Thursday, June 17, 2010

careful letterings


Writing in your second language can be difficult, especially if you’re not used to it. And just because you can read doesn’t necessarily mean you can write as well. I should know! While some people don’t think twice about it, some of us ponder long and hard over which alphabet to use, the sequence of words in a sentence, and most important of all, after a particularly taxing one hour at your desk with some three sentences to show for it and the ever present question, “Does this even make sense???”, looming over your head.
The letter writing activity for kids on Saturday prodded at my subconscious and reminded me of something. If you can write letters in English, then why not in another language? Of course, this would be an exercise as much for the parents as it is for the writers. Just make sure you (and/or your kids) write to someone who’s fluent and who will be able to write back, telling you where you have gone wrong. I’ve been doing this for a couple of months now, and it’s not only fun(ny), but you won’t believe how much I’ve learnt. I’ve been writing to my friends in Hindi (since the group I’m writing to don’t know any Tamil) and when they reply, they send me a list of the mistakes I’ve made, the words I have spelt wrong and so on. And since everythings been written down, its easier to cross reference, to remember new words and form new sentences. One thing I must warn you about though – don’t use the Gmail language option (it’s the button on the far left) ESPECIALLY if you are a beginner. Google generally works phonetically, and it’s not a good idea to confuse yourself with spellings, trying to make English sound like an Indian language. Rarely works. It gets worse when the person writing back to you makes similar mistakes, in which case, you won’t even be able to make out what is a typo and what is not.
What you could do instead, is hand write your letter (as opposed to type), and dedicate maybe the last page to writing in your second language. This way you can practice writing in both. I recently discovered that such writing exercises make you think in the language you are writing in. At one point, you stop making literal translations and begin constructing sentences according to what you think makes sense. Turns out, the sooner you venture out of the safety net that is English (assuming that that’s your first language), the sooner you’ll learn your second language.
Here’s to your letter writing endeavours in a language you’re not so fluent in! Good luck!

PS: For all my lovely friends who are stuck reading my ink splattered scratched out attempts at hindi, many thanks!

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