To write, or not to write, in English

Is it fair to ask foreign writers to give up their mother-tongue in favor of being commercially appealing?

Mika AM
Long. Sweet. Valuable.
2 min readMar 28, 2024

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Photo of flowery sign from the exit in the Disneyland ride, It’s a Small World. The signs read send-offs in different languages.
Photo by JACQUELINE BRANDWAYN on Unsplash

It’s safe to say that, despite offering an interconnectedness to a wide variety of languages and cultures, the internet is drenched in a western, English-speaking culture.

I wish I could remember where, but I recall a piece of writing advice that said something along the lines of:

“No one wants to feel alienated with a wall of text they can’t understand” when referring to the inclusion of languages that aren’t English. Though meant as advice geared towards the literary market, this didn’t really sit well with me for two reasons:

  1. It fails to take into account that people speak other languages, despite navigating online in English. We may not seek to publish in our own language for various reasons but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to incorporate characters, cultural aspects, and our mother-tongue into our stories.
  2. While I’ve seen this advice now and again — though nowadays there’s a lot more encouragement to include diverse characters and languages albeit through proper research — I don’t believe this restriction has ever been given to English-speaking writers. As always, the expectation is for the rest of the world to adjust to their culture.

For example: this cold open for Brooklyn 99 where Boyle gives his friends STDs or “save the dates” for his upcoming wedding can be a little lost in translation.

From a Spanish POV: the acronym for STDs would be either “ITS” (infecciones de transmisión sexual) or “ETS” (enfermedades de transmisión sexual); however, the abbreviation isn’t as commonly used as STD. But even if it were, the joke continues to fall flat since the term RSVP is also uncommon; we may use it in written form for invitations or emails, but we wouldn’t spell out the letters like in English. If anything, one would use its equivalent “SRC” (se ruega contestación i.e. please respond) or just flat out ask if you’re coming or not.

In the end, the translation team was forced to adjust to the joke and match words in Spanish to the English acronym STD.

But I doubt anyone in the writer’s room considered their work would be translated. They just wrote, freely, churning out hilarious puns the rest of the world must work around.

What do you think?

Have you ever experienced this sense of othering when writing online?

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Mika AM
Long. Sweet. Valuable.

Writer, daydreamer, procrastinator. Always late to the party but loves platypus(es)