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7 Golden Rules: Blogging in English for Non-Native Speakers

Posted By Guest Blogger 13th of October 2011 Writing Content 67

This guest post is by Michael Schuermann of Easy Hiker.

English is the language of the Internet. If you are the monoglot citizen of a country like Denmark, you are—through no fault of your own—restricted to an audience the size of metropolitan San Francisco.

Even for the native speakers of a major European language such as German, English is the only available ticket to a global readership.

This is why virtually everybody nowadays blogs in English.

Passport

Image copyright Anyka - Fotolia.com

Writing in a foreign language, however, is not an easy skill to acquire. I am not suggesting that simply by reading this article, you will become a fluent writer. But I can show you how to get there—and point out some of the most dangerous traps along the way.

1. It can be done

Every year, English books are published by authors who have learned English as a second or third language, sometimes late in life. (I myself have managed to have one such book published)—just to prove to you that any fool can do it.)

At the top end, you have authors who have produced real works of literature: Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Conrad, for example.

At the low end of formal ambition, writing factual, descriptive texts in English is actually quite easy—which is why English is not only the language of the Internet but also the lingua franca of academic discourse.

If you have something to say, the English language will always give you the tools to say it clearly, briefly and concisely. So, take your heart in both hands, step in front of a global audience—and just do it.

2. Get rid of your native accent

Accents are speech habits you acquired from your native tongue. They are most familiar to us in the form of sound, but they exist in writing, too.

You will want to get rid of them.

Thankfully, this is easier in written than in spoken language: Nabokov and Conrad, apparently, never quite got rid of their spoken accents, but I am still to hear anybody accuse either author of “Slavic” mannerisms in his prose.

Read and listen as much in English as you can, acquiring English rhythms and speech patterns through osmosis. (Get into the habit of reading a quality daily such as The Guardian or the New York Times and listen to BBC Radio 4. It’s all just a click away.)

Develop a feeling for the specific difficulties that writers from your own language have. Study English texts written by speakers of your own language—anything will do: announcements in airports and public transport, for example. Tourism brochures can also be highly useful.

Always ask yourself: is this good? And if it isn’t, why not? Where could I have improved upon this?

3. Do not translate

Always write your posts in English first, even the drafts. Resist the temptation of writing exposés in your native language.

Any such draft will always betray its origins, unless you are an extremely good translator. (Good technical translators do not “translate”: they take a sentence and ask themselves how a native speaker would have conveyed the same message in the target language.)

4. Do not overreach yourself

Keep it simple. Do not aim to produce literature. Do not try to impress your readers with the quality of your English.

See yourself as someone who has recently acquired a pair of ice skates and is still learning. For the time being, the objective is to get safely from one side of the rink to the other. Leave the triple Lutz for later.

5. Perfection may forever elude you

Writing good English is not something you either can do or can’t do. There is no single moment in time after which you will able to say: that’s it, now I can write.

Things just don’t work that way: learning is always a gradual process. The more you write, the better you will become, but there is no guarantee that you will ever reach a standard where, say, readers could mistake your copy for something they may read in the New York Times.

And even if you do, there may still be the occasional phrase over which your American or English readership will stumble. That’s part of the game, I am afraid. Live with it.

6. Understand how the English language operates

English is an informal, level-playing-field language. Like every language, it provides the speaker with opportunities of providing information about himself (by saying “loo” rather than “toilet”, for example: the old U vs. non-U use of speech) but its first purpose is always to communicate as clearly and concisely as possible.

If you now wonder: isn’t that the first purpose of any language, you have clearly never read anything produced by a German academic. In other words: some languages may be primarily designed to communicate the status of the speaker, but English is not one of them.

So keep it simple. Do not show off or intimidate. Make it easy for your reader. Use the most common word, the one that is most likely to be understood by the largest number of readers. In English, a convoluted style is considered affected and impolite. As a rule of thumb, use the Anglo-Saxon rather than the “French” word. Say “begin”, not “commence”.

Use a conversational writing style. Imagine you are explaining something to somebody at a table in a pub. Do not use your blog as a pulpit or as a podium in a lecture hall. Do not adopt a chest-thumping “me-speak-you-listen” style. In some countries, this may be the acceptable language of academic discourse. In Anglo-Saxon countries, people will pay as much attention to you as they do to the ranting nutter in the park.

And do not forget that little jokes are always welcome. Particularly if you invite your readers to laugh at yourself. A little self-deprecating remark here and there can work wonders.

7. A language is more than a set of vocabulary and grammar

Cultural references are important. They are a convenient way of telling your readers that you are one of their “pack”—because if you were not like your readers, in what way would your experiences matter to them?

