• Valérie Gillet

Being worthy of writing in another language



I used to think I could only be a good writer in my mother tongue.


I wasn't wrong: real language proficiency can only be achieved in your main language or languages if you're bi- or trilingual.


I'm not bilingual.


As a translator, I almost only translate into French, though I'm kind of biactive, too. Kind of.


I'm not a native English speaker and will never be. I started learning English at school in Belgium when I was 13. I was (and still am) a quick learner, though. Moreover, I already was a music fan at a time when we only had our CDs and cassettes with their booklets to learn the lyrics of the songs we listened to.


So I used an old English to French dictionary and I looked up every single word of every song I loved until Anglo-Saxon rock n' roll started to make sense to my ears.


Then I lived in London for a year. I also started to read and watch TV mainly in English at a time when in the French-speaking part of Belgium, everything was dubbed, nobody watched series in English and OV cinema was for nerds and old movie buffs. Let alone actually buy a book in English when a translation was available. I had to order them, go to the only Waterstones in Brussels or go to London once or twice a year to buy all the books and DVDs I could afford on my student budget.


I'm not a native English-speaker but I've been actively studying the English language for 30 years now. As a teenager, a translation student, a translator, a culture geek and now as a copywriter.


I know I don't write like a native. I've never have and I never will.


It used to bother me. In a way, I felt I wasn't really worthy of using the mighty English language as a writer.


But when I look at how natives actually write and how easy it is to use English to express oneself, I think it would be a shame not to take this opportunity to use this tool to communicate more widely.


French is a very difficult and elusive language to master as a writer. Communication in French is much less straightforward and very often much less rich and layered.


French is my mother tongue and I love it, but English is a language of choice.


A choice I made 30 years ago, when I opened a dictionary to translate and learn "November Rain", one word at a time.


At 43 years old, I'm less of an Axl Rose fan than I was at 13, but I'll keep doing my best to become as good a writer as I can be, in both French and English.


"So never mind the darkness, we still can find a way

'Cause nothin' lasts forever, even cold November rain" 😏

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