25 years of English

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
OPTIONAL QUESTION: If you could use a wish to help you write just one scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be?

MY ANSWER: Oh, I do have a wish that could help me write, but first, a slice of my personal history. A few days ago, on March 29th, I celebrated 25 years since I came to Canada, as an immigrant from the Soviet Union. So many significant changes have occurred in my life since that day. The most important two: my children grew up, and I started writing.

I never wrote in Russian, my mother’s tongue, except some essays in high school. I learned creative writing in English, my second language. By now, I’ve written several novels and got three of them published by small publishers. One even received an award. I’ve written a number of short stories, most of which were published in magazines or anthologies. I’ve been writing for a professional newspaper since 2007, and the number of my published articles is well over 300. One of my novellas on wattpad, a Regency romance Fibs in the Family, has topped 41K readers. But none of my editors ever remarked that I make grammatical mistakes like an immigrant, or at least they didn’t do it to my face.

My English – grammar, vocabulary, metaphors – must be adequate, BUT… Here comes my wish. I wish English was my first language. I wish I grew up in Canada. Because I didn’t, I missed up on some cultural references, and that deficiency occasionally seeps into my writing, makes it a tad less authentic.

For example, I don’t know any popular music names that Americans and Canadians of my generation grew up with. I’ve never read English nursery rhymes or super-famous children’s authors, like Dr. Seuss. Some of the dreaded clichés of the English language – I would never use them, not because I’m a better writer, but because they don’t make sense to me. As a result – I feel somewhat insecure in my writing. Every time I finish a piece, I think: is it good enough? Does my immigrant’s past leak through?

On the other hand, my growing up in another culture informed my writing in a different way. I think it added originality to my thinking, which also reflects in my stories. Which is good, right?

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22 Responses to 25 years of English

  1. Hey, you have only to ask any of us that did! I was born in the sixties, so I can tell you about any popular music (especially on the more rock side) from the seventies on. We can help you!

  2. rolandclarke says:

    I believe that the blend of cultures is your strength. I may be British but my maternal grandmother was Chilean – I even went college in Quebec. And your published success speaks volumes. However, as Alex says, if you need to know something just ask…not that I know anything about growing up in the sixties or seventies – except in the UK.

  3. Congrats on your 25th anniversary of being in Canada. My daughter is adopted from China so I know how important these milestones are. I think your rich cultural heritage must make up for not having lived in Canada all your life.

  4. Kalpana says:

    Thank you for sharing on your blog and congratulations on the 25 years. I’ve never noticed any inconsistencies but then I didn’t grow up in the US. But I know what you mean because writing in English ( and it is my first language) in India also makes me ask myself the same question.

  5. From your story in the IWSG anthology, I’d never know it wasn’t your native tongue. Don’t worry about the cultural references too much. My fictional books don’t have them.

  6. Ditto what Alex said. And how cool that you’re able to include in your stories flavors of another culture/history/language. I wish you happy writing in April.

  7. emaginette says:

    Being born a Canadian, I don’t have a culture. Not like yours. Mine is watered down because of the merging of Russian and Scottish. I have neither. Keep your culture close. 🙂

    Congrats on twenty-five years. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  8. Loni Townsend says:

    Woot! Congrats on the immigraversary! Heck, every region has their colloquialisms, and a lot of time, I don’t even know when they’re missing. I think you’ve done well for yourself in writing. Good job!

  9. Juneta says:

    That is so cool though to know two cultures like and speak two languages. I always wanted to speak two languages, instead, I know a bunch of word in other languages but only understand one really. I took French in school but forgot a lot because never use it. Remember some though and familiar with some Spanish. Yes, congrats on the immigraversay!

    Hey, I can travel across the country and not get all the subtleties and things of the state. People still comment and ask about Texas jargon that I don’t even think about here in Florida. I had to ask what they meant by “Cracker” here because it means something totally different in Texas. It means born and raised in Florida. It is a racist remark in Texas. They leave off Florida which was confusing it is “Florid Cracker.”

  10. Congratulations on all of your accomplishments, Olga! And an extra whoo-hoo on the Wattpad novella – that is so great! 🙂

  11. Erika Beebe says:

    I love your honest wish. I guess I take those readings and teachings for granted. I know a little about what you reference as far as languages. My grandparents spoke old German, Mennonites from Prussia. I took German as soon as I could to be able to converse. Little did I know it was two different dialects. In any case, I understood German better than English and it crept into my English writing so badly that I reversed my verbs and nouns. 🙂

  12. Ah but Russia has some of the greatest cultural atmospheric authors in the world. I don’t think a non-Russian can write the Mother Russia stories like a native and Russian literature is darn difficult to translate to English and not lose a lot. I read several Dostoevsky novels in Russian and got so much more out of them in their native language.

    • Olga Godim says:

      I did some translations just because I wanted to try. One of my translated stories is on wattpad: Alexander Grin’s Scarlet Sails. It was a very interesting project for me – to translate Russian into English without losing the feel, the ambience of the original. Not word to word, for certain.

  13. cleemckenzie says:

    I think you hit on the best part of not being a native speaker of English when you touched on “originality.” As a writer that’s essential. I enjoyed reading about some of your personal life here today. Very interesting

  14. Congrats on the Silver Anniversary 🙂 Hope you bought yourself something shiny to celebrate.

    You bring up a good point about not getting certain cultural and colloquial references due to not growing up in an area. But that isn’t a detriment: you can research anything online, even find old magazines at the library or used book stores. I don’t know how Canada works, but Americans are so diverse culturally – and not just because of the consistent immigration – that people from the same state may grow up in radically different cultures. Like, someone who grew up in San Francisco vs someone growing up in Richvale (CA). Big city vs farmers!

    Perhaps you don’t know all the slang from your region, but it does change with every generation. I can barely understand my 20 year old son, and his 36 year old brother barely understands him either. I grew up in the 60’s/70’s and I still have to do research to find out what we wore, read, watched on TV, and even what the popular music groups were during that time period.

    I love your lush cultural history, and even the lack of certain references just makes you, and your writing, even more interesting. Just tell everyone you’re vacationing here from outer space, The Pleadis Constellation. That will explain everything, lol.

  15. Denise Covey says:

    Olga, celebrate that you were born in the Soviet Union. You have so much you could write about there. Cultural references. Yep. A bit difficult. But kudos to you if no one has ever rapped you over the knuckles for any serious bloopers due to your ESL roots. I so admire you that you’re writing so successfully in your second language. Go you!

  16. Congratulations on 25 years and your amazing accomplishment as an author.
    All those novels, short stories plus over 300 articles is something to be proud of.
    I think that your experiences helped shape your distinct writing voice and style, which cannot be replicated.

  17. I think it’s an advantage not to be reaching for cliche’s all the time, a bad habit I am guilty of. I think many people have deficiencies in one area or another. I haven’t been to a church much in my life, so a lot of biblical references are lost on me. Ditto sports. And now, being of a certain age, I’m way behind the times in cultural “now” stuff with pop stars, slang, and text abbreviations. Okay, time to crawl back under the rock I apparently live under.

  18. cheriereich says:

    I think you have the unique advantage to your writing because you experienced two cultures. I’m sure it is more of a good thing than a bad one. 🙂

  19. Thank you for sharing a slice of your life. Your experiences give you a unique perspective, and that would be a strength of your writing.

  20. jmh says:

    It’s definitely good! Especially in Canada, novels about the immigrant experience are highly valued and lauded. So, rather than try to catch up on what you missed, tell us about all the wonderful things you experienced that we missed out on.

    It sounds like you’ve already been incredibly successful.

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