Cultural references traditionally come from history and literature (particularly Shakespeare and Dickens), but increasingly from sports, Hollywood movies, and TV. This is where writers who have actually lived in England or the US (and who have kept in touch) have a clear advantage.

But you can play this game even if you have no such experience to draw on. Just be curious. When I was a young man, it took me years to find out the story of Paul Revere and his horse, all coming down to a line in a Bob Dylan song. Today, I Google “Paul Revere’s horse” and get 11,500 hits in 0.11 seconds. There are no excuses for ignorance.

What is Ruthian or Micawberish, and why do English people naturally assume that somebody who is “pining” must be “pining for the Fjords”? Read and listen with an open and curious mind, then do your research—it has never been easier.

Michael Schuermann is a German born journalist (formerly with the BBC World Service in London and was a sports commentator for Eurosport in Paris). Discovering hiking late in life, he is now blogging in English as Easy Hiker.

About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
Comments
  1. English is a universal internet language so it is necessary to learn English. I think blogging in English help us to learn this language..

  2. i am a native english speaker and even I have trouble making sense most of the time :)

  3. Blogging in English is definitely a good way to learn the language for Non-English speaking countries.

  4. I’m not English, I’m Spanish. My blog is in English because I’d like to spread my hobbies to all the world. What’s the most common language? English.

    It’s difficult to me because I’m not a great English writer but I’m learning little by little.

  5. Hey, this article was soo for me. :) I’m not native English blogger and i’m trying my best to learn. Will use thees tips definitely! Thanks a lot.

  6. I personally spend less time worrying about grammar and correct language usage, I find too much messing trying to get words and phrases right detracts from the creativity of my posts, mainly because the major focus on my posts are the drawings and the humour behind them, I spend so much time drawing that if I had to worry about laguage usage and perfect grammar, i would get nothing done. It all depends on your blogs topic really, if you have an academic type blog or a blog giving advice then yes there should be more emphasis on the use of language, but for the likes of mine it doesn’t matter so much, i’ll save the the formal correct grammar for my book haha.

  7. Hey, this post is about me – I even have trouble blogging in Danish sometimes ;-)

  8. Michael, thank you for your posting! I have much fun with the german academy point and it’s true!
    Thanks for you warm words to get people start.

    For me it’s a push to registrate my .com Domain today.

    Liebe Grüße aus Deutschland,
    Kai

  9. Actually I started blogging as an attempt to improve my English, and it has being a great experience, I know I am far from perfect but my readers are very supportive =]

    Great article as always!

  10. I would like to point out a contradiction: In paragraph 6, you claim that english is a “level playing field language”, while in paragraph 7, you point out that an non-native speaker has no excuse for failing to research everything that looks as if it might be a play on words. Hence, the playing field is not level, but the non-native speaker will always have to struggle in order to keep up with the native speaker. I, for one, have been learning english for 30 years now, and have been using it professionally with great success since 20 years, but I still can’t properly participate in discussions in uncooperative environments, such as internet forums that are dominated by native english speakers.

  11. Hey Michael, you do make a few valid points! As a German blogging in English myself, I did find your perspective on this very interesting. I don’t agree with all of your points though, the first of them being that I find it hard to reach my German readers because the German blogging scene (blogging in German, mind you) is alive, well and thriving. Of course I reach a lot of US and international readers and I’m very thankful for that. I can’t help but wonder though if adding German as a second language to my blog would help me build a better network. Yes, I know, it’s the internet, and everyone is just a click away, but I can’t go to any blogger conferences or meet-ups (which are usually in the US) in my blogging social circle which makes me feel like I live on the blogging North Pole at times. Also, I find an accent quite charming in the world of informal or hobby blogging, but I understand that’s not the topic on problogger. Lastly, I would say that English is as much a language capable of communicating status quickly and without a doubt as German is. Oh, the English! ;-)

    Relatable Style

  12. Excellent article. As a non-native English speaker myself, I can say that you made some excellent points here. I totally agree with golden rule number 3, and most people don’t get it. It takes years of practice until most people can understand what it means to think in English instead of thinking in your native language and translate it back and forth.
    By the way, I’ve been writing technical articles in English for many years, and I could say that I was comfortable writing them. But when I decided to start blogging, I wanted to focus on religious content, and it had a new set of challenges in itself. A new set of terms, expressions that I wasn’t familiar to. It has been a challenging and rewarding experience.

  13. For me English was a clear choice. Not only to reach a wider audience but to learn the language better. I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes with grammar, but nothing too obtrusive I hope. The cultural aspect is definitely the hardest.

