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Sunday Scribblings #125: Two Languages Can Be Better Than One

So December is learn a new language month, and keeping that in mind, today’s poetic form explores the concept that two languages can be better than one (and the more, the merrier too). Of course, it is proven by various scientific studies that being bilingual (or multilingual) has many advantages, and makes us smarter along with many other things. We can extend it to writing poetry, and apply our multilingual skills to writing single poems with two languages, or even more than two. I have explored it earlier with Macaronic poetry, and today’s poetic Sunday is almost the same, kind of.

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Notepad and a pen over it with a cup of coffee next to it. words read Sunday Scribblings, and this is for Sunday Scribblings #125: Two Languages Better Than One

Poetic Sundays: Poems in Two Languages (or More)

Bilingual poetry, or poetry that uses two languages is a whole different way of approaching writing poetry. We can also make it multilingual by using more than two languages in a single poem.

About Poems in Two Languages or Many Languages Too

Writing in multiple languages has many benefits. I have mentioned a few of them earlier in my post about Macaronic poetry. Some key benefits are below:

  • Allows beginner learners of either/any language in the poems to learn better and faster
  • Provides a comfort level or a way to communicate using poetry
  • Language impacts our thinking, and each language we speak can impact thinking differently as well, so when we write poems using different languages, imagine the impact on them!

Ways to Write Poems in Two Languages (or More)

Rewrite Lines in All the Languages

How? You ask. Say you are writing the poem in two languages, English and Spanish. Simply rewrite each line in the second language following the line in the first language. So a four line poem in English becomes an eight-line poem written dually in English and Spanish.

I do not speak or know Spanish, though both my teens do. Here I decided to use a short poem I wrote earlier and used Google translator as well as the help of my teens to rewrite it for this exercise. I hope to add in Tamil and Hindi lines as well soon. Maybe Kannada even (as I do speak all these languages).

My Attempt at this in Two Languages

Birdsong / Pájaros

The birds are singing joyful songs.
Los pájaros cantan canciones alegres.

I hear them in the trees.
Los escucho en los árboles.

They wake me up in the morning,
Me despiertan por la mañana,

And chirp goodnight to me
Y chirrido buenas noches a mí

~ Vidya Tiru @ LadyInReadWrites

Also check out The Keys to My Kingdom: A Poem in Three Languages for inspiration. This poem is very cool as it adds an additional concept of using cumulative poems (to me, at least) like ‘The Green Grass Grows All Around‘ and writing the poem in stanzas of the same line across different languages.

Writing Parallel Lines across the Languages

Write this poem with as many lines in each stanza as the number of languages – but yes, two languages work best for this technique. The two lines speak of the same idea, but from two different POVs (or point-of-views). So the lines can help express two different sides, or perspectives of the same theme or issue.

While this one is not written in two languages, the poem ‘A Graduation Poem for Two’ gives you an idea of approaching the same idea from two perspectives – here, that of a teacher and a student. Or this book – Joyful Noise – to be read out loud by two people (I loved this book).

One example could be of the two perspectives being that of someone local to a place and a tourist visiting or an immigrant trying to fit in. Another could be that of, as in the graduation poem, that of a student and a teacher, approaching the first/last day of school.

Code-Switching Between the Two Languages (or Many Even)

Code-switching is defined as the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. So, writing a poem using code-switching simply involves switching between the languages you plan to use at regular intervals in the poem. You can chose to use more of one language than the other(s), or use them all equally. Just ensure that the poetic essence shines through at the end, regardless of how you choose to write it (whether free verse, or picking a certain rhyme and/or rhythm).

Check out Rhina P. Espaillat’s ‘Bilingual/Bilingüeat PoetryFoundation, or Kaveh Akbar’s brilliant ‘Do You Speak Persian?’ for inspiration.

Employ the Diamante

The diamante is a poetic form often used to teach writing poetry to children. It is written starting with a single word line, and each line getting progressively longer by one additional word, and then switching gears to reduce length of each line by one word after the middle line.

