Want More Elegant English? Your Reading Journal Can Help.

This is part of a month-long series about thinking before you speak--using your book habit plus your reader's journal to make English your own.  Each week, there's a new way to use your reader's journal to transform your English and a mission to get you started.  Last week's post was about reading and journaling to promote the free flow of ideas in English

Sometimes we get to a place with our non-native languages and we are allowed to celebrate! 

It's not easy coming this far--being bilingual is challenging and amazing--and we are allowed to rest on our laurels sometimes! 

But even after years of living in a language, you can sometimes discover there's something more you want. 

It happens!  For example. . .

I studied French at University, taught French, I've lived here for more than 10 years.  My French is pretty darn good, thanks.

Well, except that in English, I've always thought of myself as a writer.  I've been in writer's groups and had a lot of fun.  And I miss that.  I'll be fine living and doing business in French.  But am I a writer? 

Well, that's who I am in English. Maybe I should just accept that it's not who I am in French?

Recently I saw a blog post: Learn to Write like a Writer.  (Well, it said that In French).  It caught my eye.  It made me stop and think. 

That sounds fun, it sounds like me--and why not be me in French too. . . 
 Do you need more accurate and elegant English?  Your reader's journal can help.

 Do you need more accurate and elegant English?  Your reader's journal can help.

Is something missing from your English?

I really thought I was done expanding for a while.  But are we ever really finished growing--in our lives or in the ways we express ourselves?

Life happens and when it does, sometimes your English needs to catch up:

  • You change jobs, careers and find yourself doing more presentations, spending more time on the phone
  • You take on a new roll in your social life--volunteer for a position that demands more from you
  • You take on a new pastime
  • You just want to explore new possibilities

The thing is, sometimes we get stuck in an idea of ourselves in a language, in a culture in a country that is limited.  And we've outgrown those limits. 

Are you looking for more from your English? 

Answer these questions to see where you might want to go with your English.  My advice?  Write about them in your journal. 

You might be surprised--I was surprised to find I still wanted something new with my French.  Writing is such a strange thing--you can uncover so much. 

(Psst--if you're on my mailing list, you'll get these questions in a worksheet format, so you can print them out and write about them--not on the list? Sign up here.)

Try answering these questions in your journal to see if your English is holding you back. 

Try answering these questions in your journal to see if your English is holding you back. 

  1. Is there something you used to do in your native language that you don't feel comfortable doing in English? Like taking part in a book club, sharing your professional expertise, joining a professional organization, a writer's group, an online forum.
  2. Do you find that you can do certain tasks. . . but that it takes you way. too. long? Writing emails, upgrading your resume, sending text messages, participating in social media. . .
  3. Do you feel like a different person in English?--but not in a good way.  Research shows that bilinguals can be different people in different languages.  That's normal to some extent. But if it's the language itself that's holding you back, maybe it's time to redefine your relationship with that language. 
  4. Do you sometimes avoid social situations in English when you normally wouldn't in your native language?
  5. Are you thinking of making a life change (new career, new social role etc) and you're not sure your language skills are up to it?
  6. Do you limit your options for social engagement or employment because you didn't grow up speaking the language? 

Sometimes the limits we impose on ourselves are the worst!

Think carefully about these questions--especially the last one.  I'm thinking of many people when I ask question number 6:

  • One of my favorite college professors who decided he couldn't be an expert on Shakespeare (his passion) because he wasn't an expert in English (he was Hungarian). 
  • Myself-- I've been asked a couple of times to teach French to non-native speakers here in France.  It might sound weird, except that when you've actually struggled to learn a language, you can really help someone who is struggling to learn it.  But I always chicken out.  To be completely honest, I think I lack the confidence--not the skill.  I tell myself I can't teach French in France because I wasn't born French. 

Sometimes these things are all in your head.  But remember--a fear that's all in your head can still hold you back. 

If so. . .

Your Mission this Week: Reader's Journal for Accuracy and Elegance. 

  1. Keep reading, keep writing in your reader's journal.
  2. Decide why you want to change your relationship to English and write it down. Look at it before you do your reading journal. 
  3. At the end of the week, chose one topic that inspired you and type it on the computer--use a grammar and spell check to help you find errors.  Maybe read it out loud to see if your voice comes through as you want. 
  4.  Share--maybe you want to share a short post in the Vagabond English Book Club, or in a discussion with a friend.  Maybe your take the opportunity to write a book review on GoodReads.com.  Maybe your polished and re-written topic comes up in our live monthly book discussion. 

Get some feedback!

Want to use your book habit and your reader's journal to purposely transform your English? Still not sure how to do it?  Get in touch. 

You can ask me in the discussion on our facebook group.  The discussion might help someone else out too. 

After all, there are a lot of bilingual, and non-native speakers out there (myself included) who are asking themselves these questions every day.