Your first language isn’t english? Me neither.

A new term has begun and we soon host the next incarnation of the writing into meaning group. This year, we are interested in the idea of different writing/research cultures and the challenges and opportunities of approaching writing as a non-native speaker.  On this topic, our first blog post comes from a fantastic doctoral researcher who reflects on what this is like for her:


‘I think that I am facing challenges different from what native speakers doing their PhD in UK would be. In addition, academic culture in different countries varies strongly and may contribute to a feeling of insecurity when one is in a different culture.

I acknowledge that our University provides several support mechanisms for international students, especially by the Language Centre offering one-to-one sessions, grammar and writing courses and other supportive activities. I also acknowledge the international atmosphere of our University and the tolerance of professors, tutors, peers and others -in overlooking a linguistic error.

Yet, I often feel ‘on my own’ when I have to decide whether an essay needs to be proofread or not before submission or even a section of my research proposal before I send it to my supervisor. If I decide to get my writing proof read, this has further implications: I need to plan the time for the proof reader, integrate feedback, resend him/ her the improved version. Sometimes, this time factor collapses with deadlines. Moreover it is not only a matter of time, but also a financial decision. I have earlier allocated a small budget for proof reading, but in the end I was not sure about the benefit compared to the cost. But the most important decision is to whom to entrust with my work. Prices vary significantly and it is hard to evaluate the quality of the proof reading if English is not your native language.

Besides these rather logistical issues, I feel a certain ‘insecurity’ in Anglophone academia because I think I am never able to express my ideas as well as native speakers do… I hesitate to spontaneously apply for a scholarship, a job or a book sprint workshop because I need to rely on a proof reader or a friend even though the errors might be minor. But just send it out like that? Never! I would make myself vulnerable if there is a grammatically false sentence or just a misplaced word, especially when you hear criticism about lowering writing standards in academia.

This statement leads me to a further reflection about how much imperfection is tolerated when you are doing a PhD. Today in my second year, I would argue that our environment is supportive during the work-in-progress period and not every section has to be linguistically perfect until it comes to the final stage. And I can’t even begin to share my experiences in the beginning of my PhD when I spent hours before sending out a simple e-mail to my supervisor!

However, me and you, we non-native speaker, most of us might have a monster in ourselves whispering all the time, “your written work is not good enough, you need to check grammar and orthography, you need, you need…”. Saying this, I would plead for a little bit more kindness with ourselves. I am sure, we – the nonnative speakers- are able to express our ideas, maybe in less nested and brilliant sentences, but our messages will get through.

Did my message come through?


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