Écriture: A Writer-to-be and A Polyglot-to-be

By Ma

There is a Chinese saying that goes: ‘If one speaks without literary talents, he cannot advance far’[1]. To be able to write with grace in a foreign language thus implies that he excels in that language. It is almost certain that spoken discourse and écriture are not mutually inclusive with one other, but both involves rhetoric, the function of which is to persuade – to get the message across, just as Aristotle mentioned[2]. Prior to developing my passion for language learning, I had never thought of the benefits of writing myself. I was totally ignorant about the reason for my slow learning ability, despite much effort I put on its acquisition.

However, something must have gone wrong during my learning process. Instead of spending considerable time on grammar books, I should have written more. Having conversed with few polyglots, I begin to realize that my failure in mastering a new lingua franca is my reluctance to practice writing. I recall, elsewhere I have read Faulkner’s statement which advised us to “Read, read, read. Read everything —trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” To Faulkner, reading is probably a means to writing, or more exactly, to express his reading experience. But to me as an aficionado of languages, writing is a means to demonstrate what have been learnt. The more one writes in that language, the more he will be proficient in it, because aside from mechanically gobbling up some unfamiliar syntaxes and word order, you experience them yourselves. You know what you do not know through the process of writing. Having gradually been acclimatized to the language environment after persistent writing practices, you can, I think, develop your own creativity in the new writing system.

As to the form/genre of writing, I intend not to go to great details since the definition of genres may differ from various scholars’ perspectives.  I am not going to quote Northrop Frye’s, or any works of formalists, but you can attempt to write diaries as a beginner, stories or even poems when you become more advanced in that language.

  1. A Diary a Day, Your Motivation Will Stay

Diary writing is a nice way for you to put what you have learnt into use. You will unconsciously be able to employ new phrases, words and sentence structures you have remembered. Just as a scientist who does endless experiment to prove his hypothesis, you can see whether you truly master new grammatical items. Do not fear whether you make a mistake or not, for it is inevitable for a language learner to commit errors. Show your work to native speakers only when you are confident enough to do so. From a sensible perspective, if you ask your language partner for support and assistance, most are eager to help you out.

  1. The Pleasure of Writing a Story

We experienced, experience or are experiencing the pleasure of the tales of Grimm, of Anderson, of different myths. In addition to what Hemingway says that you can experience a thing from a story, you can let others experience what you want them to[3]. You grant your characters a life; you instill your thoughts into the narrators; you inspire your readers to think, to learn, and to inspire others. My advice will thus be: write whatever stories that please you to develop your creativity.

  1. Let Your Powerful Emotions Overflow into the Poetic World[4]

It is universally acknowledged that the literary history of poetry is long in both Europe and China. In the case of Europe, Homer’s epics, Shakespeare’s plays, Romantic poetry are deemed to be classics. Likewise, in China, Book of Songs, Tang poetry and Song lyrics sound sweet, and meaningful. Leaving aside the purpose of poetry, we cannot be oblivious to the values of poetry. If you delve into the details of poems, you find a diverse of forms, with rules of meter and rhyme. However, you can liberate yourself from the form and write a free verse if you are advanced enough to master the poetics.

The above three genres are what I have just come up in my mind. In future, I am going to enhance my language skills by writing regularly in these forms. Should you have any brilliant ideas about writing or language learning, do write a comment to us!

[1] Extracted from “Twentieth Year of Duke of Xiang” Commentary of Zuo (左傳). The original Chinese goes “言而無文,行而不遠。”

[2] According to Aristotle’s Rhetoric, rhetoric allows us to develop our own argument, to discover something new, and to convince others into believing what the speaker says, thus is pertinent to logic and politics. For more details, refer to http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Aristot.+Rh.+1.1.1&redirect=true

[3] Original quote: “I’m trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across—not to just depict life—or criticize it—but to actually make it alive. So that when you have read something by me you actually experience the thing. You can’t do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you can’t believe in it. Things aren’t that way.”

[4] Original quote: “[P]oetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” in William Wordsworth’s “Preface to the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads” (1800).

[Featured image: Casper David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog(c. 1818)]


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