On writing content for your website in your non-native language
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On writing content for your website in your non-native language

Last week a Russian colleague asked me a question about website content. She was concerned that her English wasn’t good enough for crafting an excellent marketing copy or writing blog posts and she was afraid that a subpar work would scare off potential clients. I figured that this problem might be quite common for non-native speakers of English and decided to turn my reply to her into this blog post.

 

I want to start with clarifying my position on two things.

 

Recently I’ve come across an opinion that a translator should be native or near-native in both the source and the target languages. I don’t agree with this. Don’t get me wrong: a translator must have an excellent command of the source language. But reading and writing in a foreign language are two different skills that require practice. And while translators practice reading all the time, they might not have that many opportunities to practice writing, especially if they only translate into their mother tongue.

 

Another thing I want to mention is that it’s always better to hire a pro to write your website copy, but finding the money to buy professional services can be tough. This might be because you’re just starting out as a translator or trying to land your first foreign clients while coming from a country where translators get paid very little (like Russia for example). If this is the case, you only have two choices: write the copy yourself or not have a website at all. And I’m sure that having a website is better than not having one at all because it shows that you’re serious about your business and allows you to use a professional email address.

 

So, how do you go about it?

 

Simplicity is key

 

You might not be able to come up with an elaborate copy, but you definitely can write your bio and a list of services your offer, so start with that. Use simple words and structures. This might seem a bit counterintuitive, but this is the best strategy for creating engaging content anyway.

 

Find a proofreader

 

While you can’t afford to hire a copywriter, you probably can pay one of your colleagues to proofread your website. You might even get lucky and find someone who would agree to make a barter arrangement with you and proofread your copy in exchange for your services.

 

Use some strategies to blog without writing too much

 

What? How’s that possible? Well, the main idea behind blogging is to attract visitors to your website by providing them with useful content. If you can’t create your own content just yet, you can start by sharing useful content created by others. Here are some ideas that you could start with:

 

  • Make a post with a list of useful resources for you potential clients/colleagues. It can be anything from a collection of articles on app localization to a list of glossaries for translators specializing in finance.
  • Publish a weekly/monthly collection of links to articles written by other translators/articles that might be of interest to your target customers.
  • Conduct a series of interviews. This one is a bit more complicated as you have to ask others to participate in your project, but my personal experience shows that translators (and other professionals for that matter) are willing to help each other. Just don’t get discouraged, if you get rejected sometimes. Chances are there’s nothing personal about it, and you just have to send a few more emails.

 

Use tools to check your writing

 

I like Grammarly. The paid version is rather expensive, but you can start by using the free one.

 

In the meantime work on your English writing skills:

 

1. Read a lot

 

This one is pretty obvious, right? The more you read, the better you write. You don’t have to limit yourself only to the technical literature you need for your research or others’ blogs. Read landing pages, other people’s profiles on professional networks, pages describing USPs and services. This will help you to create a better copy for your own website. There’s nothing wrong with looking for inspiration if you respect other writers’ work and don’t just copy it.

 

2. Join a course

 

There’s plenty of great and free courses that will help you become a better writer. I took part in this Coursera course and found it very useful for developing my writing skills. Coursera offers a lot of writing courses for different levels. What I like the most about them, is that you have to deliver assignments and read others’ work to complete the course. You also get feedback on your writing.

 

3. Write, write, write

 

Yes, the best way to improve your writing skills is to practice them as often as you can. You can comment on other people’s blogs or register at The Open Mic and write comments and short articles there. If you feel too self-conscious, you can create an anonymous profile on Medium and practice all you want.

 

And remember: even native speakers make mistakes. There! I said it.

 

Of course, translators work with words and we should be good at writing, but after all, we mostly translate into our mother tongue and we’re all human, so a typo or two in a blog post that was written in a foreign language won’t scare away any reasonable potential clients.

 

If you want to share your tips or experience, please do so in the comments. If you know someone, who will find this post useful, don’t forget to share it.

5 Comments

  • Marcos Maldonado

    11.03.2016 at 18:35 Reply

    Thanks for the tips, Elena. I very much appreciate how you’re always encouraging others to take action. I’ve been struggling with the idea of launching my own blog for some time now; hopefully, I will make that happen soon enough! I’ve got to say finding inspiration is my biggest obstacle. For now, I’m taking my time writing down every idea for a post I can come up with.

    • Elena

      11.03.2016 at 20:01 Reply

      Hey Marcos, thank you for the comment and your kind words!

      I also write down ideas for future blog posts and sometimes make short outlines because if I don’t, I might forget what the post was supposed to be about. 🙂 You have probably seen this post on where I get my blogging inspiration and I also love this post by Anna Lovind on the importance of the first draft (she’s a writer, so she knows what she’s talking about). Good luck with your blog!

    • Patricia

      15.03.2016 at 07:06 Reply

      Hi Marcos. I have a blog but also use The Open Mic for translators to write content. It’s easy to use and fun!

  • Robert Rogge

    16.03.2016 at 01:58 Reply

    Yeah, I know lots of people who write great English and then hire a proofreader. Proofreaders in the target language, since it’s not a translation, are affordable. I always recommend hiring students or young people for that kind of work, since it fits their lifestyle and can help them through university.

  • Around the web – March 2016 | A Smart Translator's Reunion

    03.04.2016 at 07:34 Reply

    […] Colleague Elena Tereshchenkova blogged about writing content in your non-native language. […]

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