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Ok, I know I was warned, but what to do, I had this question since very long. I have decided where to write(platform like computer or notepad). I am in process of deciding my way of writing, but the most important decision is still to make, "Language".

I am struggling to choose between my "Mother Tongue" and "Other Language"!

To be more specific I am a Hindi speaking, North Indian, my entire education till 10+2 was in based in Hindi. I studied english as foreign language. And then I went for computer engineering (No Literature). I had my all interest in writing and I have been writing since 2004, in both English and Hindi.

I never really focused on my language as I went with the flow since yet. But now as I have started taking this seriously and want to go with writing for survival. It's really important for me to be clear about what should I choose?

Another thing to mention(though it is not a roadblock) here is, as I prefer computer to draft my compositions and I am handy with english typing.

Considering above facts please suggest me something helpful. I have been scratching my mind since very long over it. Then thought discussing it with experts will be better before taking any final decision. Please take some of your precious time to help me out with this. I really appreciate your patience and suggestions. Thanks a ton.

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5 Answers 5

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This is a complex question requiring a complex answer.

  1. What market do you aim for and what is the language of that market?

    If you write in English, you are obviously writing for speakers of English (because writing in English and having the book translated to your mother tongue makes no sense). But is your subject matter of interest to them? Or would you find more enthusiastic readers in Hindi?

    Many books are of course translated to foreign languages and read by people of different cultures, and many topics are of universal appeal, but it seems to me that, with few exceptions, only British and US authors consistently sell well worldwide, while most non-US/UK fiction is popular only in its culture of origin.

    And it is not the language that keeps readers from picking up books but the cultural background of your writing. Having your story take place in a US city does not change this cultural background. Different cultures have different traditions of characterization, plot rhythm, use of metaphors, topics etc.

    On the other hand, if you write in a genre that is unpopular in your home culture, you might find an audience by publishing in another language. But that language might not be English! For example, if you write magical realism, you might find a larger audience if you publish in Spanish.

    So define your target audience and find out what language it speaks. If this is not English, there is no reason to write in English. Translations to Spanish are equally possible from Hindi.

  2. Which language are you most comfortable to write in?

    Only in rare cases is this not the mother tongue, for example if a writer has emmigrated and been living in a foreign country for so long that he has achieved a near native mastery of that language. Nabokov is the prime example for this, but most writers who still live in the context of their mother tongue simply cannot write in a foreign language as well as in their own.

    I have studied English at university, and I've been reading SF exclusively in English for thirty years now, and many ideas and phrases come to me in English first. Nevertheless my grammar is often wrong and I simply lack the words to express myself well in English. I tried to write a novel in Engish once, and a native speaker found so many weird word choices, syntactic peculiarities, and plain mistakes, that I gave up on that idea immediately. Now I write in my mother tongue. It is a bit of an effort, because, as I said, much of my writing-related thinking is in English, but the resulting texts are correct and read well. I have been commended on my mastery of language, so obviously writing in my mother tongue is the right choice for me.

    Find out which language is least of an obstacle for you. If you are unsure, write a (different) short story in both English and Hindi and give it to native (!) speakers to read and judge. Choose the language that you get better feedback for.

  3. Who will edit your text?

    If you plan to write the text from first draft to published text all by yourself, you'll need a mastery of language that your question shows you are lacking in English. Either you'll have to invest a lot of time to learn better English, or you'll have to pay an editor to polish your writing. But if you pay an editor, why not write in Hindi and pay a translator?

    Don't just focus on the first step in the publishing process, but consider every step from writing, to editing, to publishing, to marketing, to distribution. How does your manuscript get from your computer to the reader, who is involved in this process, and what do their services cost?


The key word for me in my answer is the word "obstacle". Language is a tool, and as a writer I must not evaluate this tool by what others can achieve with it, but by how well this tool serves my own purpose. Only when I write in my own mother tongue can I express myself with ease, or rather with tolerable difficulty. And although I aim at the English market, I take the detour over my mother tongue, first publish in it, and then have my text translated and published in English.

