I work with a lot of people around the world. Digital marketing has some amazing talent in countries like Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Australia, India, Argentina, etc. etc. Some of my favorite colleagues have grown up speaking languages other than English. And some of them are legit good writers. But there are more barriers to overcome to get there.
I have this vision of Hire a Writer being this mentorship program, where all of my copywriters are paired with people in other countries who want to become experts. I feel like through hard work and methodical training, anyone can become an expert copywriter. And, let’s face it, if you can: there’s money to be made. It could uplift people in developing countries, transforming their growth potential. Anyway, I digress.
If you don’t speak English as a native language, I can usually tell. There are outliers but there are also some dead giveaways. Here are some of the telltale signs that this isn’t your native tongue and areas you can improve upon to sound more eloquent.
THE SOLUTION: Write Casual and Conversational Copy
Formality is a dead giveaway. Unless someone is writing an academic paper, writing in a formal voice sounds forced and inauthentic. Americans are notorious for their “yeahs” and “huhs.” While I would urge you not to write like that, it’s important to master the conversationality of web copy. Honestly, being able to write in a conversational way is much harder than writing an academic paper. It’s something that clients praise my teams for all of the time. You can learn this by listening more. Listen to how people say sentences and then practice writing that way. Don’t hold too fast to hard rules (either in grammar or context, although it pains me to say so). Mastering this is detailed and will take some dedication. If you do it, you’ll sound more natural.
THE SOLUTION: Write Fewer Words
Wordiness is a dead giveaway that you’re trying too hard. Plus, it’s annoying to read. You don’t need to be superfluous. Edit ruthlessly. Saying something in five words is a lot harder than saying it in ten. But if you can do this, you’ll sound natural.
A goal of great writing is to write so well that the reader is reading your words aloud in their head… in their own voice. In other words, it’s like you’re practically implanting information: they forget they’re reading. Cumbersome, clunky sentences filled with way too many words won’t achieve that outcome.
THE SOLUTION: Use Words the Correct Way
Slight misuses of vocabulary words outs you as a non-native speaker. Here are some examples of mistakes you might make:
- Count/uncount nouns: using “let me give you advices” instead of “let me give you advice.”
- Affect v. effect
- Lay down v. lie down
- There, they’re and their
- Mixing up that and which
When you grow up speaking a language, nuances are ingrained. If you have to learn it, these are something that only gets drilled in by repetition. Practice.
THE SOLUTION: Write in Active Voice
Let me apologize in advance: English sucks. Our verb tenses, gendered pronouns and general structure of language is a garbled mess. I know. I have children whom I taught to talk. Who I taught to talk. Them I taught to talk. It’s a pain.
But a huge problem with non-native English copywriters is active versus passive voice. For instance, writing “my team was eaten by a dinosaur” instead of “a dinosaur ate my team.” This also pings you for SEO scoring. For web copy, active is preferred.
THE SOLUTION: Practice Verb Tenses
Most sophisticated languages with millions of speakers have tense structures that English doesn’t have (pluperfect, anyone?). Unfortunately, English has some pretty limited options. It’s easy to get confused about things like cause and effect (not affect), sequence of events and timelines.
- Will take
“Will took” isn’t an option. “Is taken” is sometimes an option but not strong. “Could takes” isn’t an option. “She take” is wrong. See the problem? This is something to cross-check as you write.
THE SOLUTION: Track Subject and Object For Proper Pronoun Use
This is not an issue for non-native speakers only. Well, none of these issues are. There are terrible writers everywhere. And they’re usually native English speakers, TBH. Pronouns are a challenge. My tip? Keep track of the subjects and objects of your sentences.
If you say “Google’s stock plummeted” you are not going to follow it with a “they” because “Google” is the subject and it is not a person or people. If you always track back to “who/what am I talking about?” you should avoid this mistake.
Learn to Write Like You Speak English
Here’s an encouragement: because of the work you have to put in, you have a chance to be much better at this than people who “write like they talk” because they think they speak well. Here is another encouragement: don’t get discouraged by editing. Editing will help you. It is your friend. If someone takes the time to critique your work, it can provide immense value for you in your writing journey.
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