their feelings and explicitly referring to the fact that I have read their answers and found them interesting. After all, student EFL writers, like any other writer, always appreciate being read.

Thanks as ever to fig_tart for the fabulous flower

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