Do you have to be a native English speaker to be a good copywriter?
Every now and then, I pronounce my Ws as Vs, and sometimes, anonymous doesn’t roll off my tongue as it should. English isn’t my first language. In fact, it’s just one of the languages I speak. And yet, I want to be a copywriter. In England.
I’ve been asked many times if that really is such a great idea, and I do understand where the concern is coming from. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had those concerns myself because when communicating in a language that isn’t your own, creating unpleasant misunderstandings becomes a real risk. It’s, however, a risk I’m willing to take and I do believe my understanding of the English language is good enough to avoid most errors of this sort. Hopefully, you wouldn’t have realised I’m a foreigner if it wasn’t because you’d just read it.
Even after nearly 20 years of speaking English, I still often stumble across words or expressions I’ve never heard before. Most often, it’s formal words. Words you only hear in relation to a royal family scandal or when a pandemic is being analysed by an expert. Or words you never hear spoken but just exist on the pages of books that were written back when painting was still an Olympic sport. The point is, they’re not everyday words.
And that is key. Because copywriting is all about having informal conversations. Brands need to sound relatable. After all, you wouldn’t want your audience to need a dictionary to decipher what you’re trying to say. The same is true for all everyday communication. Try casually throwing ulotrichous or prevaricate into your next conversation and see what happens.
This is exactly why foreign copywriters will have an advantage. We don’t beat around the bush. Words like the above might be in our vocabulary but they’d almost certainly not spring to mind (in all fairness, those particular words probably wouldn’t for a native English speaker either). Sure, throw in some wordplay here and there and spice it up with the occasional cultural reference but, generally, our not-so-fancy way of writing is our biggest strength. Add to that, all the knowledge we bring with us from wherever we’re from. It might one day be what’s needed to crack a campaign.
Writing is, undeniably, an essential part of being a copywriter. If you aren’t a lover of words, you probably won’t ever be a very good copywriter, nor would you enjoy it very much. But writing isn’t the only important part of being a great creative – empathy, curiosity and a willingness to learn are equally important. The last time I checked, those skills weren’t restricted to native English speakers.
The truth is, copywriting doesn’t have much to do with the correct use of the Oxford comma or the ability to discuss Austen’s best work. So if you’re an aspiring copywriter whose love of words was nurtured outside of the British borders, don’t let the fear of your English not being good enough stop you. Take a leap of faith – after all, you did just read this entire blog post in English.