Is it possible to write copy in English without being a native speaker?

33 replies

I've recently started a career as a copywriter in Germany. The payment is okay. However, since the market is way smaller, it's nothing compared to what you can make in America. That's why right now, I'm considering to branch out and start writing in English. Does anyone know if it's even possible to do so when your native tongue is not English?

I'd totally appreciate any help, thanks in advance

#copy #english #native #speaker #write
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  • Profile picture of the author Kay King
    My guess is you will have answers telling you it's not a problem. It depends on your fluency in English. It's true the US may be a 'bigger market' - but it's the market everyone targets, too.

    If your English is stilted or doesn't sound "American" it won't be an easy market to get into. If you are fluent in written English - different outcome.
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    • Profile picture of the author s74
      So are you suggesting if anyone whether he is from US or not, is good at written english then it won't be a problem to get into?
      (I am too not from the US and is trying to grab that skill and market. That's why from a super curious view I was just wondering about this)
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  • Profile picture of the author Frank Donovan
    Originally Posted by Copywriterxxx View Post

    Does anyone know if it's even possible to do so when your native tongue is not English?
    It's not simply a question of the language. To write effective copy, you need to understand the market. That means knowing something of the culture and motivations of your audience. Is that going to be an issue for you?

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    • Profile picture of the author Copywriterxxx
      I really don't think so. I understand, I am not there yet when it comes to writing style and knowledge of the country. But I grew up being more into the American culture than into the German one. Also, I am preparing for the state examination for translator (English and German). Because of that I have to take classes in regional and cultural studies. Plus I develop my language skills. Should be a good basis I guess...
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    • Originally Posted by Frank Donovan View Post

      It's not simply a question of the language. To write effective copy, you need to understand the market. That means knowing something of the culture and motivations of your audience.

      Gotta figure all copy presupposes DIALOG.

      For the copywriter person, this means layin' sumthin' sweet at potential buyers' feet means likely it gonna be PICKED UP 'steada KICKED AWAY.

      Which means listenin' in real hard on how your target people persons wanna hear stuff ... an' dowin' nuthin' makes that difficult.

      Like Bruce Lee said, "Be unobtrusive, be like water. tbh if I had KUNG FU EXPERT tattoed on my chest, there's no way I woulda figured in any of my movies."

      (DISCLAIMER -- this may naht be an actschwl Lee quotation. All I know is, when he kicked people in the tits, he was kinda equally lithe an' semi-nekkid.)

      Lightin' fuses is for blowin' stuff togethah.

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  • Profile picture of the author WonderJack
    May I ask where you work? do you work in some physical office for example or just from home but you live in Germany?
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    • Profile picture of the author Copywriterxxx
      I work from home in Germany ... If I start to write in English I wouldn't want to relocate to the US...
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      • Profile picture of the author WonderJack
        May I ask which websites you use? I want to start content writing and maybe copywriting.
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        • Profile picture of the author Copywriterxxx
          I gather you write in English? Currently I am only using websites for German copywriters ....
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  • Profile picture of the author King Manu
    You can do it, but it's hard to master the skills. Language is a skill, and you need a lot of practice to keep yourself sharp at your fingers.

    And I don't mean only writing, which you should practice a LOT in that language you want to be good in.

    You also need to constantly:
    - Read books in that language.
    - Listen to audiobooks/podcasts in that language.
    - Watch movies in that language (without subtitles).
    - Engage in conversations in that language with people that are native (this is optional).

    Otherwise, it will be very hard to hone your skills.

    But yes, it can be done!
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    • Profile picture of the author Copywriterxxx
      Sounds perfect, I'm already doing all those things, besides talking to natives
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  • Profile picture of the author Jack Albany
    I've had some great non-native english content writers work for me in the past. English needs to be really up there though.
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  • Profile picture of the author SteveZZB
    Yes, it is possible - I've been doing it for years. Needless to say, you need to master the English language to have a shot.
    I was bilingual, to begin with, and started learning English at a relatively early age - I was around 11 - and continued doing so (both at school and with a private tutor) for more than a decade.

    I only started writing professionally in English about five years ago and to date, I've written almost 10,000 articles (plus 200 articles on a now-defunct health blog - I am a one-man content mill) - most of them were average, a handful of them was called "great" by the bloggers publishing them, and I've certainly written quite a few awful pieces of content as well.

