The trials and tribulations of writing in your second language: how can you make it easier? (Lise Leitner)

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
In this post Lise Leitner shares some strategies for writing in your second language, while writing in a second language!

Writing can be hard on the best of days. But when you’re writing in your second language, feelings of doubt and inadequacy can be extra soul-crushing on bad writing days. So, what can you do to make things easier? Here are a few tips and tricks that have always been helpful for me.

1. Have a good (and objective) proof-reader

Finding a good proof-reader whose native language is the one that you are writing in can really help you finetune your writing. Not only will you have the opportunity to go over your draft together and correct any vocabulary or grammar mistakes, you’ll also have the chance to get some great feedback to gauge whether the point you're trying to make in your piece is coming across to potential readers. If not, hopefully you’ll have enough feedback to edit your piece further and write an even better second draft!

If you can’t find a proof-reader to work with, joining a writing group is a great way to get some feedback on your writing, too. If you’re physically based on campus, chances are there are plenty of writing groups and activities to join on campus that will help you connect with other writers (like our very own SUAW sessions!). And if you’re a student, there may also be specialist services you can call on to help you with academic English, grammar or proof-reading. At La Trobe, for example, The Learning Hub offers specialist support for graduate researchers who want to refine their written texts.

2. Write first, worry later

This is always easier said than done. However, one of the most efficient ways for me to silence my non-native inner critic is to just start writing. If you make sure you put the right measures in place to go over your writing with a fine-tooth comb at a later stage – like when you sit down with your proof reader after finishing your first draft for example – it’s easier to let those worries go when you first start writing. Your readers won’t see your first drafts anyhow, so don’t worry about getting the perfect sentences down right away! What’s most important is giving yourself the space to organise your thoughts and ideas first in whatever language you want, without judgement. 

3. Trust the process!

When I’m wrapping my head around the central ideas I’m trying to articulate through my writing, I often think in two languages at the same time. This mostly results in my brain spitting out notes and first drafts that feel like garbled, clunky ramblings at best. It took me a while to recognise that for me, this was just another part of my writing process and didn’t necessarily reflect on my writing abilities. While others might draw their ideas out on a whiteboard, or have voice memos to work from, I prepare weird notes in a mixture of Dutch and English – and that’s OK! Just because you’re writing in another language doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing. You can trust yourself, and your writing process

4. Technology is your friend

Apps like GrammarCheck, Scrivener, or even Word’s spellcheck can be a huge help in lessening the feelings of inadequacy when you’re writing. If you’re worried your grammar might not be up to scratch, these apps will correct any small grammar or formatting mistakes on the go, which in turn gives you less stuff to worry about once you finish a draft. It’s a win-win!  

While the tips listed above can’t offer a magic cure for your worries or anxieties, I hope they can help you create a writing environment where you can write without feeling too self-conscious. After all, there are plenty of exophonic writers who have written extraordinary novels in their second or third language, and if they can do it, so can we! Happy writing!


Lise Leitner is a tech enthusiast and the Senior Research Communications Advisor at La Trobe's Graduate Research School. 

Lise maintains and produces content for several of the School’s digital channels, including the website, social media and newsletters.

When not working at La Trobe, Lise is writing stories or obsessing over the latest release videogames. Lise tweets from