Can You Become a Writer If English Is Your Second Language?
Let’s just start with this: You can absolutely become a writer if you speak English as a second language.
And there’s never been a better time for exophonic writers – or writers who learned English as a second language – to start contributing their unique voices to the world of writing! If you have a love of words or storytelling, you’re already off to a great start.
You might be saying, “Yes, I can write in English. I’ve done a lot of writing in my English courses. I write emails in English at work. I even write in my journal for extra practice.”
“But is it possible for me to become a real, paid writer?”
Yes, it is!
And here’s some even better news: when it comes to being a writer, your unique position as an English learner can be an advantage and not an obstacle.
What do I mean here?
Learning another language at any age can increase the density of gray matter in your brain as well as increase your brain’s activity. It can also help to strengthen the part of your brain responsible for problem-solving, focusing, and strategizing. And, as an English learner, you likely know how to approach grammar and language in an objective and systematic way.
I highly recommend that you check out the Ted-Ed video, “The Benefits of the Bilingual Brain,” if you want to hear more about this subject.
And if you need more evidence, just ask the incredible Nigerian novelist and speaker Chimamandah Ngozie Adichi or successful copywriter Dan Lok. And they’re not the only writers who learned English as a second language, not by a long shot.
Now that you know that it’s more than possible, how can you do it? We’re going to talk about that in this post! Specifically, we’re going to talk about
What kinds of writing you can do
How you can improve your writing
Writing courses and training
And how you can find clients and get paid for your writing.
So, grab some paper, grab a pen for taking notes, grab a cup of tea or coffee, and keep reading to learn more about how you can become a writer, even if English is your second language.
BECOMING A WRITER IF ENGLISH IS YOUR SECOND LANGUAGE
What kinds of writing can you do?
Content writing allows people with knowledge and expertise on a particular subject to connect with readers and provide valuable information or solutions to their problems. Today, so many successful businesses and entrepreneurs rely on the content they create for blogs, social media, email newsletters, or podcasts to market themselves.
It’s an excellent way for new writers to make an income, and it might be for you if you have specific interests or areas of knowledge, and if you know (or you’re ready to learn) how to empathize with and engage readers.
If you want to start writing content for blogs, social media, or newsletters, it’s helpful to learn a bit about how search engines like Google work and how readers and consumers process different kinds of content. Still, there are so many articles, books, courses, and other helpful (free!) resources that can help you acquire these skills.
Unlike content writing, copywriting is any kind of writing that promotes a service, sells a product, or builds brand recognition (like on a business’s website, for example). You have probably already seen so many examples of copywriting today in your email inbox or while you were browsing online.
Because copywriting is more focused on selling, it’s useful for writers to understand the psychology behind the way people connect to brands and buy things.
And if you can “write good copy,” there are so many businesses and entrepreneurs who will pay you very well to do it!
A great place for English learners to start is with Dan Lok, a successful copywriter who immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada. He’s got some great tips and resources for new copywriters, and he understands what it’s like to write in his second language.
Why not make use of those other languages you know and become a translator? A translator is generally different from an interpreter in that a translator works with a written text while an interpreter works with oral communication.
The great thing about this kind of work is that you have so many choices! You can work for government agencies, businesses, or you can freelance online.
If you think translation work is for you, you’ll probably find it helpful to do some industry research and see what kind of translation you’d like to do. After that, you might want to look into some computer programs that professional translators use to translate more quickly. You should check out this article if you want to know more about some practical training and certifications for new translators, or take a look at the American Translators Association website.
How can you improve your writing?
Read about writing
Think about some of your favorite books, both fiction or nonfiction. What was it about those books that held your attention? Was it the story? Was it the writing style? Was it the thorough research?
If you want to be a writer, it’s essential to think like a reader.
There are so many great books about writing and reading, but I think these will be the most helpful, especially at the beginning of your writing journey:
Being able to capture and hold a reader’s attention is vital for any kind of writer, not just novelists. Supported by neuroscience research, Lisa Cron’s book focuses on how the brain processes stories, and how writers can apply these techniques to their craft. It’s not just about telling a good story, but making readers ask: “What happens next?”
In this book, marketing expert Ann Handley argues that “everybody writes,” which means that, in the age of social media and social media marketing, writing has become extremely important. We all rely on our words to show people who we are and gain their trust. Content writing is all about using your words as a tool for connecting with readers and clients. If you want to write for blogs, social media, websites, or podcasts, this book is probably for you.
Writing may come naturally to you, but writing copy may not. That’s because copywriting isn’t just about writing; It’s about connecting with a consumer who wants to know, “Why should I care about your product or service? What’s the benefit for me?” If you’re going to be a copywriter, this book can guide you through the techniques and strategies you can use to write copy for everything from popular brands, magazines, or websites.
Did you know that it’s (sometimes) OK to break grammar rules, even if you’re a professional writer? Well, you need a grammar and style guide so that you can know which rules to break. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style has been around a long time, and that’s because of its classic and witty approach to grammar and composition. You’ll never forget Strunk and White’s famous rule - “Omit needless words” - after you read it.
Work on the active voice
You might have read our “Ultimate Guide to the Passive Voice”, (and if you haven’t, you should!), but as a writer, you’ll want to gain confidence with the active voice.
Writing in the active voice is about being clear, direct, and uncomplicated. If your goal is to connect with readers or promote a product or service, the last thing you want is for your readers to be confused.
When you use the active voice, you focus on the subject of the sentence, and you avoid using “to be” verbs like “is,” “are,” “was,” or “were.”
Practice the active voice by finding real passive voice examples in articles or books and rewriting them:
The bank was robbed around midnight.
Someone robbed the bank around midnight.
