The Vicissitudes of Using English for the Purposes of Academic and Creative Writing in the Experience of a Non-Native Speaker
Change of Language: Convoluted Travelogue
I am grateful to Olga Breininger for prompting me to develop these segmentary notes, which I have been writing for more than three years, into the segmentary notes you now see. She did it when, answering my question whether she wrote prose in English, shared with me a suggestion and a question: “Academic texts are easier to write in English than prose—I have a feeling that I have not yet fully mastered intonation, lack plasticity, rhythmicity. How did you move towards the work in two languages?”
Olga is a native Russian speaker, and so am I. The sentiments she described were not unfamiliar to me. “Convoluted travelogue” maps my (unfinished) journey from being a monolingual author to being a bilingual author. I am one of those English learners for whom English was never a language of instruction, until I got into the American academia, to be more specific, into a PhD program. The struggle that many of those whose trajectories go along the same route my journey went, is often hidden. Nevertheless, it is there.
Not that I did not have some training in English over the course of my life. I diligently studied English in school and in college. My instructors, whose passion and love to the language I would always remember gratefully, were not the native speakers, but they loved their profession. It surprised me greatly, when I landed in Heathrow airport, that I could barely understand speech floating around me.
I consider myself a late-in-life English learner, as I started seriously studying, speaking, writing, extensively reading and communicating in the language past my thirties.
These notes were written in both languages simultaneously, as they appear here. I had the intention to, eventually, translate Russian pieces into English, and/or vice versa, but I came to accept this project as is, by now. I am aware that my decision diminishes the circle of potential readership of the project drastically, but I am willing to give it a try. It is mainly for those who go through a similar struggle: native Russian speakers in American academia and writing-related fields.
As for the genre of this text, this is a diary, and this is not; this is a series of reflections, and this is not quite a series of reflections; let us call it a travelogue of a risky inner expedition.