While the usual diamante uses specific word types across the lines (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and such), you can just employ the general rule of the shaped poem with increasing and diminishing numbers of words across the lines if you so wish.

Again, given this concept, writing a bilingual poem, or a poem in two languages is the only option. You could choose to add on additional diamantes if you wish to tag on more languages, here. Like stanza one – English/Spanish; stanza two – Spanish/French; stanza three – French/English …or something similar.

In the poem, for each stanza, you can use one language all the way to the middle line, and then switch to the second language for the rest of the poem. To make it more fun, you can choose to translate the lines in the first language (in reverse order, of course) as you go to the last single-word line. Or have the lines in the second language convey a related but contrasting or parallel meaning to those in the first language (like in the parallel method of writing bilingual poems)

My Attempt

Using the diamante I wrote in my earlier post here, and starting to switch gears from English – in the middle of the middle line – to Spanish. The Spanish part starts from ocasiones.

infinite, eternal
stretching, moving, covering
eras, epochs, ocasiones, momentos
zumbando, volando, corriendo
rapido, diminuto

~ Vidya Tiru @LadyInReadWrites

Or Simply Write Poems in Each of the Two Languages Side by Side

You can simply choose to write the same poem twice – one for each of the two languages (transliteration line by line, if you wish, or employing preferred rhyme and meter in each language while retaining the meaning of the poem across the lines). Kind of like the first way to do it, but instead of repeating each line across the languages in stanzas of their own, simply rewrite the poem twice across, like below

The birds are singing joyful songs.
I hear them in the trees.
They wake me up in the morning,
And chirp goodnight to me
~ Vidya Tiru @ LadyInReadWrites

Los pájaros cantan canciones alegres.
Los escucho en los árboles.
Me despiertan por la mañana,
Y chirrido buenas noches a mí

~ Vidya Tiru @ DamaEnLeidoEscribe

Tips and Additional Notes

  • Use a predetermined list of words from the two languages (or more of them, if you are using many) and try to use as many of them in your poem.
  • Use Macaronic language if you wish. Check out my post – The Hidden Power of Languages
  • Or if you live in a region where one of the below is the norm, you can do this naturally:
    • heteroglossia (the coexistence of distinct varieties within a single “language”)
    • mixed language(language that arises among a bilingual group combining aspects of two or more languages but not clearly deriving primarily from any single language)
    •  a creole or pidgin language arises where speakers of many languages acquire a common language
  • Employ linguistic interference: That is, employ the rules of one language onto another. This is similar to using Macaronic language in one specific way. Doing this adds to the comedic or emotional effect, depending on how you use it.

h/t, References, and Further Reading

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On My Blog And the Homefront

Without realizing it, I managed to write almost everyday this week! So here are my posts from my last Scribblings. Check them out if you missed any of them 🙂

This was a holiday week, almost. My oldest was back home for the Thanksgiving week off from college, and it was nice to have him home, sitting at his usual place on the dining table, while I was on my favorite chair. He – doing his schoolwork and studying for the finals that face him soon after he gets back to college from the break; and me – doing my stuff (including writing these posts). My high-schooler had the four day weekend but was busy with school projects as well, while DH only had the Thanksgiving day off at work.

We met family for a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at a cousin’s place – who is an amazing cook – and had a great time. Delicious home-cooked meals made with love and loving company can do wonders, right?


On My Blog and On the Homefront

While I never mentioned it earlier, I attempted the NaNoWriMo earlier this month, but kind of stopped after a week of writing. Other priorities took away from it and while I know I will not get to the 50k word count that is needed, I hope to work on my NaNoWriMo project for these last few days on November.

But I will post a couple of posts I already had planned on the blog here while I pound away on my keys for NaNoWriMo.

This Week’s Celebrations

Literary Celebrations (close-to-it also!)