    In my line of work, though, quality is often secondary but this doesn't mean you shouldn't pursue perfection. Learning new terms - not just "dictionary" terms but colloquial ones as well - is vital. Although I have a pretty decent vocabulary, I constantly learn new words, new sayings, new figures of speech, new phrasings each day. I listen to many English-language podcasts, read a ton of articles, browse through Reddit a lot, and use a grammar checking tool to correct my typos and other errors (even after five years, I still err an awful lot).

    If you are serious about making a living writing in English, I can only give you V. I. Lenin's words of advice: "To Learn, to learn, to learn". Never stop learning. Write a lot on all topics and have others read and criticize your writing. And don't stick to "official" dictionaries only - Urban Dictionary is your friend!
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  • Profile picture of the author jordiobdotcom
    It depends on your fluency and the niche. For example, I wrote lots of copies about Amazon Tools, but I'd never ever write anything "serious" about health, for ex.
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  • Profile picture of the author cearionmarie
    Yes, you can, but you need to consider your efficiency in the English language if you want to really pump it up. There are free tools that can help like Grammarly. There's also another one that checks it for you and gives a correction if there should be any, this one is a paid service but I forgot what it's called. I'm not trying to discourage you, think of it as a challenge or an upgrade of your arsenal of skills. After all, this is something one can always learn.

    Cearion Uy - Marketing Advisor

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  • Profile picture of the author ryanbiddulph
    Practice, practice and practice writing some more. Spend hours daily reading English. Immerse yourself in English; you'll get there. Immersion works well, but you need to keep at it daily, practicing your copy writing game.
    Ryan Biddulph helps you to be a successful blogger with his courses, manuals and blog at Blogging From Paradise
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  • Profile picture of the author White Pearl
    Let me tell you one thing . Native English doesn't means you can write well. Even they don't know the grammar rules and sentence structure but only those who paid attention to the LANGUAGE. That said , study the language rules , practice and you will be fine.
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  • Profile picture of the author CherryMiss
    Sometimes non-native English speakers do better job, than natives. Mostly you need to know cultural patterns and marketing trends.

    Best and worst brands, reviews from real customers -

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  • Profile picture of the author Zil Vilis
    It should be your least of concerns, if you write decent english (your post is written well enough) you should do fine, dont forget that you'll learn along the way too.
    People are hooked up with your offer itself and not the language. Maybe i am wrong but I have done some of copywritting myself and there wasn't any problem (im not english obviously). Most of the people are too dumb anyway and they can't write or read well even being native english. Just my 2 cents. No hate please
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  • Profile picture of the author IGotMine
    The "average" American reads and comprehends at about a fifth grade (10-year-old) level.

    More than 30 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level. -- ProLiteracy
    While your English cannot be gibberish - (Check 2/3 of the posts on this forum) it is by far not the most important element. Can you write copy that sells? A lot of Native English speakers write flowing, flowery prose that doesn't sell a thing. As long as your English is passable, it's your skill at selling through print that will make or break you.
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  • Profile picture of the author Randall Magwood
    You can always do what some ad agencies do.... redirect your English sales copy to an English-fluent copywriter for a second opinion lol.

    I'm kidding (kinda). Go and learn the English language. If you want this to be a major/main source of revenue for your business, then it's worth the learning curve to master the English language.
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  • Profile picture of the author jack taylor 8619
    yes you right.
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  • Profile picture of the author juliakuz
    Your English seems to be very good. It is possible: go on dealing with this stuff, man.
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  • Profile picture of the author PaulLanders
    Oh, but I'm sure you can do it.
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  • Profile picture of the author Tony Mancini
    Have to agree, it's definitely possible ... might need a little help with some grammar but the free online translation services are pretty good.
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  • Profile picture of the author kk075
    I've literally trained hundreds of writers across my career and I have writing tutorials on most of the freelancer sites since I was so highly rated years ago (I was the #1 grossing global copywriter on Elance from like 2007 to 2011). Your question here isn't a matter of "can I be a writer"...anyone can do anything if they're willing to work hard enough at it. The real question is if you're willing to work hard enough to reach that next level.

    From your original description, it sounds like you're taking the "easy" path and focusing on sites like iWriter where quality doesn't necessarily matter....that's not doing you any favors though. If you're aiming for quick, easy assignments and not doing everything you can to make it epic good quality that engages your readers, then you're training yourself to be a lousy writer. Are you asking yourself why clients would want your articles or how it would matter to the end reader? How much research are you doing? Stuff like that matters big-time and you have to master it to reach higher levels of income.

