Can non-native English speakers become highly paid copywriters?7 Tips for non-native English speakers to improve their copy and land clients!May 04, 2021
This post is for writers who want to write copy in English for companies either in the U.S or people in the Western world.
If you doubt yourself because English is not your first language, this quote is for you:
“It is a common misunderstanding that copywriting is about “writing properly.” Native speakers can be horrible at it regardless of their impeccable command of the language.
You have to be able to sell. You have to make me want to meet you, be you, argue with you, fear you, admire you, tell everyone about you.
As a non-native, I have been told “no” more times than I can remember. But I submitted my work to those writing challenges, I hired the editors to proofread my work, I read the books. And guess what.
It wasn’t the commas I missed that were the make-or-break factor at the end of the day. It was style, wit, persistence. It was the ability to understand the audience, know who they admire, what they fear, what they think about before going to bed, and using that information to make them take the action my employers desired.
If you are good at that, you can always find someone to correct your commas. Keep your eyes on the big picture.
There are more grammar nazis in the world than true writers. Which one do you want to be? :)”
-Mia Toneva, Content Creator and Entrepreneur
So what are some tangible ways for non-native speakers to improve their copywriting skills? Let’s get to it!
1. Start with blog post writing
The easiest type of copywriting project is blog writing. It is how I and many others got our feet in the door to copywriting, so it’s helpful to anyone just starting out. And yes, you are still a copywriter even if you’re technically writing ‘content’.
In my opinion, if you can write a high school essay, you can write a blog post. A blog post allows the reader to see how well you understand their product or industry without requiring you to be an expert on their product the way you would with a white paper or case study.
2. Focus on the idea over the grammar
This is a direct quote from an agency owner who hires copywriters:
“I'd need to see that they know how to organize/structure a story or argument. I'd want to see good flow in their writing, even if the grammar or word choice isn't ideal. And I'd need to see that they have at least a cursory understanding of the subject matter and why it's important to a specific audience, even if they may have some difficulty in articulating it because of writing in it in a second language.”
Takeaway: Instead of trying to write the perfect post with impeccable grammar, focus on the bigger idea or topic of the piece.
3. Simplicity > Smart
One of the hardest parts of copywriting is learning to write simply. I often talk about the irony of paying over $100,000 for an English degree only to become a copywriter whose clients expect me to write at an eighth grade level.
The more simply you can convey messages, the more effective your copy will be. One of the ways to write simply is to focus on readability.
4. Follow the rules of readability
Here are ways you can make your work more readable:
- Break up your paragraphs. Keep paragraphs to a maximum of three sentences.
- Use short sentences. Short, punchy sentences are the easiest to read. I was majorly guilty of this until I discovered Hemingway. Seeing how many of my sentences Hemingway highlighted for being too long was an valuable writing lesson!
- Use formatting to highlight key points. Use headings (H1, H2, H3) for structuring your articles. Bold and italics call attention to important parts of your copy, making it easier for the reader.
- Use lists. Our brains love lists. Seeing text broken up gives our brains a break, making it as easy as possible to understand complex topics.
5. Find someone to proofread your work (especially your portfolio!)
I never recommend being a perfectionist, but your writing samples have to high-quality and error-free to win clients.Prospective clients scan your samples and make snap judgments about whether to read more.
That’s why choosing a niche is crucial. Clients will scan your work to see if you’ve written for their industry.
6. Learn slang and idioms within your niche
In copywriting, we often write in a conversational tone. To sound more natural, we rely on slang and break grammar rules. This can be hard for English majors who learned formal, academic writing styles and ESL speakers who learned precise English grammar.
Idioms and slang are the secrets to sounding natural! Knowing them will improve your writing, and will also make you more confident when you speak to clients.
In life, even native speakers continue to learn new idioms. Slang is constantly being created and then becomes politically incorrect and offensive as time passes.
This means it is very difficult to keep up, so your best bet is to learn the slang and idioms within your specific niche and memorize them.
Some common business idioms:
- Get the ball rolling
- Start off on the right foot
- Bring something to the table
Best way to learn idioms:
Conversations with fluent or native speakers:
When I hear idioms I’m not familiar with. I use context clues to figure out what they are, then I google look them up later. This strategy cements the idiom in my memory and allows me to use it in my own speech later on.
For example, I recently learned the term “sunset.” A client said:
“Their contract is ending at the end of the month, so we’re going to sunset the campaign and start a new one with the new agency we’re onboarding.”
I looked it up and learned that “sunsetting” is a term used in professional fields to indicate the planned cancellation or phasing out of a product, service, or policy. It’s a common expression in business, technology, real estate, law, and politics.
“All the bells and whistles” is another one that’s specific to my niche because it means “features,” which all technology products have a lot of.
“Going the extra mile” and “ballpark figure” are real-estate industry-specific terms you’d use in writing for the niche.
Search for similar idioms in your own language.
A great way to clearly define an idiom is to find a similar expression in your native language. For example, a common idiom in English is to kill two birds with one stone, meaning to achieve two things with a single action.
The Spanish version of this translated is to kill two birds with one shot. Notice that there is only a one-word difference between the two idioms.
7. Writing automation software
Grammarly is one of the most popular editing software programs available. I pay for their Premum version. It also checks for plagiarism.
One word of caution when using Grammarly: it often picks up slang and informal speech as errors, so you might find your writing sounds too formal after Grammarly edits it.
Hemingway shows you which sentences you should shorten for readability. It tells you the reading-level of your work so you can use simpler words.
No one talks about this tool but Wordtune is an AI plug-in that smooths out your sentences and makes them sound more clear and natural. It’s like having a real person editing your work!
Bottom line on copywriting for ESL speakers
Becoming a highly paid copywriter when English isn’t your first language is possible. Will it be more difficult for you than for a copywriter who is fluent? Absolutely. But becoming an expert in your niche is one of the most critical requirements for any successful copywriter, no matter what your native language is!
I recommend you get a proofreader for your writing samples, use free editing software, and learn the common expressions and slang in your niche. Remember that copywriting is not the same as other forms of writing and that conveying ideas clearly is more important than style and grammar rules.
You’re more than capable. You got this.