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The Advantage of Having Limited Vocabulary for Non-Native English Writers

Turning language constraints into creative fuel

Having a limited repertoire of words and expressions imposes some constraints on your writing. Is this a good or a bad thing for you?

It’s both.

On the one hand, a limited vocabulary doesn’t allow you to express yourself with precision. On the other hand, working within language constraints forces you to get creative with the words you’ve already acquired.

Have you ever thought about this before?

I hadn’t. Until I interviewed Aleksandra Aubay, a non-native English teacher and writer. She said, “Sometimes restrictions get the mind going. When you have limitations, sometimes you come up with very creative ideas. And I believe that, as second language writers, we do have these limitations. But our job is to do the best, to make the best of what we already have and work through those limitations.”

What Aleksandra said reminded me of something I’ve recently read in Seth Godin’s “The Practice: Shipping Creative Work”.

“All creative work has constraints, because all creativity is based on using existing constraints to find new solutions.” — Seth Godin, The Practice, P.238

You may think your writing can’t be great because “I don’t know many words”.

Yes, you must work on adding new plants to your language garden. 

But you can create magic with what you’ve already got here and now, today.


If English isn’t your first language and you love reading and writing in English, this conversation between me and Aleksandra is for you.

Watch it on my YouTube channel or listen to it on my podcast.

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