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A Language Dilemma - Novel Experience

Would you abandon your own language to make it as an author?

What would you do if your language was too limiting for the genre of writing you wanted to write. If you had to write Shakespearean English to write a modern thriller? Or your native brogue was spoken by so few that your audience would be tiny? For those of us luckily enough to be able to write freely in our own flexible tongue – we never have to think about this but what would you do if you had to? That’s the dilemma facing one aspiring author.

Today’s article is written by a beautiful woman who I’ve been lucky enough to call my friend for around 15 years. We worked together way back – where her natural talent and keen intelligence contributed to making her quite the  marketing protégé. In a recent conversation she shared some of her thoughts and I was fascinated and begged her to write an article for Novel Experience. So I’ll pass you over to the capable hands of Lina Shahal Tayara.


Arabic or English? - A Language Dilemma - Novel Experience

Arabic or English? – A Language Dilemma.


“Just write!” said my friend. “The ideas will flow once you start!”

Little did she know that the ideas are all there, in my head; they have been there for so long, one after the other, waiting patiently to come out to the world, but which world? Which language?

Which language?

I am a Lebanese wife and a mother of three residing in Dubai. Being Lebanese means in most cases you are bi-lingual and in many cases tri-lingual (French is very commonly used in everyday life.) Living in Dubai, one of the most popular cities in the world, means that I am forever exposed to a myriad of nationalities that the only common language we can use is English.

“Just write whatever comes to your mind!” she repeats.

“Look, you have to understand that my dilemma is not how to start or what to write; I haven’t even gotten to that point. I need to decide in which language to write,” I explained. Having been forever exposed to the English language all through school and university years, the books I read, the movies I watch, my work then my life in Dubai, it has become impossible not to think in English. Don’t get me wrong! Arabic is still my first language. I am most comfortable thinking and speaking in Arabic; however, when it comes to visualizing an idea for a book, I find myself shifting to ‘Inglizi’!

You may advise me now to write in English, but it truly feels like I am betraying my own tongue, my own language, the people who lived my stories and the places where everything happened. Had it not been an attempt to write my first book ever, it might have been a much easier decision. It is this first book, the hope of a first success, that first feeling of pride that you would want to share with the closest to your heart that makes it all a predicament.

Why not write in Arabic?

So why not in Arabic? For those of you who are not familiar with it, I have to explain that Arabic is a beautiful language. No one can argue that it has such a rich vocabulary; it is so majestic and poetic. After all, Arabic is the language of the Quran. Yet, when it comes to being funny or light, it kind of fails you. My reasoning behind that is that each of the various existing dialects is so different to the written, formal Arabic (fosha) that we ended up having more or less different Arabic languages! Accordingly, you cannot write a joke in formal Arabic because it is not how you would say it in your everyday life. If you do, it comes out all boring and rigid. On the other hand, you cannot woo a girl more romantically than reading to her a poem in ‘fosha’!

So many dialects…

As an Arabic writer, you will not face a problem if your topic is serious, but when it is meant to be light and funny, you may have to resort to your own dialect. The problem with writing in your own dialect is that you will end up catering to your own people. You will rarely find Egyptian readers interested to read one whole book in Lebanese or Saudi dialect and vice versa. The Arabic dialect of North Africa, for example, is almost unintelligible to all Arabs of other dialect because it has been invaded by many words of Spanish and French origins, which were “arabized” in some instances.

So you see, it is a dilemma! I cannot “just write”. I have one step to decide upon before I hold my pen (It is truly my laptop, but I wanted to be more romantic.) What language shall I use, and which aspect of my writing should I lose?


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A Language Dilemma - Lina Shahal Tayara - Novel Experience

Thanks to Lina for sharing this – there must be many aspiring authors struggling with a similar issue in this world of global book stores. What would you do in Lina’s shoes? Both of us would love to hear your ideas.

Bye for now

Hazel Longuet - Novel Experience



  1. Sawsan says:

    very interesting topic & intriguing question , and I can write a whole book just to answer your question , Lina. But to me, the answer is very simple: Arabic. However, this all depends on the author’s ability to use the language correctly. The problem is not with the formality of the Arabic language. Arabic could be very funny if you have the proficiency to use the correct contextual words & of course, a sense of humor. The problem lies in our ( Lebanese who learned in English schools) lack of proficiency. There are many sarcastic , funny authors/ journalists who write in Arabic, and their writings are hilarious. Nothing expresses your true emotions better than your mother tongue, but that is only if you are proficient with the language. One more thing, no one can write a whole book that is entirely funny, it’ll be boring. You can definitely write a light book in Arabic & even use the Lebanese dialect at certain instants to crack up the reader. Don’t worry Lina, everybody understands & loves the Lebanese dialect. My advice to you is to write with the language you are most comfortable with. Good luck & way to go , Lina

    • Anonymous says:

      Sawsan, I see your point. Your advice, however, is funnily my dilemma! You wrote: “Nothing expresses your true emotions better than your mother tongue”, so how can you fairly express any type of emotion in a dialect you do not speak and feel everyday?! How can you laugh, cry, get angry, fall in love… with any of the characters when they do not speak words you are used to? So you say use the Lebanese dialect – possibly but then I will end up writing an Arabic book with at least 30% of it in English and French. Come to think of it, this might not be a vary bad idea;) Thanks for your comment and advice Doctor:)

  2. Ibtissam says:

    Lina, if you have the passion for writing. Just write. Don’t give it much thought. You may write an article or even a book in English and then another in arabic. It doesn’t have to be one and only one language.
    I write for the love of writing and in both languages. It works whether you want to publish it or not.
    Write my friend and then decide which goes out and which doesn’t.
    Best of Luck, Ibtissam

    • Anonymous says:

      Ibtissam, thank you:) I have always written in both languages but never a whole book of course! This is why I guess I am confused and chickening out;)

      • It sounds like the advice everyone is giving boils down to – it doesn’t really matter the language you write as long as you write from the heart.

        So I’d just go for it Lina – I know you’ve got huge talent as you’ve shown me over and over again. There is precedence for Arabic speaker’s choosing to write in English to great success – Ahdaf Soueif, Khaled Hosseini – or equally great writers who write in Arabic. My advice for what it’s worth is – JUST WRITE!
        Hazel Longuet recently posted…This is the title of your first image postMy Profile

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