Maybe I Shouldn’t Apologize, But I Can’t Help It

Most of you know English is my Second Language. It’s my preferred language.

I came to live in the USA back in 2004 and I knew English very well, but not nearly as well as I know now. Of course, practice and going through college here and speaking with other English speakers made (and still makes) my English better and better.

I’m proud of being bilingual, but it’s a pain in the @$$ sometimes. For one, I’m getting worse with Portuguese. I keep forgetting words when talking to my family, and Portuguese went through a huge orthographic change a couple of years ago, while I was already living in the US, so I didn’t follow the change, not completely. And second, my English will never be perfect. I know this. In ten years—and I’ll have several books out by then I hope ;)—my English won’t be perfect still. I try to comfort myself saying that it’s impossible even for an American to know all words in the English language.

So sometimes it feels like I’m losing Portuguese and not gaining any English …

After all, what triggered this post, you may ask. Well, I just participated of a few contests and online critiques and people always commented about some preposition problems (oh, I hate prepositions! They are evil!) and awkward phrasing. People have no idea English is my second language when they comment like that, and, obviously, they are going to critique what they see. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate people showing me where my mistakes are. (you can read my short story here or here by the way and see the mistakes for yourself).

I know this, but honestly, I don’t know how to fix. I don’t even spot these “errors”, not alone at least. That’s why, a couple of times, I paid freelance editors for line-edits and copy-edits, because they can fix those “errors” … but, they are expensive, and, if I pay them for every draft I write, I’m gonna have to sell my house. Can you imagine? I finish a draft, then hire an editor. Then, along the way, the opening changes or something in the middle changes, or a subplot is cut or enhanced … and I have to send it back to the editor to do their magic again.

Other thing about freelance editors is that some of them have a full schedule. Right now, the ones I like to work with are scheduling for December/January … so, besides having a lot of money, you have to have time … to wait.

So, what am I to do?

Not enter contests because I’m ashamed of not having a perfect English? If I do that, then I have to stop writing on my blog and my group blog, NA Alley, because I’m sure that all my posts have awkward phrasing and a few grammar errors. I can’t help it. I can’t SEE them … Sorry my NA Sisters for making errors on our beautiful blog.

And I should stop tweeting too. Since tweewing is “automatic” and spontaneous, I just write what comes to mind and only after it’s posted and way down my feed I realized there was a typo, or a concordance error, or a wrong preposition. Ugh!

But I can’t expect to be forgiven. I don’t expect to be forgiven. I mean, what the agents I send my manuscripts to care if I’m ESL? They want perfect grammar (or almost perfect) and beautiful writing. They won’t pat my head and consider me with a different eye/mind because I’m an ESL. And I really don’t expect them too, don’t want them to. That would make me feel worse, as if they were selecting me for pity.

Still, I have to say, I’m sorry. I wish English was my first language and that I had studied it all my life. I wish my grammar was perfect and that none of my phrases were awkward.

Moments like these, reading the comments on contests and critiques, make me want to give up writing. Not of writing in English, because honestly, I can’t imagine writing in Portuguese (and let’s not talk about the industry, because books in Brazil is a whole different thing). I’ve been writing in English since 2008. The ideas come and flower in my mind in English. I dream in English, I think in English. Though I make mistakes, English is my official language. And because I make mistakes, the idea of giving up of writing crossed my mind. Though I assure you it’s nothing serious, because I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t write. I don’t want to do anything else.

Sorry about the long rant. I’m not expecting pats on the head or compassion or whatever. I just … I needed to take this off my chest, because it was really bringing me down and I was tired of feeling blue because of it.

And to finish this, I want you guys to know I’m taking yet another grammar workshop that started last Thursday.


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33 Responses to Maybe I Shouldn’t Apologize, But I Can’t Help It

  • Just wanted to say as a fellow ESL writer: “I understand” :D Sometimes venting a bit does help :P
    When those moments happen to me, I usually remember that writing is a craft which takes hours and even books to be perfected without ever becoming perfect…How is the class you’re taking?
    Hang in there Juliana!
    Elodie recently posted: YA Book Club: This is not a test by Courtney SummersMy Profile

    • Hi Elodie, thanks for the support!
      The class I’m taking is from Writer’s Digest University, and it’s called EEW II: Form and Structure.
      It’s been only a week (out of 6) but it’s going well so far.

