Blogging when English isn’t your first language

Today’s post is a little more personal than usual – I’m going to be talking about the challenges of writing blog posts when English isn’t your first language. (And yes, this might have been inspired by my frustrations this week, trying to understand some subtleties in English grammar and spending hours on it).

Learning English

When I first discovered blogs as a teenager, I was mostly reading blogs in my native language, French. I read a lot of lifestyle blogs at the time, and absolutely loved the visuals, the soft colors, the energy in those blog posts. (Sadly, when I got back into blogging in my twenties, I couldn’t find those French lifestyle blogs again – I wonder where they went…)

In high school, I went on to learn English out of spite. I began high school with grades averaging 20% in English class, and tried to talk about it with my teacher at the time. Having no patience for a student with grades as bad as mine, he looked me right in the eye, and, in front of the whole class, loudly said : “It’s not my fault if you’re lousy.

Yeah. Talk about building confidence.

So I learned English out of spite. I started reading fanfiction in English only, changing the soundtracks on my favorite TV shows, and slowly improving step by step. By the end of high school, I was back with the same teacher for my last semester – the irony! – and when he gave me my last exam paper, he pulled me aside and told me he was impressed by my progress. (I always wondered if he knew being mean would motivate me to study even more ?)

Blogging in English

Moving to Canada in a bilingual province helped me become more confident in my ability to communicate in English, and I started reading almost all of my books in their original language, without having to wait for a French translation – but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to write and blog in my second language yet.

Blogging in French, however, was much more difficult than I expected. Not because I had trouble with the writing part, but because finding an audience was challenging and even though blogging isn’t for the followers, it is in part for the interactions and the comments – which I just couldn’t get in French. English is the language of the internet, and if you want to reach out to people, you’ll have much more luck using a language that so many of them will understand.

I started blogging in English about a year ago, and every time I write a post it takes me forever to write – not because I don’t know the words, but because my sentence structure is inherently French and I want my posts to feel as natural as possible for the readers.

My boyfriend kindly offers to check up some of my posts once in a while, but it can get really frustrating to spend so much time re-writing every single sentence in my posts. Usually, he’ll point out phrasings that mimic French grammar a little too much, or that would seem a bit strange to an English speaker – and help me find more specific words for the precise thoughts I want to express.

For example : just this week, more than 10 minutes were spent trying to figure out the essential difference between “this lacks _” and “this doesn’t have _“. It’s something that can seem extremely simple, but if you’re writing in a language that’s not your first, it’s one of the many things you might want to pay attention to so you don’t write something that sounds unbalanced, or poorly constructed – at least, that’s what I was thinking.

Is it really important?

More and more, I question the relevance of putting so much effort into the perceived “quality” of my writing. I know it’s important when I’m trying to write something more narrative, like fanfiction, for example.

But should people try to use elaborate sentence structures in blog posts, or should we try to make them as accessible as possible, with more direct phrasing and easily understandable vocabulary?

I’ve read a few posts on how to improve your posts when English isn’t your first language, and some of them mention that an overly complicated language might be perceived as pretentious or showy. A more conversational writing style seems to be preferable – but how do you, as a non native speaker, distinguish a conversational writing style from an overly simple one?

Do you blog in your first language? If not, what kind of methods do you have to make your posts as “natural” as possible?

Related posts : on the same topic, you can check out Kristina’s post @books and dachshundsblogging with anxiety : can I say that?

16 thoughts on “Blogging when English isn’t your first language

  1. Oh my god, I would’ve been so FURIOUS as that teacher! what the hell?
    I was one to take literal years to learn too- even though I always lived in the same province, New-Brunswick, which you know is “officially bilingual” and all.. but I come from a purely french town xD so that kind of fucked me up ahahah our level of english of course weren’t as strong as thoses in the south where I moved to and live now. I did Grade 3 up to grade 8’s english in our french town, and then did grade 9 through grade 12’s in this mostly english speaking town … and it took me ALL THOSES YEARS to get it onto my brain of how english was working – no kidding. Grade 12 was my last year of high school, where I finally “got it” way more than previously, but was still DEAD SCARED of speaking it.
    This makes what, 9 years until I could learn? it’s a lot.. Though I feel like it was forced upon me and I didn’t particularly wanted it but 🀣

    I did that completely backward xd I didn’t started to read in english before only 2years ago, but what did helped me is when I started working at the sex shop, believe it or not ahaha as most of our customers there were english – because english part of town (im more in the french one now – so my cafΓ© will get english peeps but mostly high class french ones) so I was kinda obligated to speak it more, but my boss was a total sweetheart and knew I was french so she was very patient with me; that’s around then that I decided to write more in english too.

