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Why Writers Should Learn a Foreign Language

It’s now been a year since I began my journey with languages. I can see my goal, being fluent in Dutch in sight. I’ve learned a lot about the Dutch language and culture. But what I did not expect, was to have such a new perspective on my own language and a new understanding of what I do as a writer. Thanks to growing up with the English language, I have a very deep understanding of how words impact and captivate people. It is a skill I have used not only to write my own creative work, but to write engaging web content and marketing material for businesses spanning all sorts of industries. A year ago, I thought that my skills with writing were all about the English language. Never did I think that I could ever hope to do what I do in a new language at a high level. As soon as I began learning Dutch, I was amazed at how little the language actually matters to what I do as a writer. Certainly I did have and still do have quite a learning curve before I can even attempt to write at a high level in Dutch, but I now understand that such a goal isn’t as difficult as I once thought. 

Discovering a New Culture

One of the most important parts of learning a language is discovering the culture that comes with it. When you pick a language to learn, you are choosing more than just unique words and grammar, you are choosing to learn about a culture. Learning a new language is a lot of work and there were many times with Dutch where I thought about giving up. No matter what the language is, you will always find a reason why it doesn’t seem worth it. But in order to get over those challenges, I went back to the culture; started discovering dutch music and movies and had to remind myself of why I chose to learn Dutch in the first place. It is no accident that I chose photos of The Netherlands as the theme of my website. Learning a language is a cultural experience and if you’re not excited about the culture, chances are you won’t be excited about the language either. Learning about a culture is a great experience for any writer to learn new perspectives, ideas, and customs they can incorporate into their writing. I have always felt that as a writer, it is very important to understand other people in order to write convincing and compelling characters. What better way to do this than jump in head first into an unfamiliar culture? 

While this next one hasn’t really affected my writing, learning Dutch has given me a new-found respect for the sheer insanity of English grammar. I have become increasingly grateful to be a native English speaker now that I realize just how strange and utterly pointless certain grammar rules are. I can’t imaging having to learn English as a second language and will be forever grateful that these odd grammar rules that really make no sense at all, are instinctive for me. Learning a new language has simply given me a better understanding of the English language.

Writing is About People

The most important thing that learning a foreign language has taught me about writing is that at its core, writing isn’t about the language at all. Writing is about people. I never thought I could understand the emotion behind a foreign language the way I do in English. I assumed that it was just an ability that was intrinsic to my understanding of the English language. But I started picking up on similar things in Dutch, even at the very beginning of my language learning process. While I know I had said it many times before when pitching companies, learning Dutch made me realize to a much greater degree, that effective writing is all about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. If you can do that, you can begin to understand how to write well in any language.

Here in America, it’s way too easy for us to live as monoglots. But learning a new language can give you new perspectives and give you a chance to learn about how different people live.  Stop making excuses and find a culture your interested in. As long as you are willing to overcome a few challenges along the way, you’ll have no problem regardless of the language you choose. In the process, you will become a better writer too.

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