In my years working internationally as a copywriter I have seen time and time again the value in using a native speaking writer.
I was fortunate to have been born a native British English speaker. I can get by almost anywhere in the world using my mother tongue. In my adopted home of Rotterdam in the Netherlands I never need to worry if my pigeon Dutch fails me.
Around 20% of the world’s population speak English fluently (about 1.5 billion), but only a quarter of that number are natives. With this said many companies are happy using fluent non-native speakers for their English language site.
For some this is fine and a cost-effective alternative to appeal to a primarily non-native audience. There are some exceptional fluent speakers out there. So you can get by with correct translation, spelling, grammar and sentence structure.
However, copy written by a non-Native will almost always lack the nuances and references of a native speaker. It will often disconnect you from your native speaking customers.
A native speaker can select the right words to engage with your audience and to represent your brand values. It is these personable elements which will build trust and connect you to your audience.
Here are a few examples to illustrate what I mean:
Lost in translation
Once upon a time I managed the content calendar for a company’s UK, Spanish, French and Austrian markets. I wrote all the copy for their email marketing and then a 3rd party translated it. The local marketing manager would then proofread it.
The local marketer would always have a large number of corrections. “This translation is wrong.” “This phrase/reference doesn’t make sense to the Spanish market.”
The problems were partly due to the 3rd party translator, but also down to me. I was a British English speaker trying to write content for natives of countries I’d barely spent a week in.
No matter how many city breaks I took in Paris, I would never master the nuances of the French tone of voice, their outlook on life, their references, or how to connect with the French audience in the way that my local counterpart could.
We agreed that the local marketer would pen at least one newsletter story per week. Unsurprisingly, by and large, the article written by the local would get the highest engagement each week.
American English vs. British English
English is English, right? Nope.
The UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. They’re all distinct cultures. Besides the obvious spelling differences (favorite vs. favourite; aluminum vs. aluminium), the differing pop culture, lifestyles, and world views all have an effect on the language used.
I worked for a small British start-up which was swallowed up by an American brand. The big bosses in the US assumed that English was English and that they could use the exact same web and email copy for their newly acquired British audience.
It didn’t take long for the Brits (who are very particular about the use of ‘their‘ language) to start complaining. Not only did the US idioms not make sense to a UK audience, but their overly-familiar tone of voice grated on customers not yet used to companies wanting to be their best friend.
Eventually the American bosses gave in and I was drafted in to make the UK site British again.
Before you embark on your next copywriting project, consider the impact a native English speaker can have on your business. You should also think about what type of native English speaker you need. American? British?
If you require copy from a native British English speaker, or you would like me to proof-read and edit any copy written by a non-native, please get in touch. Feel free to take a look around my site to see what other services I offer.