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« To Evolve or Not to Evolve: Are We Playing it Safe in Cyberspace? | Main | THE SCIENCE OF HUMOR »

Writing with an Accent

Guest Post by Susan Violante

In an age where borderlines get closer and cultures merge, the literary world shows little acceptance of accents as its grammar and style rules show no mercy to story-tellers from foreign languages. This statement proves itself by just one look to bookshelves on bookstores and libraries. You will always find foreign authors on them but you would never know they are foreign by reading the book, as the English language contained in the book is perfect.  This we owe as we all know to editors and translators. And make no mistake, I am all for the perfect literary product as a lover and buyer of literature myself. However, as a trilingual writer who began publishing in her third language, I can’t help but feel for all of the foreign American storytellers who feel intimidated by grammar rules when they dare to consider sharing their stories through publication.

Back in 1994, when my father handed me his 5 tapes of tri-lingual (Italian – Spanish – English) recordings, the thought of publishing his stories was terrifying. I almost decided to not even try. But being the stubborn Italian that I am, I decided I needed to try.  Nineteen years later and many publications later, I still have an accent! But because I didn’t let what I considered my handicap stop me, I created a career doing what I love most.

 The truth is that our accent is not going anywhere, so if you want to write for publication on a language other than your first, you might as well embrace it.

Here are some tips on using your accent when writing.

1)      Convince yourself that your accent is an asset, not a handicap. Let’s face it, we are our worse critic, so we create our own walls. It is time to break through the accent wall and realize that our background is our asset.  You can use your background in the same way you use your experience and knowledge when writing articles or stories. So sit down quietly and put some thought on your background. Discover your uniqueness within and make it you niche.  Once you do that it will be easier to see your accent as an asset, as your signature style within your writing.


2)      Now that you have gotten in touch with your accent, don’t go overboard! Yes the freedom to write without the language barrier is beautiful; this is why I still write poetry in Italian and Spanish. But as I built my life in the U.S. I developed the desire to write poetry in English. I started by translating a poem I wrote in Spanish only to be disappointed. It didn’t sound like me at all and the message and feeling I put in it in Spanish was gone. I realized then I needed to write directly in English. So, I armed myself with dictionaries and began to experiment. A couple of hours later, I vowed not to write poetry ever again!


It wasn’t until I found myself spending the night at the Emergency room with my 4 year old daughter that I wrote on a paper towel a poem for her as I watched her sleep. It came to me in English, grammatically incorrect in all senses, and simple vocabulary.  To this day it is my favorite.  I did edit it correcting its main flaws, but I left the simplicity of the vocabulary and my accent comes through. This is how I learned that I needed to express my thoughts and feelings however they came out, and then work in the main rules, and vocabulary. I keep it simple, and to the point and make sure it is my voice what comes through by leaving certain expressions that are unique of my accent instead of editing all out.


3)      Join a Critique Group. My critique group is by far the most important tool I have when writing. Don’t take their observations personally, and focus on what it is important. Note what you can correct easily, what is necessary to change so that your point comes across, and what grammar is unacceptable. But also pay attention to what you can get away with. With my book Innocent War, I got away with a lot because the narrator was an Italian old man. However, I realized that the Italian accent needed to be subtle, from the group’s feedback.


4)      Read a lot. The only way that you are going to get better in writing in another language other than your own, is by reading a lot in the language you wish to write. So consider taking some writing time for reading and watch yourself grow. I found my English improving just by critiquing other writer’s works. So again, the critique book was a great help.


5)      Lighten up. Don’t get frustrated in the beginning.  Just enjoy playing with words and discovering new things about yourself as a writer. Have fun and learn to laugh about your peculiar way of writing with an accent. You will find that others will like your uniqueness as well.


6)      Finally, don’t give up. Start small, with short stories and work your way up to a book if you like. Enjoy the process and just keep writing. Time flies when you are having fun and soon you will be reading a final, edited manuscript of a story filled with your voice, and yet in a different language.

Susan Violante is the author of Innocent War: Behind an Immigrant's Past, speaker, Blogger, Host of her online radio show I Have Something to Say Live, and Managing Editor for Reader Views and First Chapter Plus. For more information about Susan visit

Reader Comments (2)

There is another problem that you didn't touch on. Any author, particularly one who writes with an "accent", should choose an editor who either speaks with that accent or has successfully edited manuscripts with that accent. The author's voice is oh, so very important.

Take me, for instance. I'm a 75-year-old, white, editor and publisher from the southwestern U.S., but now living in México. I recently published a book by a 35-year-old Mexican woman whose original manuscript was in Spanish.

Knowing that it had to be both translated into English AND then edited, I knew that even if I had it translated to English, there was no way I could edit an autobiographical book written by a 35-year-old woman about the Mexican women's culture in México. I finally chose a bilingual (English and Spanish—both spoken and written), 35ish-old woman writer whose written voice (in English) was much the same as my author's, to do both the translation and basic editing. She and I worked together on the final editing and copy editing, turned the manuscript over to my professionals, 1106 Design, for book design, typesetting and proofreading, and we ended up with a FINE book that both was a lovely, professional book, but read (in English) exactly as if it were written by the original author, who was ASTOUNDED when she read it in English (she did read English, but only spoke broken English).and cried about how good it was.

January 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bodwell

I love hearing people from other cultures speak English. Like adding exotic spices to language. An encouraging article for writers of all languages. Thanks!


January 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Joyce

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