    If you’re interested I’m currently writing two blogs in English: http://www.myhappierlife.com and http://www.selfdevelopmentpost.com

  14. Excellent tips. As a non-native English speaking blogger, I’ve always done my best to apply most of the suggestions mentioned in the article. It’s good to know that I’m on the right path!

  15. Of course what’s great about this is that the author is living proof that it can be done and proves his eloquence with this very post. Michael writes better blog copy than most EFL bloggers, myself included!

  16. One of the hardest way to learn native english is to chat in english in a chatroom. It’s quite fast and no school-english.
    …but more harder is to have a phone-call with an indian or chinese man :-)

  17. I didn’t even think about those who do not know English and all the blog sites to read. I came across a non English site once by mistake.

  18. For some people from NES(None English Speaking) backgrounds, it would be quite difficult to do their blog posts in English.

    This would mainly depend on the native tongue of the Author.

    Though, many NES speakers have an incredible command of the English language, demonstrating this through their Blog posts(Article) writing.

  19. I would imagine that it could be beneficial to blog in your native language though. Maybe there would be less competition.

  20. English is the language of blogs? You’re kidding, right? There are some 150 million blogs. About 70 million are in… Chinese. Yep, Chinese. And that number is growing extremely fast.

    The solution: Add a “translate this” (either Google or Bing) to everything. Write in simple sentences. And get to the point. Write clear and direct.

    The same with social media. The Chinese versions of Facebook and Twitter have huge audiences (in the hundreds of millions) and they’re growing fast. A Chinese company is wondering if they should buy Yahoo.

  21. aynen adamım saol

  22. It’s true: writing in another language that is not English limits the audience, that’s why so many people are using English on their website… including me. :)
    It’s amazing to get visits from all around the world! Definitely worth the effort of improving my English.

    Great to know that there are so many second language bloggers out there!
    By the way, I am Italian.
    Thank you for the great post!

  23. Michael,

    Many of your tips are valid for those who are native English speakers as well. We all have accents (or slang) from our upbringing. We all need to know grammar. We all need to keep our writing simple. And, perfection will elude many of us, even if English is our first language.

    Great post – one that was very worth the read!

  24. Michael, this post is magical. Thank you. When I found out in the final line that you’re a non-native English speaker yourself, that just sealed it. I’ve observed that the average non-native English-speaking blogger has a better command of English than the average native speaking blogger. Maybe that’s because most non-natives won’t blog unless they’re really, really confident in their skills.

    What impresses me is that not only is your syntax perfect, but you have an appreciation for cultural references (cf. Ruthian, Micawberish.) English truly is a beautiful language, so vast that it contains a word for almost every occasion, expression and emotion. The unimportance of gender makes English relatively easy to learn, too.

    P.S.: Your line about the German academic reminds me of Mark Twain’s hilarious essay, “The Awful German Language.” If you haven’t read it, check it out.

  25. I came from a country where English was only taught for during English Language class. We did Mathematics, Physics etc all in our native language. I’ve always had a dictionary with me, growing up. I knew it would be as important to learn English for my future endeavors :) And now I am proud to say, I’ve accomplished so much from being a blogger.

  26. I’m always impressed by anyone writing in a language that’s not their native language – it would totally daunt me! Tips 4-7 are actually good tips for native English speakers as well.

    I sometimes do editing and proofreading for students who have English as their second language. I recently began offering proofreading services to bloggers who need to make sure their posts are error-free, through my business, The Write Device.

    I only put this out there in case it can help anyone!

  27. I got lucky. I was born in the USA and always wanted to be a writer. Hey, wait a minute. I am a writer. I’m a blogger.

  28. Hello,

    Thank you four great article. As a brazilian writer I have never considered post in English. But I put the widget “Translator” at the top of the blog. I know it’s not the same.

    But here is my doubt: should I blog ONLY in English or in both languages (English and Portuguese)?

    I’m worried about brazilian readers that may not like to read it anymore.

    Thank you!

  29. Nice post you have shared with complete details. I never had problem writing in English but I think where to use proper grammar matters the most.

    @Marya .. Decode (But who will understand?)

  30. learning english by read an english text. i dont no why i can understood an english well but i cannot write english like every one.

  31. This is the first article on this subject I read in years. I am not a native speaker also and sometimes I have trouble expressing myself in English. I also have trouble translating my articles to English, so you made excellent tip under number 3. We should write articles in English from the scratch. But beside that I think I’m doing pretty well on my blog :-)

    Thank you for the article!

  32. I am not native english, But I try to learn how to write a good english sentences. Can you suggest a better place to learn an easy way to write english?