  • Oh, Juliana you don’t have to apologize. I never noticed any errors in your blog writing. I think your wonderful and after reader your short story I already knew you wrote wonderfully but that just confirmed it :D You’re amazing and I hearts my sista!!!

  • Olá, garota! Vamos de seu idioma ‘nativo’, para matar as saudades.
    Em primeiro lugar, você é inspiradora para escritores e leitores – quem ama literatura em todas as suas manifestações reconhece a sua motivação e profissionalismo.
    Em segundo lugar, é sinal importante de humildade sua, como escritora, colocar suas supostas falhas para seus leitores. E um ato de coragem. Que aproxima mais ainda obra/criador de nós, meros mortais leitores.
    E por último, mas não menos importante, você é uma mulher guerreira: mantém família e seu trabalho inspirador sempre. Sem bairrismo, é um orgulho saber que uma brasileira de origem está conquistando esse espaço para além das fronteiras do ‘territorius brasiliensis’. Ser/estar escritor/a é um desafio. Em qualquer lugar, em qualquer tempo.
    Mantenha o queixo erguido, nariz arrebitado(não muito, para não ser considerada esnobe) e nunca desça do salto(bem, algumas vezes temos momentos de fúria…;)
    Um grande abraço do territorius sul do Brasil!

    • Oie! Obrigada! Quem sabe um dia meus livros nao sao traduzidos pro portugues hehehehe Muito chique eihn!
      Valeu pelo voto de confianca!

  • I certainly haven’t noticed any mistakes on your blog before. I think what you’re doing is beyond amazing! I speak/read French (though I’m not quite bilingual) and some German, and I cannot even fathom trying to write much, let alone something good in either of these languages. You have zero reason to apologize because you’re basically Wonder Woman. :)
    Jaime Morrow recently posted: IMM: A Whole Lot O’ Good StuffMy Profile

  • Choosing to write in English shows how incredibly brave, hard-working and talented you are, Juliana! Please don’t let critiques and comments get you down and focus on the facts: your books are getting published, you have a successful blog and loads of followers… you’re already awesome! And on a personal note, I like that there are ESL writers out there :)
    EM Castellan recently posted: What is Gritty Epic Fantasy?My Profile

    • Aww *blushes*
      You see, I welcome critiques and comments, because that’s one way I’ll learn, but, sometimes, they can get me down … like when I wrote this blog post.
      But I’m okay. I’ll survive lol

  • Juliana! As a fellow ESL and in the same situation (with not remembering enough words in my language and yet not fluent in english), it’s nothing you need to apologize for. Your writing is breathtaking and I always look forward to seeing more of it, every time. I’m totally psyched to have you as my CP, you do an amazing job in edits and writing!

    I did tell you just how amazing your short story ending was right? Only a skilled crafty writer can capture a character’s emotion so well in such few words and you my friend had done it!

    Keep on writing!

  • *BIG HUG*!!

    Juliana, I am really impressed with you (and Elodie, for that matter) that you would choose to write in your second language, and do it so well. Yes, sometimes I notice something in what you write that betrays you. But more often it’s a matter of word choice, where the word you use is not technically incorrect (I can still understand the sentence), but in that context it’s not the word a native English-speaker would use. The more you read, the more you write, and the more you allow your work to be read and critiqued by people you trust, the more you’ll learn. Don’t be too hard on yourself, though. You’ve been doing this for four years. There are people sitting around me here at work who have known English all their lives and couldn’t write a grammatically coherent sentence if their lives depended on it! Your writing is positively eloquent by comparison. :)

    Two things I want to say. First, why not save your money and find a friend who’s willing to read your stuff, not for grammar and spelling–grammar and spelling are mechanical things that you can use books to fix–but for “sound”? That is, to make sure that when a native English speaker/reader reads your work, s/he isn’t going to be tripped up by an awkward phrase, or some odd word usage. This is hard, because, as you well know, natives will deliberately use odd phrases and strange words for effect. But I think someone going through your work and making notes along the lines of “most people wouldn’t say this…” or “… by *some word* did you mean *some other word*…?” I think something like that would really help you.

    I’m sort-of in a similar situation, being a native UK English speaker, but living in the States. You would think I’d have no problems writing in English… but I can still get caught out. Like when I use a typically British phrase on the lips of someone who’s supposed to be American, or vice versa. It’s really helpful for me to have an American wife and English family members (and friends in both categories too) that can help keep me straight. In fact, a short while ago, I posted some flash fiction in which my supposedly Scottish character referred to a cell phone. One of my British friends (I think it was either Cole or Emma) picked up on that immediately–they don’t call them cell phones in the UK! Cell phones became popular since I moved to the US, so I’m more familiar with the US term and used it without thinking.

    Second, please try to keep up your Portuguese! Read Portuguese, and speak to family as much as you can. I say this as someone who wishes he was at least bi-lingual. It’s such a gift to be fluent in more than one language, and while I realize it’s hard when you’re speaking, thinking, and writing English, I would encourage you to make a conscious effort to not let your Portuguese slip. Perhaps every now and again you could challenge yourself to translate something you’ve written in English into Portuguese? Your family might appreciate that. :)

    Wow, that’s a long reply. But I really just want to encourage you, and know that I really am in awe of you, and those like you. English isn’t an easy language to learn. We natives take it for granted. You, Elodie, and others should get a medal! :)
    Colin recently posted: TTT: The Literary ConfessionalMy Profile

  • You don’t need to apologize! You’re dealing with extra challenges on top of everything else that is hard about being a writer–and doing a great job of it, from what I can tell! I think it’s SO COOL that you’re bilingual. :) I’ve always admired people fluent in more than one language. So this post was an eye-opener because I never thought about how frustrating it could be if you were in a situation like this as a writer… If hiring editors is getting too expensive, you could probably search for a critique partner and tell them up front that you’re looking for someone who would be willing to do line-editing. We English grammar freaks don’t usually want a ton of line-editing in return. More likely, if you found a CP like that they’d be happy to trade grammar fixes for your help with plot or character or something. :)
    Susan F recently posted: FIRST DRAFT: COMPLETEDMy Profile

  • You’re amazing. English is my first and only language. I want to throw the towel in some days for my lack of grammar skills. It held me back from writing for way too long. Our passion will rise above :) I’m hoping you’re feeling better right now, fingers crossed.

  • I had no idea English wasn’t your first language! I couldn’t tell.
    Don’t be afraid to put your stuff out there. Maybe instead of hiring an editor you can get the help of a couple critique partners instead.
    Alex J. Cavanaugh recently posted: Author Ciara Knight Weighs in on Science, Ninja News, and Ninja out of the ShellMy Profile

  • Ditto what Alex said – I had no idea that English wasn’t your first language. I admire your perseverance. Don’t get down on yourself!
    Kitty recently posted: Happy Blogoversary to me. Look! I unwrapped a new site.My Profile

  • Are you kidding? I have so much respect for you, Juliana. Yes, you’re ESL, but you have a freakin’ book deal! Look at how many native speakers haven’t even made it that far. You should be proud of yourself, girl!
    Carrie Butler recently posted: Is it YA or MG? Guest Post by C. Lee McKenzieMy Profile

  • Never ever apologize for being a ESL speaker. You know English is my second language as well and I have things that trip me up all the time. We don’t judge you because of it. You’re a wonderful writer with a novel being published next year. Remember that when something as small as an incorrect preposition makes you feel bad. <3 <3 <3
    Jani recently posted: Things that inspire me # 2 & Revision fun!My Profile

  • I’m sorry you’ve been feeling discouraged. Honestly, I think you should keep doing your best to improve your grammar (which btw I think is pretty good! I’ve never read your blog and thought anything sounded wrong…) and just keep writing! Don’t worry about it so much. All publishers have copy editors so when you’re at that point, they’ll help you fix whatever sentences need fixing. Of course to get an agent you want to be as polished as possible, but I’d think your beta readers could help proofread your stuff, because again – I don’t think your grammar is bad at all! A lot of English speakers have trouble. You’re doing great!

  • Juliana, I think you’re doing really well. I didn’t even realize earlier that English isn’t your first language. I can’t imagine trying to learn and write in another language. And you’re better with it than a lot of Americans!! You’ve come so far. I’m sure you’ll continue improving, as we all strive to do.

