How Attending TBEX Led Me to Start Blogging in Another Language


Some of us have enough trouble finding the motivation to write a blog post in the language we’ve spoken our entire lives, but how many of us can say we know what it’s like to blog in multiple languages? In today’s guest post, Italian blogger Emanuela Barbano talks about the encouragement she found at TBEX in Girona to start blogging in English. Maybe you’ll find inspiration in Emanuela’s experience to try something beyond your blogging comfort zone, too.

There are moments in your life when you start wondering, “what would have happened to me if I hadn’t done that then?”

If I hadn’t attended TBEX in Girona in September 2012, I wouldn’t be writing this post now. I can tell you for sure. Because TBEX, and the people I met there, helped me understand my own way.

I started blogging for fun in my own language three months before TBEX, there I started thinking about beginning writing in English. While I was considering this opportunity, I received a sort of “go ahead” from one of the speakers, and I decided to start.

So here I am telling you how it is writing in a language that is not your own.

Well, it’s not easy.

You are slower than in your own language. I take a couple of hours to write a post in italian, and another two hours (later) to revise it. Then I post it.

I had set myself a goal of writing this post in two weeks’ time. Today I am in the fourth week. And this is the third re-edit.

I started writing directly in English. I feel more confident this way. Maybe my English is not so “deep” but it is better for me to start thinking directly in English rather than thinking in Italian and then translating it. If I did it the other way round my English texts would sound the same as Tony Sopranos when he speaks English. Maybe you, native English speaker who are reading this post, are now thinking that this sounds just the same. Well, actually this sounds much better to me!

Before starting an English writing session I stop reading in Italian and I start reading in English. On my bedside table I have “The Kings of Clash” by George R.R. Martin and “The Old Man and the Sea” (both Italian and English edition) by Ernest Hemingway.

I love fantasy novels, and I read them to follow the story, without fear of losing something even if reading in a language that is not mine. Avoiding literature masterpieces and dealing with easy pieces is my solution.

I mean, who cares if you don’t get the exact pink shade of Carrie Bradshaw’s new pair of stilettos? You can keep reading without worrying about it. Or so I guess.

But at the same time, I need literature masterpieces to learn how to write. And here comes Mr Hemingway, but in two editions. I hate reading with a dictionary. It is easier with an Italian edition by my side. Someone told me that there are iPad and Kindle versions offering you cheaper editions with vocabulary included, but I prefer paper.

So when I know what to write and I feel confident with English I start writing, and writing, and writing. And I speak aloud while I do it, and I listen to music, and I sing. Pink Floyd are better than a grammar book when you talk about past abilities and possibilities.

I wish you were here. Present tense and past perfect. Something that is not happening. I don’t need my high school grammar to check that. This sentence is correct. And here it goes for preposition and verb. Who do you think taught me that the verb to look takes the preposition “for” to mean “searching?” Bono Vox or my English teacher?

We non-native English speakers listen to the same song so many times that we naturally learn that form. If the song writer didn’t make a mistake, you can be sure that the preposition you have in your mind is the right one for that sentence. Maybe just check it.

You are now reading the third version of this post. I am totally re-writing it after comments I received by one of my closest friends. He is a writer. I ask him for advice when I feel unsure of what I am writing. He is very kind in his comments but he gives me hints about possible changes. If something doesn’t seem to be working well to me, I don’t tell him, but I am sure that he will get it and will tell me something to make me revise it. I am totally rewriting this post after his comments. He didn’t tell me what to do or do it for me, he just made me think about some stuff. So I thought about his suggestions and rewrote everything in a couple of days. Tomorrow my sister will read this too. She is a proofreader and professional translator. She spots every mistake I make.

Right now, to be able to embark on this adventure I need help. Maybe in one year’s time I will be perfectly able to write an interesting and well written English post in half a day without mistakes. But even if now this sounds weird, I think that a reader is always necessary, if only to stop wondering alone and deal with other people’s opinion. But I always keep going.

TBEX is not a self-help conference. But “keep going” is the first and most important tip I brought home from there.

If you really believe in what you do, try it. Your audience will give you the answers. If you don’t try, you will not know. So here I am, keeping going.

Author bio: Emanuela has always travelled. At the age of 34, she left a career in the advertising industry to put her need to travel, discover, “never stop because I am doing stuff I care about and like” ahead of the need to “settle down.” She runs a blog written in Italian, LaBarbanoInViaggio, where she started telling about her six weeks long volunteering camp in Senegal. Then she launched The Girl with the Paper Map, written in English, where she blogs about her travel experiences with a paper map. (A battery can let you down, a paper map won’t.) Emanuela is on Twitter @labarbano and her English blog is on Facebeook.

photo by Jessica Spiegel

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