Writing in a Second Language

Writing a novel is hard but writing a novel in a second language is insane. 

Although there are some successful writers who were writing in a second language very few even think about doing something like that because acquiring language on a level of a native speaker is extremely difficult, especially if you haven’t been living in the environment where that language is spoken.

There are some examples of prolific and highly successful writers who weren’t writing in their native tongue. Probably the most well known is Vladimir Nabokov, who was born in Russia and was later writing in English. There are also Milan Kundera, who was born in Czechoslovakia and who was occasionally writing in French, then Samuel Beckett, an Irish who moved to France and wrote in French; there are Aleksandar Hemon, Jack Kerouac, Joseph Brodsky,  Joseph Conrad, and some others.

Given the examples, it can be said that it’s not impossible to write in another language, but it certainly is close to that.

What are the things that you need to do in order to improve your abilities in another language?


In order to be able to write in any language, even your native, you need to read a lot. Read anything, newspapers, books, blogs, weather report whatever you find pleasing. Reading in a foreign language can be very challenging at the beginning but later on, you will build your vocabulary, mostly by osmosis, you will pick up the rhythm and the melody of the language.

Once you feel comfortable reading in your second language dedicate some time reading the best literature in that language. You will learn a lot and if you read thoroughly you will be able to get yourself to the level of a native speaker. Keep in mind that there are some native speakers who don’t read books at all, and yet they want to be writers.


There is no better exercise for improving your writing than actually writing. At first, you can join some social network communities and exchange information with other people. There are numerous facebook groups and forums where people are eager to talk about almost anything. 

Another good exercise for improving your writing skills is keeping a diary. That way you will be able to express your emotions and internal desires in whatever language you want to write. That is one of the most difficult parts because your thoughts and interpretation of your emotions are usually correlated with your native language. Once you are able to think in that language it will be much easier to write.

Important reminder

Try to think in your target language as soon as possible and never try to write in your native language and then to translate your text. Translating is cheating, you aren’t actually writing in that language you are merely trans-coding the message.


Try to speak in your target language as much as possible because speaking is the most difficult part of acquiring any foreign language. If you have already moved to a country where that language is being spoken, that’s great, but if you haven’t try to find someone who you can talk to via skype or any other tool. Use the technology wisely, at least today it’s easy to find someone to chat and it’s relatively cheap. All you need is a communication device and internet, which you already have if you’re reading this.

In order to speak in a foreign language, you MUST think in it. You simply don’t have time to translate your thoughts from one language to another. It will sure feel uncomfortable at first but you will get used to it and you will learn to appreciate it very soon.


Listening plays an enormous role in vocabulary building. Don’t just listen to literature and people in the movies. They are trained professionals with amazing language skills. Yes, you need as much as possible of that, if you want to be a successful writer but you need slang as well. People who write in their native languages are more exposed to slang and various dialects than literature and ‘fine’ language.

My advice is to find a couple of vloggers on YouTube and follow them. It is an extremely effective tool for acquiring phrases and idioms which you wouldn’t be able to find in literature and you can justify your time spent on YouTube.

Be proud of yourself and have patience

Last but not the least, you need to enjoy the journey. It will be a long and a painful road but if you want to write a novel in a second language that’s what you need to do.

Be proud of your journey and don’t be afraid to experiment and let your native language influence the one you want to write in; native speakers thrive for different perspectives and what a better way than speaking from a point of view of someone who isn’t a native speaker.