Climate change is caused by pollution.
Pollution causes climate change.
Hint: If you’re using the preposition “by” a lot in your writing, as in “The cake was eaten by my brother,” you’re probably using the passive voice, and you should rewrite the sentence.
Practice transitional words and phrases
If you speak English as a second language, you might know that transitional phrases can be hard to learn, but they can help make your speech or writing sound more natural.
Transitional words and phrases, such as “also,” “due to,” “even so,” or “finally,” help you to connect ideas and allow sentences to flow with one another.
But if you’re a writer, transitional phrases have the added benefit of capturing and keeping your reader’s attention. Knowing how to use these phrases confidently will make your writing so much more valuable when you want to start finding clients or looking for jobs.
There are many kinds of transitional phrases that you can use in your writing, but here are a few examples:
Here’s the thing:
And then it hit me.
So, what’s the problem with this?
Let me explain.
So, I’m guessing...
The key is to make sure you’re using them correctly.
You should use a phrase like “And then it hit me” in the context of a story or anecdote. You’re telling your reader about a discovery you made or a new idea you had.
A phrase like “So, I’m guessing,” lets the reader know that you understand their thought process, so you should be able to tell them what they’re probably thinking as they read your writing.
If you use “Here’s the thing,” you should follow it with a new or exciting insight the reader has never considered.
Here’s a practice exercise: Write some sentences with the transitional phrases above. Leave them in the comments below, and we’ll give you feedback!
Writing courses and training
So, you’ve done your reading and writing practice. You’ve Googled and researched all about the craft of content writing or copywriting. But what about those other technical skills that you should know if you want to become a professional writer?
For example, how do you write copy for SEO (Search Engine Optimization)? How do you create a content strategy? What is email marketing?
Don’t worry! There are so many free or affordable resources out there that can help you build your skill set.
For both content writers and copywriters, the first place you should go to is Hubspot Academy. Here you can find so many SEO and content marketing courses and certifications that will look great on your resume and give you the skills you need. And, by the way, their courses are free!
New copywriters should have a look at this “Definitive Guide to Copywriting” from successful copywriters Neil Patel and Josh Putnam which will help you better understand how the best copywriters think and work.
You can also find affordable, high-quality courses from writing experts on educational platforms like Udemy, such as this well-reviewed copywriting course which will provide you with lifetime access to the class, materials you can download, and a certification upon completion.
With a monthly Skillshare membership - which is currently free for the first two months - you can check out this course on Google Adwords, which is a very important tool for anyone who wants to go into content writing and marketing.
But don’t get overwhelmed! The great thing about these courses is that you can take your time with them. There’s no need to rush. Remember: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
How to find clients and work
Create a portfolio
There’s one thing that everyone who hires content writers or copywriters will ask for: writing samples. So, before you start looking for clients, it’s good to create a sample work portfolio.
So, if you’re looking for content writing work, maybe you can write two sample blog posts, a social media caption for Instagram, and a couple of sample email newsletters.
For inspiration, look at some of the blogs, social media accounts, or email you read every day. Don’t copy them, of course! But you can use them to gather ideas and decide what kind of writing would work best for you and your interests.
If you’re looking for copywriting work, you can create some sample advertisements. Write a product description for your favorite product. Create sample copy for a landing page for someone who is trying to sell a service, such as a new software that you read about. Come up with a fake Facebook advertisement for an entrepreneur that is trying to promote their new course.
And, for translation work, you can do the same thing. Translate your favorite business's “About” page. You could translate an Amazon summary of one of your favorite nonfiction books.
The most important thing is that you follow your interests and try to have fun with it!
And when you’re ready to put it together, use a website like Contently.net or Squarespace to create a basic online portfolio. That way you can easily send that link to potential clients when they ask to see your work.
Some successful content writers and copywriters love freelancing and job-bidding websites like Fiverr, Upwork, or Freelancer. Some will tell you to stay far away from them. I suggest that you check out these websites, do some research, and decide what works best for you.
Just keep this in mind: These kinds of websites allow you to decide how much you want to charge, but they are also for employers who are looking to hire someone cheaply.
Still, they can be great places for writers who are starting out and are still figuring out how to market and promote themselves.
Finding and pitching clients
If you have a sample work portfolio and a Linkedin profile, another great way to find writing work is to find potential clients - like businesses or entrepreneurs - and pitch them your ideas and services.
When you “pitch someone” an idea or a service, you’re trying to persuade them why it’s a good idea to use your services or hire you. For example
I contacted the hiring manager on Linkedin and pitched him two new strategies for email content.
The art of pitching someone your ideasis all about selling yourself and your skills! It sounds daunting, but with practice and time, you will get better at it.
You can reach out directly to a hiring manager or a potential client and introduce yourself. Then, you’ll demonstrate your research and knowledge of the company, followed by some ideas of how you can contribute and improve their company.
Dan Lok has some great advice about pitching potential clients as well as other tips and tricks you can use to perfect your pitching skills.
Should I network if I speak English as a second language?
Yes, you should!
Because the truth is that 70% of employees have found their jobs through networking. The landscape of finding a job has changed in the last few decades, but remember, you are an adaptable English learner! You can adapt to anything, and you can adapt to this.
If you’re worried about in-person networking - especially in the time of Covid-19 - you can find other ways around this.
Use Linkedin to set up informational interviews with potential clients or people who do what you want to do. Find popular Facebook groups for professionals from industries that interest you. Reach out to local volunteer organizations and ask if there’s anything you can do for them.
If you’re a language learner, you know about making mistakes. You’re going to hit a few bumps at the beginning of your writing career, but you will learn and get better.
Richard Branson, a successful entrepreneur and businessman, put it this way: “You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”