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This depends in part on who your audience is, as already noted. It also depends on what kind of editorial support you'll have and on what your goals are.

I've seen lots of work, both drafts and published work, by native speakers that doesn't really measure up. English is a difficult language full of quirks and borrowings from all over the place, and I imagine it would be much worse for somebody learning it as a second language. (I'm a native speaker.) If you're working with an editor who can take the time to help you deal with those quirks then writing in English could work out for you, but without an editor you'll be more challenged. (Your question, for instance, contains some things that would need to be edited before publication. Please don't take that comment amiss; your question is quite understandable and your English is way better than my second language.)

If your goal is to get published, and particularly if you can't hire an editor, then I recommend writing in your native language for these reasons. If, on the other hand, your goal is to grow as a writer, then I recommend writing in English because you're obviously interested in doing so and you'll be able to interact with more people. There are many online writing groups and sites in English.

I don't know anything about tools for typing Hindi. For English there are lots of different tools and approaches -- different software for typing, but also different kinds of keyboards, and voice-to-speech software to avoid (or reduce) typing. Maybe there are other tools that could better support Hindi than what you're currently using?

Finally, beware the challenges of translation, particularly for creative work. Unless you have professional translators available, you should plan to write in the language in which your work will be published.

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If you don't write "literary" works (e.g. poetry), but genre fiction, translation is not a problem. Translations of US and British authors are regular best sellers all over the world, and there are books translated into English that sell well despite being translated (e.g. Funke's "Inkheart", which got made into a Hollywood movie despite being written in German). –  what Jun 17 at 14:40
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@what more-literary fiction can run into problems too (imagery, metaphors, etc), but I agree that a professional translator can handle pretty much anything there (and didn't mean to imply otherwise). Heck, even poetry gets translated sometimes. I just meant that it's hard, therefore requires pros, therefore has a cost. –  Monica Cellio Jun 17 at 15:16
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I am in a similar situation, where I alternate between english and french (my native tongue).

I know my english is not good enough to write an entire novel, but I often write short stories and exercise writing in both english and french. I don't know how hindi compares to english, but I assume it's pretty different in it's structure.

Writing the same story in different languages can drastically change it's pacing and tone; one language being moreable to handle certain kinds of writing styles. At least that's what I've gathered from my experience.For example I love writing /reading science-fiction in english while I strongly prefer french for thriller-type stories.

For now I'd say experiment writing the same stories in both languages and see how it turns out. Chances are you'll find what languages goes best with the type of stories you want to write.

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Regarding "change pacing and tone", I wrote a poem in English once, then translated it back to my (native) Polish. I'm still not quite sure how I ended up with one stanza more, actually a very good stanza going well with the spirit of the poem and definitely adding to it, but absolutely not present in the original. –  SF. Jun 16 at 21:19
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First, think of your audience, and potentially co-workers.

Who will read what you write?

I'm fairly adept at my native language, but still I write in English, simply because my potential English-speaking audience is roughly twenty times bigger than the local one - I write for a certain niche, which is popular in the US, not nearly so locally though. (That of course means I have to compete with more authors too, but - oh well, it's not like the reader can't choose both me and the other authors.)

Who will you work with, on what you write?

If it's a collaborative effort, say, a piece of software, using native language is preferred simply because your coworkers, your immediate testers and first audience will likely be local, so creating it will be easier. Still, if you write a computer program, add language switching facilities from moment one. By the time they are needed modifying the software to be multi-language will be a torment. And if the system is implemented well, you'll be able to translate it, and have both versions at your disposal.

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Perhaps you can write in the language you are most comfortable using. I also agree with experimentation, where you write in both languages and see how it will turn out. Or if you'd like, you can choose to write in Hindi then hire a translator or vice versa. It will be costly on your part, but you also have an advantage since you already have better grasp of both languages.

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Hiring an editor to polish a badly written English text will be even more costly than a translation of a well written Hindi text into English. –  what Jun 17 at 14:42
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