    For instance, I started out on the Yahoo Contributor Network in like 2003 purely as a hobby- I'd write about the Miami Dolphins since I'm a fanatic over the Fins. The articles paid like $3-5 each so I definitely wasn't doing it for the money...I just thought it was cool that I could buy the family pizza each week off my "professional writing career". LOL! And back then I was a lousy writer....there's 10,000 things I've learned over my career that make sentences work. But I still did really well because I was writing about something I was super passionate about. On average, I'd spend 3-4 hours on those $3 articles and edit through them 5 times before submitting.

    And guess what? Over time those $3 articles became $25 articles...then I was offered $100 an article by Yahoo to be a featured NFL contributor. It wasn't due to my writing quality was about the engagement my writing created and their overall rankings. My passion for the Dolphins showed on the page and readers followed me because of it. Then other offers started flowing in naturally since I had "made it"...even though I hadn't realized it at the time.

    So to directly answer your question, you have maybe a 10% chance of becoming a decent English copywriter from Germany. But if your focus is on quantity over quality then that percentage falls to zero because you can't create engagement if you don't care about your consumers. I've gone on to write for dozens of Fortune 500 brands, hundreds of household named products and thousands of small businesses all over the world. Heck, I worked with a tech start-up in Dubai last year that found me organically in search (how, I have absolutely zero clue!). All of that came from passion though and doing everything I could to "wow" my matter what industry it happened to be.

    That means the question ultimately falls back to you- are you ready to ditch the "content mill" mentality and spoil your readers? Will you spend 3 hours researching a $5 article because quality matters to you? If you want to get better at writing, it's the same process as getting better at baseball or playing have to make a legitimate effort and polish your craft.

    I hope that helps!

    Learn to sell like a pro through Web Synergy's marketing blog.

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  • Profile picture of the author brettb
    My non-native speaker friend has a website that targets a largely English speaking audience. He makes over $5000 a month. I wish he would hire a proof reader though. His weird English must put off so many customers...
    ÖŽ FindABlog: Find blogs to comment on, guest posting opportunities and more ÖŽ

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  • Profile picture of the author brucey666
    Hey Stefan! you do not need to be a native english speaker to do well in writing english, just need to be the best english writer and no one will ever assume where do you come from except from english speaking countries. But you might want to have some of your best quality articles as testimonials if you are writing articles for clients just to convince them about your high quality works.

    I do find some troubles in finding cheap good article writers, and when they are cheap, they come from india or nigeria but there is one person from india, which is one of my writer, who can write perfect english! he is still my blog writer now because of his expertise and commitment to write new articles.
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  • Profile picture of the author sendizo
    I think its alright. Jump into the US market and see how it goes. Learn and Grow.
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  • Profile picture of the author agmccall
    Just go to upwork and search for editor. using search features set it for USA only. then when you post your job let them know your native language is not english and you want it to read easily for english audience. They are not that expensive.

    people on this thread suggest just learning the language but one thing you need to realize, and is something many of us take for granted, is that the english language, especially American english, is one of the hardest languages to learn.


    "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Thomas Edison

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  • Profile picture of the author Ndyama
    Yes, it is possible, but since market is lower take in account that for example it's not that common language like English, so your average pay per word will be in German. Even something in Russian will probably be higher and they charge per character, not per word. So think twice.
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  • Profile picture of the author MarySilcock
    I have the same problem as the forumites You (kk075) answered. I was surprised at how much you invested in this answer, and even more amazed by the pure energy of your answer. When I read your post until the end, I suddenly had tears in my eyes. On the one hand, diligence is the mother of success, and on the other, you answered using written "emotional intelligence" (a fashionable expression, few people know the practice). Great was my surprise when the master of the word, who taught copywriters, descended from his Olympus and gave the direction of development and such a charge of optimism only to beginners! At the same time, "organic" synergy arose and this post became the highlight of the branch. Thank you so much for the tip! Dear kk075, I'm Your Fan!
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  • Profile picture of the author robermonas
    Yes, it is possible to write copy in English without being a native speaker.

    You must be proficient in grammar and spelling for american readers to be entertained with your copy writing otherwise they will not follow you because of lack of professionalism.

    To help you here you should get Private Label Right (PLR) content in English language on the niche you wish to write about. Then all you have to do is rewrite the copy with your own words.
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