  • Literary birthdays this week include: Rita Mae Brown and William Blake on the 28th of November; Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle, and C. S. Lewis on Nov 29th; Jonathan Swift, L. M. Montgomery, Mark Twain, Tayari Jones, Romila Thapar, and Winston Churchill on the 30th of November; Azar Nafisi and Candace Bushnell on Dec 1; Elizabeth Berg and George Saunders on the 2nd of Dec; Joseph Conrad and Stephen Elliott on Dec 3rd; Rainer Maria Rilke on Dec 4th
  • A few month long celebrations can be added here: Write A Friend MonthRead A New Book Month, and Learn A Foreign Language Month

Foodie Celebrations

Other Observations and Celebrations

Related Books and Reads

Suggestions related to various aspects of today’s blog

Wrapping up my Sunday Scribblings

So dear reader, you have reached the end of this Sunday Scribblings! As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about this post. How many languages do you speak? Or plan to learn? Will you be writing or attempting a poem in two – or maybe – many languages? And do let me know if you plan to celebrate any of these mentioned celebrations this coming week/month? I

Linking this to the Sunday Post over at the Caffeinated Reviewer and the Sunday Salon

23 thoughts on “Sunday Scribblings #125: Two Languages Can Be Better Than One

  1. It is intriguing to me that you wrote your post today about writing in two languages as I have been reading a book of essays by Haruki Murakami in which he talks about the way he writes and—guess what—he decided to start writing by writing his novel in English and then translating it to Japanese! I was fascinated by that idea when I read it last night and I decided to try writing in Spanish or French and then translating to English.

    I’ve done that a little in the past. Here’s a bit from a poem I wrote over twenty years ago:
    Picture Rock in Boquillas

    “…Cactus hot, I hike the
    Dead riverbed, watching,
    And the world is children.

    “Mira,” they point and call.
    “Mira dentro de
    La roca pintura.”

    Look into the picture rock.
    “Puedes ver lo que
    Deses ver.” You can see

    Whatever you wish to see.
    They disappear into
    The rock; the children

    Are in on the secret.
    I stack slabs of rock,
    No breeze, no shade, no

    Quick platitudes, just
    The airless glare of
    A triumphant sun…”

  2. That’s fascinating about writing poetry in two langauges! Glad you had a nice Thanbksgiving meal as well. I love French toast (could eat it every day lol) but I’ve never mixed the syrup with the beaten eggs before. Hmmm…

    Hope you are having a wonderful Sunday 🙂

    1. Thanks Greg..did end up having a wonderful Sunday.. though spent most of it on the road as we dropped off our son at college and drove back home .. but it is always a nice outing for us as well..

  3. I have attempted other languages as I’ve traveled out of the US. I even took a class in Italian before going to Italy. I was able to speak in super basic words and phrases, sprinkled with English. It was like cramming for an exam – a month after getting home I remember only a couple words. And, I’ve discovered that so much of the rest of the world speaks English, so I’ve been totally lazy other than learning the basic polite words. However, I really like the way you suggest integrating poetry with another language. And, I’m thrilled there’s a Read A Book month! Of course, that celebration will be easy! Have a great week/month as we head into the final holidays of the year.
    Terrie @ Bookshelf Journeys

    1. Read a Book day, week, month, year, and more all work our perfectly for me too 🙂 You should use those basic words and phrases you learned to put together a poem.. most often, we end up surprising ourselves !

  4. An interesting idea to write poems using two languages. I would love to read it especially if it would be written in English plus my own native language I use. I’m happy for you how lovely your Thanksgiving is with your loved ones.

  5. Darn if I knew it was french toast day, I would have had that for brunch! I love the memories of when my grandmother would make it for me before school. (Like 100 years ago LOL) I should remember National cookie day for Sunday, Lia will be busy! As for two languages, I use to know German quite well but that was when my Grandfather was around. Now Rich is teaching Lia Italian!

  6. I think writing a poem in two languages is a great idea! It’s amazing that you can use google Translate to see how your poem turns out in another language. My husband grew up in an Italian household and understood the language, but if he tried this, he could learn more Italian quicker!

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