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LanguageThis one I’m pilfering straight from Karavansara – where my friend Dave posted a link to Sasha A. Palmer’s article about Five benefits of writing in your second language.

Well, I write in my second language and Joseph Conrad is one of my literary heroes, and whenever I approach a new language, I can’t wait to play games with it, to use it, to tell stories: the article just beckoned – and thank you, D.

Did I find it interesting? Very. Do I agree with Palmer’s view of the matter? Not entirely. Or perhaps, not that much, considering that I can subscribe to two and a half out of her five points…

Let us see…

A unique style? Well, my English is certainly coloured by my being an Italian native speaker – so it is bound to be a little… er, unique. I’m not sure I’m free from what Palmer calls “the weight of tradition”, though, because by the time I truly began to write in English I had absorbed huge quantities of Kipling, Brontë, Forster, Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, Conrad, Stevenson and many others. Apparently this shows even in my spoken English – let alone my writing.

A rediscovery of my native Italian? I wouldn’t swear by it. I should say that I have always been on very good terms with Italian, but at times I get a little alarmed. English has become my language of choice not only for writing but for taking notes (no matter what language I am reading or listening to), and there are subjects I know in English but not in Italian – so that at times I find myself not knowing the Italian name for something… Believe me: it’s terribly awkward. And just last night, my mother pointed out that I had used an English construction while speaking in Italian. Ouch. words

As for a sense of connection… well yes – although perhaps not quite in the sense that Palmer has in mind. Languages are the product, as well as the tool, of the history and culture they convey, they mirror the way their creators think and perceive – so it is impossible to study and use a language without understanding a little better those who forged and use it. Reading Elizabethan English proved fundamental in understanding the epoch – as a map of what was different, as well as for the similarities.

About healing I will say nothing, because I don’t write to heal – I write to tell stories, thank you very much – but self-esteem… Perhaps there was a measure of this, at first. You know, that “Why, I can do this not-so-very-easy thing!” sort of elation, and the round-eyed stares it earns one to announce “But I write in English.” Still, I wouldn’t call it a reason to write in English, nor an especial benefit of doing it.

I write in English because I love the language – the feel and texture of it, its expressive power, its trim efficacy – I love its literary tradition, and I think there is more of a market for what I like to write in the English-speaking world. To me, the benefits seem to concern both my style and – I hope – my ability to sell my work. Oh, and it is to be hoped it will keep my brain agile, too.

Most of all, though, I write in English because I like it. I could write in French just as easily – and, presumably, with the same set of benefits – but the fact is, I don’t much care to do it.

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