Friday, September 24, 2010


I wonder if Paul Auster writes as effortlessly as he breathes. Or if for him, like for most mortals, writing involves painstakingly pondering, constructing and deconstructing each word, phrase, sentence, paragraph and chapter before putting it on paper.

Excellence and fluidity in verbal expression - be it written, like Auster’s, or oral, like Barack Obama’s, is something I admire and envy tremendously. Supposedly practice makes perfect, but I doubt either Auster or Obama could be as good as they are without being naturally gifted (although I do admit they probably did practice a lot before making it to greatness).

That said, I have to confess that I doubly admire people who can achieve this brilliance even when expressing themselves in a foreign language, Vladimir Nabokov, Kazuo Ishiguro and Joseph Conrad, to name a few. I find it infinitely harder to write in English than in Portuguese, my first language. Sometimes it takes me forever to write what I want to say and even then what comes out doesn’t always reflect what was on my mind. A tad frustrating, I daresay (how’s that for British understatement?).

When I began this blog, five years ago, I chose to write it in English to set myself a challenge. My readers were mostly Portuguese family and friends but they were very accommodating and understanding, after all I had just moved to England and it was only natural that I’d want to try my hand at blogging in Shakespeare’s tongue. When I compare The Millstone with my 2003 Portuguese blog, however, the contrast is stark: clearly my lack of ease in English impacts greatly on the style and depth of the posts in The Millstone.

These five years have been bumpy and irregular but I don’t intend to give up on the challenge. I feel particularly rewarded in my efforts when I consider the wonderful people chance and fortune have brought to my comment box during this time, some of whom I already cherish almost as dearly as family. May serendipity always be with us.

Woman Writing at a Table
Woman Writing at a Table (1905) - Thomas Anshutz (1851-1912)


Ruth said...

It's very strange. I have so taken for granted your perfect English, that it never occurred to me that it is hard for you to write it. Your English can't get better, but I hope it will come easier. I admire your perseverance. But more than that, I admire your fluency in more than one language. Not just fluency, but eloquence. It's a shame not to know more than one language, and I feel that shame. (I know Turkish, besides English, and that only enough to converse, some.)

I like being part of your blog family.

Ruth said...

Oh, and I think you know more than two languages. I'm guessing you know Spanish and French too.

rauf said...

Paul Oyester ? Who is this bird ? never heard of him.

Now it really doesn't matter if you have contempt for me Claudia. But it mattered a lot to me five years ago when i commented on couple out of the two thousand books you reviewed of which i would have read one and a half. But i made it appear that i have read all those two thousand books. Normally i don't go beyond two chapters. i am scared of that blog of yours. is it still on ? wait let me check. oh deah! its gone.

Your profile said you are an expat, i know what it is and a mother of two and i know what a mother of two is also also. Here comes my trubbal. 'a myriad of of what ? ephi effimoreal ? what is that ? i never knew five years ago and i don't know what it is now. Myriad is a font for your information Claudia. i have myriad pro font in my putter. Nice font actually.

i told you about murder a few posts before. i mean the red underlines. Right now the blood is flowing out of this comment box infested with red underlines. that is my English knowledge Claudia. But i try to make you understand not just what i say but also also what i think. Indian English is difficult to understand written or spoken. i think in one language and write in another. And i make an attempt to write in John Wayne accent. My friends used to fight to sit with me in the theatre. What is he saying ? my friends on either side would ask. i say just shut up i'll tell you after the movie. the truth is i never understood myself what John wayne was talking. i learnt my english through him. Richard Burton was a better teacher(he was actually a teacher) for me but i was copying john Wayne more. so i became a bundle of confusion. The shape of my english is like a punctured and abandoned car tyre fitted to an abandoned bullock cart.

i have seen your portugese and french, i don't remember seeing your spanish. and i remember all your pictures.
You are doing lot better than penelope Cruz, your geographical neighbour, who started learning english at the age of 17. oh deeah this comment is longer than your post. lot to say but i'll save it for your 5th anniversary post. please don't disappear Claudia.

Trulyfool said...


Despite the Portuguese references and connections, I had taken away with me the notion that those were well in the past, USA living equal to it, England your more current, continuing married life.

I'm not catching any flaw with the way you write (I teach this stuff!) -- quite natural.

When I try to write Spanish or -- tougher -- French, it's very halting and utterly unidiomatic. I can make my way, sort of, reading those.

Practice it is. And immersion gives that. In the USA, aswim with varieties of languages, some whose names I've learned for the first time (i.e. Tigrina) in the past dozen years, it's an 'English-only' practice despite the fears of those who want to make it so by legal fiat.

You're a cultured gal. Flaunt it! (But always with good taste!)


Claudia said...

Oh, Ruth, you're flattering me with that eloquence bit :-)
Learning Turkish must have been difficult. How long were you there for?

Claudia said...

rauf, I don't think I'm capable of feeling contempt for anyone, let alone for anyone who hasn't read the same books as I!

I do make an effort to write English with correct spelling and some degree of observance of grammatical rules. As I said, I get a kick out of the challenge, being Portuguese. And I do love language: grammar, etymology and philology thrill me.

Myriad and ephemeral are lovely sounding words which describe my interests and activities particularly well: countless and, alas, short-lived.

How can you pick John Wayne over Richard Burton, rauf?!

Claudia said...


Tigrina?! Wow! I just looked it up, less than 7 million people speak it. I wonder if it will tend to disappear, in this age of globalization.

There are nine languages with more than 100 million native speakers each: Mandarin, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Hindu/Urdu, Arabic, Bengali, Russian and Japanese. The tendency is for the influence of these languages to continue expanding at the expense of "minor" languages. I was flabbergasted when I found out that classes in one of Switzerland's top universities (the ETH Zurich) are now held in English!

rauf said...

bikkaas John Wayne had a gun. Richard Burton no gun, only taakking taakking

Claudia said...

Ah ha, rauf, I can see your point! My favourite tough guy was Errol Flynn in They Died with Their Boots on.