Understanding words -- Maressa Mortimer


I love listing to music when working in my kitchen. The music has to match my mood, so yesterday, I decided to pop a cd in that a friend in Ukraine gave us. They’re Russian hymns. My religious knowledge of Russian doesn’t go anywhere beyond the words for Heaven and Jesus. Not very helpful to understand songs, you might think, but I just love listening to them. I even have favourites, with one of them moving me every time I listen to it. Without knowing what it’s about...

What kind of listener or reader are you? Do you need to understand it all to be moved by words? My husband does not like listening to songs in other languages. “I have no idea what it’s about, and the songs all sound the same,” he says. Maybe it’s because I used to read my brother’s books when I was little. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t understand those books, but it never spoilt my reading fun.

I remember my first book in English, Anne of Green Gables. I was eleven, and I started by looking up all the unknown words in my English-Dutch dictionary. By the end of the first page, I realised that I would probably be in a nursing home aged 98 by the time I finished the book. So I put the dictionary aside, and simply guessed the meaning of the words, and concentrated on enjoying the story.

I loved the book. I have no idea how much of the story I misunderstood, for when I read the story now with my children, I can’t see any parts that make me go, “Oh, so that’s what actually happens, not...” I liked reading an English book. The flow of the sentences was so different from Dutch, it was like reading a story in a foreign language. It did take me a lot longer than it would have taken a Dutch book. Even rolling with the language still slowed me down.

Do you use a dictionary when reading a book for enjoyment?

When I read a book, I read every single word. There are still a lot of English words that I have no idea how to pronounce or what they mean. I vaguely know what they mean, obviously, as it’s in context, and if it’s an intriguing enough word I might even look it up. I enjoy the flow of the words, the way the sentences roll through my head. Even if I have only a glimpse of their actual meaning, I still enjoy great-sounding words.

I quite like to read clever books with big words. Maybe, like my eleven-year-old
self, I like the idea of reading difficult, grown-up books. It’s not very relaxing though, and I find myself writing simpler stories with words that I know. The storylines aren’t beyond complex and the characters don’t sound all like the cast of Midsomer Murders.

I love to write for fun; to release extra energy, to daydream on paper. I would hate to dream in words that I didn’t know. So I write what I know, or at least understand.

What about you, do you enjoy hearing people speak in another language, just because it sounds great? Or do you feel you’ll only enjoy a story if you know the words?

Maressa Mortimer is Dutch but lives in the beautiful Cotswolds, England with her husband and four (adopted) children. Maressa is a homeschool mum as well as a pastor’s wife, so her writing has to be done in the evening when peace and quiet descend on the house once more. She loves writing Christian fiction, as it’s a great way to explore faith in daily life. Because of her interest in writing, Maressa is part of Creativity Matters: Find Your Passion For Writing, an anthology encouraging people to write.

Her debut novel, Sapphire Beach, was published in December 2019, and her first self published novel, Walled City, came out in December 2020, followed by Viking Ferry, a novella. Beyond the Hills is the second book in the Elabi Chronicles, and was released on June 18th 2021. All of Maressa’s books are available from her website, www.vicarioushome.com, Amazon or local bookshops.


Wendy H. Jones said…
This is wonderful, Maressa. I'm in awe that you can read and write in two languages. I could make a stab at French if I was stuck for reading material and would probably be able to get the gist of it but any other language and I'd be completely lost. I couldn't write in any other language. Loving the post.

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