    And as for Portuguese, what if your family sometimes has dinners during which you speak it instead of English? That would help you to hang onto it. Don’t be discouraged–you’ve done something I’ve always wanted to do, and haven’t.

  • Hun,
    English is my primary language and I still make a buttload of errors. I’ve had to speak and write English my entire life and I still have to brush up on my grammar. Hell, I still find things that I never knew when it comes to grammar. My point is that we all make errors, and that I don’t want you to beat yourself up/feel down because you make errors. I think it’s wonderful that you write in your secondary language! And if you really want extra help on some of those things, I think a crit partner could help. Especially if they know what your trouble areas are. And as for the prepositions… you should see the first draft (and a very early draft of my MS) that Bai critted. And the tweets. I had a serious preposition problem. Huge! Luckily, Bai helped me work on breaking that habit by helping me see it for myself in my own writing. It’s always harder to see our own errors than to see other writer’s errors.
    and when you start to feel too discouraged just remember…. YOU HAVE A BOOK DEAL!!!! WOOT WOOT!


  • You definitely shouldn’t apologize! You’re a wonderful writer, and I’m amazed that English is your second language. In fact, your grasp of English is MUCH better than a lot of native English speakers I know! :)

  • I am a freelance editor and an author, and I have a keen eye (and English is my ONLY language). I have NEVER read one of your posts and thought, “Man, this gal really needs a course.” To be frank, it never crossed my mind that English wasn’t your first language.

    I have read too many books with editors and authors with English as a first language that had mistakes. I think you have to cut yourself some slack. Anyone who takes the time to read your author bio will know your background, if they ever even notice an occasional preposition problem.

    Hang in there. Some critiquers are not happy unless they find mistakes. It gives them purpose. ;-)
    Tia Bach recently posted: Writing Forest, Finding the ClearingMy Profile

  • I would have never guessed that English was your second language. I cannot being to imagine the challenges that this presents to you in writing. Living in a bilingual country (Canada – English and French) and in Canada’s only officially bilingual province, I can tell you I run into a number of challenges when I have to use my French. And in my professional capacity, I have to use it a lot. I’ve taken oodles of courses but like you, feel like I’ll never really perfect it. So I feel your pain…
    You don’t have to apologies…I have no doubt that if you stick with it, you’ll only improve. Maybe it’ll never be “perfect” but perfect is soooo boring. You’ll find your own rhythm and will get to a point where you are happy with the added flare your culture and language talents bring to the page…I know it!
    Natalie Hartford recently posted: Urban Word Wednesday: When Jesus ComesMy Profile

  • How fascinating that I just read this today, and I already had my preposition post scheduled to go up:

    By the way, you know I’m a grammar geek, and I haven’t had red flags when I’m reading your blog. You write far better than many native English speakers. That said, I can imagine your frustration when you submit works and get feedback about those small issues that might come naturally to an English-first speaker. Hang in there!
    Julie Glover recently posted: Prepped for PrepositionsMy Profile

  • Every writer deals with the issues you mention – and lament over! Your English is beautifully conveyed in your posts, Juliana. Frankly, you write more fluidly than many of the college student’s papers I’ve taken in for critique/proofing. Always, the goal is growth – no matter if English is your first language or not. Keep stretching your abilities and gaining knowledge. That’s something to be proud of. But what you will gain is polishing….and we can all use some of that! You write clearly and your posts are basically clean (we’ve all noticed a gaffe here and there and had to ‘edit’ our posts. Insert Burning-Cheeks here. Ha!) No apologies necessary. :}
    Nadja Notariani recently posted: Re-Blogged ~ Brazen Broads Book Bash: Ahh, vacation…My Profile

  • I never knew this! I had no idea English was your second language and I have never noticed anything in your blog posts. I hate to think of you being discouraged as you are so encouraging to me. I think you are wonderful :) <3
    Em recently posted: ROW80 Check-in 29th August 2012My Profile

  • Don’t be so hard on yourself! The fact that you feel comfortable writing in a second language is a HUGE accomplishment. I know two languages other than English and I would never feel comfortable writing in either of them.
    Yael Itamar recently posted: September PreviewMy Profile

Hi! I'm Juliana Haygert,

USA Today Bestselling Author.

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