If writing is an uphill task, writing in your second language is like walking up a mountain with a monkey on your shoulder.
As a non-native speaker, you struggle with nuances and intricacies that come so naturally to native English speakers. Your sentences tend to be incoherent and the whole piece looks like a patchwork. You are always second-guessing yourself, wondering if people will ever want to read what you write.
And that’s a problem if your livelihood depends on writing in English. What do you do if you want to win more freelance writing gigs? Or if you plain love the language and want to write content that helps and entertains people?
You proactively get better at it. And in this post, we will show you how to do that.
We offer you some guidelines that go beyond the generic read more advice. We will teach you how to feel the language and imbibe it into your subconscious. In the end, we will give you one solid tip, one tweak that will make your content flow better. So stay tuned.
Alright, let’s jump into the meat of this post. To finetune your content as a non-native English writer, you first…
Determine your genre and tone
If Stephan King wrote business articles, he probably would not be as famous. He stuck to the horror/thriller genre and won hearts. You, like the great Stephan King, must know what you want to sound like. What is your brand? Imagine if you were famous, what would your readers want from your next piece? In short, what’s your genre? Figure that out.
Also, it’s quintessential to find your tone. Are you a fan of brevity or do you focus on the beauty aspect? For instance, which sentence sounds more like you?
A: The business deal finally went through.
B: The business deal went through. It was no short of a miracle.
You need to get these two aspects right before you go any forward – tone and genre. They establish what type of content you will consume while following the next steps.
Remember, writing is all about adding a bit of you to what you have read before.
Your mind is like a machine that takes the input you get from the world, mixes it with your persona, and gives an output in the form of content.
Your persona might not change overnight but the input sure can. You can either accept input on a surface level, which will result in bland and dry output; or imbibe it with intent, which will result in an output that sings of quality. And here’s how you imbibe with intent…
Practice cognitive listening
One of the most important chapters in music production is ear training. It involves practicing listening to identify notes and chords in a piece of music. The intent is to train your ears to disintegrate music or voice into layers, and then identify each layer. The same theory can be used to improve your writing.
How? First, find a podcaster or YouTuber that you resonate with. Imagine you are a successful writer, when your fans read your piece, what does the reading voice in their head sound like? What would they think you sound like, even if they never heard your voice? Pick a podcaster that is closest to that voice in terms of tone, cadence, and personality.
For instance, if you like the horror story genre, check out these two YouTubers – Mr. Ballen and Mr. Nightmare. Both produce scary videos but have different presentation styles. Or, if you are a business writer, you will notice how these two channels speak about similar things but in different tones – Brian Dean v/s Income School. Which one would you pick? Get the drift?
Next, replace your music with podcasts. Listen to them while you are driving or prepping your meals. Beyonce may not help you improve your writing skills, but your podcaster will.
Finally, don’t just hear words, listen. Study the tone of native English podcasters, how they play with the words, what metaphors they use. How they hold back a little when they speak something that’s not positive, and what their voice sounds like when they are excited.
Pick the colloquialism out of their verbiage, you may not use it in your writing but it will help you understand your audience better.
Okay, we got your ears engaged, not let’s get your eyes wandering a bit.
Peruse content from top publications
Top publications like Inc., NYT, Forbes, etc hire top-class editors who write and edit top-quality content. Their content can form perfect writing guides for non-native speakers.
The first step to this is finding top publications. It’s a very easy step, all you gotta do is download firefox and open a new tab. This browser serves articles from Pocket on the homepage. These articles and syndicated content from a bunch of quality websites. And this is what they look like…
There are listings from some top publications you may not have heard of but are relevant to your niche. You can pick articles that interest you and start with the next step.
How to break out the writing techniques from top publications?
You do that in 3 reading sessions, you can take more. But not less.
- During the first read of the article, notice the flow from one paragraph to another. What does each paragraph say? What’s the purpose of keeping it there? How does it contribute to the narrative? Does it contribute to the mood of the article? Or to the progression of the article.
- In the next read, go deeper, analyze the article at the sentence level. It’s amazing how top publications keep it so clean. For instance, take a look at this sentence from a Vox article.
As a non-native writer, would you feel jittery while using the word ‘twitchy?’ Probably. And, do you get nervous when two sentences start with the same word? ‘Think’ in this case? But it sounds coherent here. Perusing articles at sentence level feeds into the subconscious that it’s okay to write long sentences, and it’s possible to keep them simple.
- Finally, analyze the article at the word level. The same Vox article captures a good example.
Which alternatives to underlined words would you use? You may come up with even better words or sentence structure. So don’t hold back.
- Another method of analyzing the articles is copying them into the Grammarly editor. We have used Hemmingway editor and a couple more, but we found Grammarly to be the best in terms of suggestions and interface.
Anyway, we copied the Vox article into the editor. It scores a 98 but has many suggestions. Surprised? So were we. So what does this conclude?
Experts don’t rely much on Grammarly. But don’t ditch the tool till you are confident. Use it for editing but don’t get too stuck up with it.
The above steps will get you very close to native English standards, but to be sure, pass your content along to native writers. Ask them to be brutal with their feedback. But bear in mind, not all native speakers are particularly good at writing. So carefully choose who gets to review your work.
Ask your friends who write well. If free feedback is not an option, hire someone to review your first few articles, till you feel confident. Assuming you got feedback from a trustworthy source, incorporate it into your future blogs.
Alright, now that you know what you must do to improve your writing, it’s time to give the one awesome tip we promised. One way you can improve the quality of your content drastically, in almost no time, is by reading it aloud. It’s such a simple, yet overlooked tip! While reading, if you find some words or sentences or even a paragraph that disrupts the flow, smoothen it then and there.
Would you fancy 2 more tips? Here we go –
- Write your first draft in your mother tongue and then translate it into English. This way, you’ll be sure to get the flow right. You will write better sentence structure and be more coherent with your narrative.
- And our final tip is to always remember that, as a non-native speaker, you have an advantage over native speakers. How?
You can write translated metaphors from your first language which will sound absolutely novel in English as no one else writes like that. Also, you naturally focus on different details than native writers which lets you stand out from the crowd.
For instance, Joseph Conrad, one of the greatest novelists to write in the English language, only got fluent in his twenties. Yet, he produced some of the most beautifully written content.
Alright fellow non-native writers, you now know how to build your skills towards writing top-quality content in English. You will have different and richer experiences than what we shared here. Please put it in the comment sections so that we can learn from each other.