There was a moment when I decided to run away from my country.
I couldn’t physically move for a lot of reasons (being sick and unemployed were the most important), but I could do so with my writing.
In the past years I got better with my English; I watched American shows and movies, read American books, visited a lot of American websites… A piece of me is and will ever be a little American.
English has now become an international language, a ‘lingua franca’, a language that people from different countries and different cultures use to communicate with each other.
It’s hard to express yourself in a language that it’s not your own. It takes a lot of time, and practice, and hard work.
When I decided to try and translate my stories into English, the first thing I thought was that I would make a fool out of myself. How could I master a language I’m not used to speak? I read and write and listen… and still now I can’t speak it.
I have an awful accent, I’m not able to pronounce some words (how the heck do you say ‘pronounce’?). Italian is a straightforward language. What you see is what you say, with very few exceptions. An A is always pronounced A (like in ‘car’) and not E, Ei, [other sounds I can’t even write]. An I is pronounced I (like “in”) not “AI”, when did someone decided that an “I” should be read that way? For what absurd reason?
Ehm… sorry, I got carried away.
So I was saying, I speak English, but I can’t speak English. Maybe I should say that I understand English. I write English.
Maybe I could even speak it right if I had to practice with someone, but I’m not that kind of girl (the one who likes to talk to strangers). I have very few friends, all from my country, and I’m not being able to befriend other people from around the world, maybe just because I’m shy.
But, back to the point. Writing in a second language is a weird thing.
Yet is very exciting and stimulating. It made me learn a lot, also about my own language, my way of speaking; it made me see some pitfalls in my way of conveying meaning. I noticed how many empty and useless words I used to say the same thing I could say with fewer words. When you use another language and you don’t have the broadest vocabulary, you need to pick the right word that says the right thing you want to say and you don’t have the luxury of wander around using the set phrases that comes out natural when your speak in your native tongue. You have to know exactly what you’re going to say.
And that. That is the most precious thing for a writer.
I come from a land that had no official language until a few centuries ago. Italy was a mosaic of different people and cultures and dialects. Italian as we know it was a language created and standardized by a long tradition of scholars, writers, artists. Italian came to life before Italy even existed.
In the XV century, every region had its own language, all based on ancient Latin, but contaminated by others and very diverse languages from other countries, other people, other times. Greek, Celtic, Arab, Spanish, French, and many others that got lost in time… All of this created a surprising diversity of speech, to the point that a Sicilian and a Lombard could not understand each other. But then in the courts, among the nobles and educated people, this new language begun to move its first step, based mostly on the Tuscan version, all while they kept speaking Latin, even if that was not their native language either.
All of this to say that the most important writers of the Italian tradition, those I’ve studied at school, were all writing in a language that was not their own. They have created their language by writing. And when I thought about that it just blew my mind.
It just opened to me a new perspective on what the art of writing really is.
I’m not comparing myself to them, I wouldn’t dare, but this just gave me a new motivation in pursuing my ‘dreams’.
I made mistakes, I will keep making them and learning from them, and day by day I’m going deep down in the real meaning of the words and our way of expressing our mental processes. And that’s just the most fascinating thing ever. (To me at least XD)
So, no matter how it turns out, it still will be worth the effort.