    ahahaha omg.. I do that a LOT. My pronunciation and term of phrases aswell as random addition of “S” everywhere is very much french ROFL but I just, “erh whatever” people will mostly understand me regardless x)
    My general processus with that, is I just go and write as I would speak in my brain .. if you can understand what I mean xd I want this to stay my voice, like I would be speaking to someone through my words — rather than some overly complicated dialogue of some sort.. anyway, things that are more “levelled” english gives me a hard time to comprehend, even now..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was pretty angry at him for a while ! I have some trouble finding my “voice” in English though, mostly because I want to write “properly” and that makes it difficult to use the voice I’d use if I was writing in French… I was super scared of speaking it too when I came to New Brunswick ! It really helped being in a bilingual province (I do miss the English now that I’m in Quebec, honestly) 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post! As someone with English as their first language, I always want to hear other perspectives from people who have a different native language. Each experience is unique and it helps me gain a better understanding of how to make my own blog and writing more accessible. Hearing about your experience with your English teacher breaks my heart. I’m an educator and I can’t imagine how awful you’d have to be to tell a student they were lousy at something. However, I do understand doing things just prove a teacher wrong and I’ll say I wouldn’t have known it wasn’t your first language unless you said something. Anyways I say all that to say, screw that teacher! Thanks for sharing your experience.<3

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your comment !! 😊 I won’t say it didn’t hurt to have that thrown in my face – I knew I was pretty terrible in English, but I genuinely wanted to learn and progress – but over the years, it has become more like a motivational thing – I see something I don’t understand, and think “yeah, sure, I’m terrible at this right now, but I know what I’m capable of and if I work hard, I can do this !”.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a great an important post!
    First of all, that teacher was so SO wrong. I’m so glad that encouraged you to learn, but for some it may make them never learn something because of the trauma that might cause. I just hope that by seeing you improved he doesn’t think what he did was right and do this to every student because it’s definitely very hurtful.
    I understand what you mean -sometimes I feel insecure with some parts of my blog post because, in my case, the structure of my phrases is inherently spanish, and sometimes i don’t find the right words to make my message go through. However, I don’t regret starting a blog in english since it’s helped me reach a wider audience in such little time😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you ! He was an older man whose teaching methods hadn’t changed in.. at least 15 years ? So I don’t think he changed much, but he also might not teach anymore as I think his retirement age was around 62 years-old and he must have been near that when I was in High School – hopefully, no other students were hurt !
      Yes, the main advantage of having a blog in English is definitely, for me, being able to reach a much wider audience, and being able to interact with people a lot more ! If you put a lot of time and effort into your posts, it’s natural to want people to be able to read them and talk to you about it, and I think a lot of international bloggers start blogging in a language that’s not their first because of that.


  4. I didn’t really realise how hard it could be to blog in a second language until I read your post!
    English is my first language so well, I never really thought of it but now that I do, I understand. My second language is Hindi and well, it is an understatement to say that I’m not nearly as fluent in it as I’m in English. I’m terrible at writing it and don’t comprehend any difficult words which is pretty surprising considering we usually talk in Hindi at home, but well, I find it hard so maybe it’s just that…
    Also, I’m so angry at that teacher for being mean to you but hey, atleast you got something good out of it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment! I think a lot of people don’t think about what it means to blog in a language that’s not your first, and all the time that international book bloggers have to put into it, especially those whose first language is very different from English!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. First off, I never would have known that English is not your first language from this blog post, so kudos to you! And that teacher was just … wrong (and kind of horrible). Glad you stuck it out to spite him!

    As far as if it’s worth the effort, I think that’s up to you. I’m guessing that English-speaking readers will be more forgiving than you realize, but I do understand the compulsion to make your writing as “perfect” as possible. The question is, are you going to burn out from spending so much time on each and every post? If you feel like the work you’re doing is challenging you in good ways, go for it! But if you’re wearing yourself down to the point where you don’t want to do it anymore, that’s a sign that you need to cut yourself some slack and not be so critical of each and every phrase. (Of course, that’s just my opinion!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much ! It means a lot to me 😊 I think it’s challenging me in good ways, but that I might need to cut myself some slack once in a while, if it prevents me from posting something because I feel like it isn’t “polished” enough. I want to be more regular in my posting schedule, and keep it fun for me at the same time!


  6. So I’m lucky enough to be blogging in my first language. And I have to say that your post has a really elegant writing style, that shows how much care you put into your writing! However, even though English is my first language, I still try to be mindful about the words I use on my blog and when responding to comments, because I know that English is not the first language for many of my readers.

    But I honestly think it’s okay to make mistakes or to have some awkward phrases. Like I said, your writing is beautiful, but if it’s stressing you out a lot, no one will fault you for having an “error” here or there.

    I’ve read many blogs from people for whom English isn’t their first language, and not all of their writing is well-crafted. But it doesn’t have to be! As long as it’s understandable and readable, I don’t really care and will give it just as much of my time as a blog written by a first language English speaker. To me it really is the content that matters the most!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much ! It’s reassuring to know that people won’t be too put out by some errors here and there, or some awkward sentences that sounded better in French than they do in English 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Your writing is excellent. I am a blogger and editor and am starting an online English teaching business, you write better than most English speakers. If it takes you a lot of time, I would say don’t worry so much about details in casual contexts, book blog readers are usually quite forgiving – but when you want things to be perfect, then whatever you are doing, keep it up — it works.

    Liked by 1 person

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