  33. The best thing is to learn to speak and write in English.

  34. I’ve been writing a blog in my native language for three years and I have only recently started blogging in English. I’ve found out that it’s easier for me to express myself in English when writing about topics such as music (and pop culture in general), because it’s the prevalent language of the entertainment “industry”. Grammar and syntax is another story altogether, but I’m learning all the time and I hope my readers won’t hold it against me if I occasionally fall victim to a bad case of neanderthal spelling.

  35. Reading english is easy. To write….. well that’s another story :D

  36. Determination is very essential to have good going in blogging

  37. Personally, when I’m visiting a blog where English is the author’s second language I have no problem with detecting a native accent. As long as I can still read and understand the content, an accent is just added character as far as I’m concerned.

    With today’s browsers, we can read just about any blog with instant translation.

  38. English is the leading language internationally,
    whereas Chinese is the second language for one
    to take full advantage of the rising China.
    Keep the latter at home, make it the so-called
    the mother-tongue language.
    Thanks for your great post!

  39. Interesting post. I made the same decision some months ago and started a blog in English. I already have a blog in German since 2005 with more than 400 articles and about 1200 visitors daily.

    The most important for non-native speakers I think is the marketing. What can you contribute to the English blogosphere which has not already been written in many articles and blog-posts? I think it is useful to put the own nationality as an USP. According to that the subheadline of my US-Blog is “What can you learn from a 62-year old German about personal change?”

    Since my style of writing is more sophisticated than my English knowledge until now the articles are translated by a woman who lived tnwenty years in the States.

  40. I was just thinking about blogs being a great resource for English language learners. We should all exercise our curiosity more often when it comes to looking up cultural references we think we understand. Having lived outside the UK for many years of my childhood, my English cultural references are such a hodgepodge of Western Australian TV and BBC world news. I must have an awfully strange way of speaking! British people think I sound so posh, Read:must be rich and public schooled (I had to enlighten someone in uni who told me ‘you’re quite down-to-earth considering.’ Considering…that I sound posh, who do you think I am?) I am communicating a ‘status’ to other English speakers that I don’t even want to communicate so I understand the whole difficulty with accents and prejudice, I agree, writing is a way to overcome that to a large extent.

  41. This was a very interesting article.
    Blogging in English has help me to improve my grammar and reading, specially when my readers correct me :-)

  42. Yup, I’m an Indonesian and obviously there is many things I found quite difficult when I write in English, at the beginning. But it’s my job to keep learning and improving my english, slowly but surely, as you said, the more you learn, the better you will become. It’s just a matter of learning process, and just enjoy it! It’s simply an enlightening article, thanks for writing! :)

  43. 4 years to learn English I realized that technological advances can be very understandable if you can understand english very well. prove the truth of information on the internet, a lot of book knowledge, and wherever I was in the entire city of Indonesia has always found the English language.

  44. Well done, Michael. Good advice and done with humor.

    As I read blogs, I often come across writers for whom English is a second (or third language). Many of them write better with fewer errors than native speakers do. One suggestion I’d add to the list is to find a native speaker who’s a good writer and editor and ask him or her for feedback on errors or awkward wording from time to time. One benefit would be to keep the blogger from making the same error over and over again.

  45. I just started a blog in English about my hometown, and I must say it’s a little trickier than writing in your native language. The hardest: avoid word for word translation. But it can be done ;-)

  46. Michael,

    Excellent post. I think this helped me a lot. I try to be perfectionist when I write my posts and read it thrice before publishing and I am sure still there are some errors. But, as long as I communicate well with my audience, I am happy. :)

  47. I’ve been successful for years with my cycling website BikeCyclingReviews. Even I’m not a native english speaker I was able to catch my readers attention. You never know if you never try to. cheers, sam

  48. Michael,
    Nice Article. I like your point no four and you have exactly nail it down and clearly make sense.

    When we tend to express things at blog article, keeping it simple is the key drive factor. Blog articles are just to communicate and for information sharing. Simple writing is an art.

    As Brandon hansen says here, even difficult for native English speakers. Continuous effort and writing passion can only make the difference. Thanks for the post.

  49. Since i’m not actively an English speaker, it took a lot of nerve before finally I decided, okay I’ll do this. I’ll write my blog in English.

    This post is really a great lesson for me. Thanks Michael.

  50. Michael

    I’m also a non-native speaker. I am from Malaysia, my mother tongue is Malay and here English is like the second language. Before starting my blog, my dilemma was the choice of language whether to write in Malay or English. Later I decided to go for English as I was not that good writing in Malay even though I speak mostly in Malay. Sound a little bit funny right !

    Soon after a while blogging I found out most of my blog reader came from the US. There are also readers from other non-native speaker like Russia, Netherlands etc. For the sake of them I has install a Google translation widget to accommodate the non-native speaker. Your 7 points are great advice and have given me the idea for my next post. Thanks for sharing.

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