Ten years to get better at English? Well, sure.
Exactly ten years ago, I hopped on a plane to go and live in New York City. While “go and live” was somewhat optimistic given that I hadn’t arranged for someplace to actually live, at least I knew that I had a startup job waiting for me when I landed.
The flight from Stockholm Arlanda Airport to Newark International Airport took well over ten hours, so I had time to think. Rather than thinking about where to live in New York, I mostly thought about speaking and writing in English.
In Sweden, I was already quite an established public relations professional with reputable experience from working with several global clients. Like most Swedes, I was able to speak and write in English well enough to get by in most professional situations. But, that wasn’t the issue.
The issue was that a lot of my professional confidence stemmed from the fact that I’m was a fast and strong writer — in Swedish.
Being able to write well creatively in Swedish was how it all started for me. The opportunity to make a living writing in Swedish was what drew me into the field of public relations in the first place. I had this feeling that the team in New York were expecting me to do in America what I had been doing so well in Sweden. To me, it wasn’t that simple.
The ability to express oneself creatively is born out of sense of freedom, freedom to range free and confidently experiment using words and sentences as willing building blocks. In contrast, if you only have one rudimentary set of building blocks and just a basic blueprint you have to follow, that freedom of range disappears.
The team over in New York probably probably had no idea just how much of my actual usefulness came from being a solid writer … in Swedish.
In a way, the whole English situation was similar to the non-existing living situation, I reckoned. Another something that I would have to figure out along the way. And preferably sooner rather than later. During the ten hour flight, I decided to retire my Swedish blog (“Doktor Spinn”) and give life to a blog written in English instead, Doctor Spin.
I honestly had no intention of running a PR blog for the sake of being read by other PR professionals. I just wanted somewhere to practice expressing myself freely in English. The proposition of being indexed by search engines and found by readers only served as a form of accountability — I had to apply myself.
Now, most people thought that I was making a strategic move. As a NYC-based PR adviser and startup COO, blogging in English was seen as a calculated attempt at scaling whatever personal brand I had in Sweden towards a more international audience. It wasn’t true, of course, but I never made any attempt at correcting anyone about this, either. It didn’t matter for my English project, so I just kept writing.
And so today, ten years and many words in English written later, I’m now declaring this project to be over.
My English project isn’t over in the sense that I’ve somehow learnt enough. It’s over in the sense that it’s time that I give myself permission to focus on other things. For professional purposes, I think that I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. I will never be as good a writer in English as I am in Swedish, but the confidence in using English more freely is in place now — and that was the whole point of this exercise.
In any case, I’ll continue to blog in English. Not because I feel that I have to practice, but because Doctor Spin is a blog written in English now. A special thanks to all of you who have been sticking with this blog for years now — you’re the best readers (and sometimes guinea pigs) any experimenting PR blogger could ever have wished for!
As I close the books on this particular project, do I have any wisdom to share with you? Well, getting an apartment in New York City took three days. This English project took ten years. C’est la vie, I guess.
Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer.