Here’s The Biggest Writing Problem Among Non-Native Speakers – Editor Tells All!

Just because you are a non-native speaker, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. If English is your mother tongue, it also doesn’t mean you’re a good writer. 

My friend, Chelsea Terry is a professional editor and proofreader of her own UK-based independent editorial business, Stand Corrected Editing. She will be with us today to shed light on the existing issues most non-native speakers face, specifically their disadvantages against native speakers. 

Not only does she discuss the areas where non-native speakers should improve, but she also emphasizes the importance of improving our writing confidence as one of the keys to be better in writing in English. 

Without further ado, here are the interview questions I asked and Chelsea’s response to each of them. I hope you enjoy reading! 

Why do companies prefer native speakers to non-native speakers when hiring/working with writers?

An amazing question! Without completely slating or making false judgments about the bigger companies, I believe that the majority of them are mostly concerned about the money they can make when hiring and working with writers, even if they state that their passion is their main drive. 

As a result, they probably feel safer and more comfortable hiring a native speaker because they automatically trust that they will deliver a pristine piece of writing or document that will earn them the money they desire without having to spend time editing it. 

I can’t speak for all companies, but I would also guess that companies prefer to hire native speakers because they assume there will be less of a language barrier. 

If they believe they can instruct an employee or freelancer once and receive the desired result, they are more likely to hire them, as opposed to someone they believe will have to be instructed more than once due to language differences.

I understand that these reasons sound harsh and discriminative, and of course, it’s completely wrong to discriminate against non-native speakers, but I believe that if a company strives to make money, they will choose the easy route to achieve that goal.

Perfect English when it comes to writing.

3 Reasons Why It’s Wrong To Assume That The Native Speakers Are Better Writers

  1. Assuming that a non-native speaker is less capable isn’t just discriminative but racist. 
  2. Diversity brings an abundance of different ideas, writing styles, and incredible results, so the narrow-minded companies who only hire native speakers are missing out. 
  3. I’ve edited a range of manuscripts now, all written by so many different people from all over the world. I’ve been able to tell that some of them speak English as a second or third language due to certain words, like “the” and “a”, being missed in their sentences, and the syntax being disordered. 
Good writing has nothing to do with being a native speaker, according to a UK-based editor and proofreader. Click here to read the full Chelsea Terry interview here.

But those issues don’t make them less of a writer than the native speakers I have worked with, who have also missed out on words in their sentences and got the syntax muddled.

Consequently, I wouldn’t say that the native writers I have worked with are more capable than the non-native speakers, because all of the documents and manuscripts I have edited have needed editing. From my perspective, it’s nothing to do with their nationality. 

So, it bewilders me even further that some companies only hire native speakers, because non-native speakers are just as amazing at writing and are great storytellers. Plus, in my experience as an editor, some of the non-native writers have written better English than the native speakers.

But those issues don’t make them less of a writer than the native speakers I have worked with, who have also missed out on words in their sentences and got the syntax muddled.

Consequently, I wouldn’t say that the native writers I have worked with are more capable than the non-native speakers, because all of the documents and manuscripts I have edited have needed editing. From my perspective, it’s nothing to do with their nationality. 

So, it bewilders me even further that some companies only hire native speakers, because non-native speakers are just as amazing at writing and are great storytellers. Plus, in my experience as an editor, some of the non-native writers have written better English than the native speakers.

For example, I had to turn a native speaker’s manuscript away due to the number of mistakes on every page. Although my job is to rectify and polish these mistakes, this particular manuscript made no sense whatsoever, so I physically didn’t know how to edit it to convey the writer’s intended meaning. 

However, I had the pleasure to work with an Indonesian writer in 2020, who speaks English as a second language, and their novel has been one of my favorites! 

So, perfect English isn’t everything when it comes to writing. Non-native speakers can write just as well, if not better than native speakers.

Why do you think writers from developing countries are underpaid, whereas native speakers enjoy more writing opportunities online?

Many people are quick to assume that writers from developing countries aren’t as qualified or educated as native speakers from developing countries, which is ridiculous. 

Sadly, people seem to have one image of those from developing countries: the unfortunate souls from Africa who appear in the charity adverts on our expensive TVs. So, they don’t stop to think that someone from a developing country may be a well-educated individual who is a great writer. 

As a result, someone hiring a freelance writer probably doesn’t believe that someone from a developing country is worthy of being paid the same amount as a native writer from a developed country, which is such a shame.

Furthermore, I also believe that some people who hire different writers for their projects assume that someone from a developing country won’t need as much money as a native speaker, so they probably think they can get away with paying them less. 

It sounds ridiculous, but it’s the same with companies who prefer to hire people under 25 – because they can get away with paying them less money than if they hired someone over 25.

Is being a native speaker so important for editorial standards?

Regarding the editorial standards needed for working as a professional editor, I wouldn’t say it’s 100% important to be a native speaker because there are some non-native speakers who can speak and write the English language better than native speakers, ironically.

However, it does depend on each individual. For example, if a non-native speaker wants to become a professional editor and polish English documents, but they struggle with the language, they may need to spend a bit more time working on their language skills before they pursue that dream.

But if a non-native speaker feels confident writing and speaking English and using the correct editorial standards, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to become an editor, either independently or as an employee.

In terms of the editorial standards needed for professions such as copywriting, blogging, and journalism, being a native speaker really isn’t that important. But again, it depends on how confident the individual writer feels about speaking and writing in the English language.

However, even if a non-native speaker who isn’t completely comfortable with the English language still wishes to pursue a career as a copywriter or a blogger, they do have the option to hire an editor to polish their work, which will also help them to improve their writing.

As an editor, is there a particular writing style you tend to look for in a writer?

No. I have my preferences regarding genre. I love editing fantasy, historical fiction, and adventure because those are my favorite genres to read. But I’m not fussy about editing a particular writing style, as long as it makes sense and is consistent throughout. 

If I can’t make sense of what has been written, I can’t edit the content, so clarity is crucial when sending work to an editor.

As an editor, what do you think is lacking among non-native speakers, resulting in limited writing opportunities and, of course, income?

Confidence in their ability to write just as well as a native speaker. Quite often when people request copywriters, bloggers, ghostwriters, or editors on freelancing sites like Upwork and Fiverr, they request native speakers from the start and directly tell non-native speakers not to apply for the job straight off the bat. 

As a result, non-native speakers are obviously knocked before they’ve had the chance to prove themselves as intelligent and capable individuals, so their confidence in their own ability is beaten down more and more each day.

However, even if native speakers are the only ones requested for writing positions, that shouldn’t put non-native speakers off, especially if they know they can complete the project just as well as a native speaker. 

If the person hiring is open-minded and accepting, they’ll choose the right person based on the skills and experience they display at the time, not just because they are white and native.

So, if you’re a non-native speaker who wants to write and earn money from doing so, try not to feel too rejected if being a native speaker is required. 

Most of the time, people assume that non-native speakers can’t speak a word of English. The best thing you can do is actively demonstrate that you can speak and write fluently, and display what you already know and have achieved.

For example, if you have positive reviews and testimonials that show what previous clients have said about you and your work, display them or provide a link. If you have a professional website or blog that showcases your writing skills, show it off. 

If you’ve written guest articles for magazines; ghostwritten books for writers, or edited important documents, make sure these works are known to the person who could end up hiring you, either via a freelancing site or for their company. 

By sharing your skills and experience, and providing proof that you are capable, you’re giving yourself a much better chance of being accepted and hired for the writing project.

It’s also super helpful to provide samples of your previous work so the person hiring can physically see how great you are for themselves. They may then decide to hire you even if you’re a non-native speaker.  However, make sure you make the sample relevant to the project at hand. 

Here’s how you can do it. 

For example, if a marketing company needs 10 articles written about Instagram, make sure you give them a sample that is similar in style or topic. 

If you don’t have any samples, create them. I did this when I launched Stand Corrected Editing and it proved to be a life-saver.

Do you observe the different nuances between native and non-native speakers based on the pieces of literature you received as an editor or blogger?

I don’t really observe the different nuances between native and non-native writers as such unless I receive a manuscript that’s been written by someone who struggles with certain aspects of the English language, and then I merely just make an observation.

I mainly observe the different nuances between each writer so I know which area of creative writing people need the most help with, whether they’re native or non-native speakers.

Is there a particular writing practice editors look for in an article, blog post, or book worth publishing?

It depends on the type of editor – in the sense that an acquisition editor at a literary agency will want to see that the writer can write to an extremely high standard, otherwise, the manuscript will be rejected. 

But an editor, who polishes the content and copy before it’s queried or published, is less fussy because it’s their job to correct the mistakes. 

However, even though I have edited a fair few manuscripts that have needed a lot of work in the beginning, it’s impossible for me to polish a piece of writing that doesn’t make sense at all. 

I’ve only received one manuscript that I’ve had to turn away due to a lack of clarity and sense and the book had actually been written by a native speaker. So for me, there’s not necessarily writing practice that I look for as an editor, but I do need the document to make sense.

If the non-native speakers improve their writing, do these guarantee them success?

No one is ever guaranteed success, but it also depends on what “success” means to them. If they hope to be the next J. K Rowling or Stephen King…well, that’s almost impossible for any writer.

But if their idea of success is to sell enough books to earn a comfortable living, or to pursue a career as a copywriter, for example, then that’s more realistic and definitely achievable, even for a non-native speaker. 

Plus, one writer may follow my advice and achieve their version of success, but another may not, so it’s all about taking different pieces of advice and seeing if it fits instead of following advice like it’s an instruction.

2 common writing mistakes non-native speakers do in their writing. Find out more here.

What do you think are the common errors most non-native speakers commit as far as your observations are concerned?

In my experience as an editor so far, I haven’t received that many manuscripts written by non-native speakers to be able to give a well-rounded answer. 

But from the manuscripts I have received, the most common errors involve a lack of prepositions (e.g., on, in, at, etc.) and articles (e.g., the). Some non-native speakers have written sentences. 

For example: 

Non-Native Speaker: The mage grabbed sword and sliced it through air. 

Native Speaker: The mage grabbed her sword and sliced it through the air.

By no means do the missed-out prepositions and articles make stories written by non-native speakers less worthy or publishable, they just need to be edited in a different way to a novel written by a native speaker.

Does the saying, "Write as you speak," applicable to non-native speakers, too?

No, but then I wouldn’t say this to a native speaker either due to how different people in the UK speak.

For example, the way I verbally speak is different from my story-writing voice, which is different again to my formal writing tone when writing a professional email or letter. 

Also, I started learning the Greek language a few years ago and became much better at speaking it than writing it. So if I were to write a book in Greek based on how I spoke the language, I would have probably confused a lot of Greek people, haha! 

It would be more beneficial for non-native speakers to split the English language into two sections: reading and writing. That way, they can learn how to fluently speak the language, while also learning how to properly write in English.

It may be tempting to try and write how you speak, but it will likely end up causing more confusion than if you learn how to speak and write English separately. Plus, the English language is one of the hardest to learn, so anything to make it easier for yourself.

If a non-native speaker self-publishes a book in her language, translated into English, do you think it could have detrimental effects on the work, or not?

If a non-native speaker writes a book in their language, hires a professional or fluent translator and a professional editor to ensure that the translations are correct, then the novel will be fully polished. Therefore, there won’t be any detrimental effects on the work.

However, if a non-native speaker writes a manuscript in their language, tries to translate it themselves, or hires a translator who isn’t as professional as they seem, then self-publishing the book will likely have detrimental effects on the work because it’s not as polished as it should be. 

As a result, it’s so important for any writer, native or non-native, to find the right services that will provide a proper service for what they charge.

If a non-native speaker self-publishes a book in the English language, do you think the native speakers accept or acknowledge it the same way as native speakers? Or do you think they only prefer books/works written by native speakers?

I think it depends on the individual native reader. As everyone knows, some native speakers from all backgrounds can discriminate against other races, genders, or religions. 

In some instances, being a non-native speaker won’t attract everyone due to the assumption that the book won’t make sense and will be riddled with mistakes.

But on the other hand, other people are incredibly accepting and really don’t care who the book is written by – if they like the sound of the novel from reading the blurb and perhaps the opening paragraph, they’ll buy the book no matter what. So, it really depends on the people finding the book.

However, if the non-native speaker is still learning the English language and publishes a book in English, many readers may avoid it because they won’t want to buy something they won’t fully understand or enjoy.

So, if you are a non-native speaker who’s planning to self-publish a novel, it would be in your best interests to hire an editor to ensure that your manuscript is up to scratch, otherwise, you may end up publishing a book no one wants to read. 

That may sound harsh, but that’s honestly my advice for all writers, native or non-native. Get an editor before you publish!

A non-native speaker should stick with writing in her language rather than trying too hard writing in English. What is your stance?

It really does depend on the individual writer’s goals, their budget, and what they hope to achieve within a certain amount of time. 

For example, if a non-native speaker wants to write a novel in English and publish it within three months, but really struggles with the language and writes content that’s difficult to understand.

It may be much more practical for them to either write and publish the novel in their native language or even invest in a translator, or spend some more time learning the English language so their writing can be properly understood. 

By all means, they can continue to try and write the novel in English if that’s their end goal, but it sounds like a nightmare struggling with a language they may not fully understand when there are professionals out there who can help (e.g., translators and ghostwriters).

However, if a non-native speaker feels confident enough speaking and writing in English and their work can be comprehended, I don’t think they should be discouraged from writing a novel in English if that’s the direction they wish to take. 

It may just be that they would need to invest in an editor once they’ve finished their manuscript to ensure that everything is clear and correct.

Most editors, including myself at Stand Corrected Editing, are happy to edit books and documents written by non-native speakers even if there’s a slight language barrier. 

If the content can be understood, there’s no reason why a non-native speaker can’t write in English.

If you were to give five (5) writing tips to a non-native speaker, what would you give? Briefly explain each.

A great question, but not all of my answers will be writing tips as such, as there are other ways for non-native speakers to become great writers in English. For example:

1. Practice writing as much as possible.

I would give this advice to any writer, but non-native speakers have it much harder because they’re sadly having to compete against native speakers. 

So, practicing as often as possible will really help to improve their grasp of the language (depending on how well they can speak, write and understand English already), while also perfecting their writing skills, creative or formal.

2. Read as much as possible.

I encourage any writer or aspiring author to read as much as possible, especially in the area they wish to write in. 

But I strongly recommend that non-native speakers read as many books, articles, or even the subtitles on the TV as much as they can because it will get them used to the language they’re hoping to improve, and any words or phrases they don’t understand, they can research and hopefully learn. 

However, as everyone learns differently, some non-native speakers may find it easier to listen to audiobooks, watch films or TV shows with native-speaking actors, or interact with people in the real world to improve their language and writing skills. 

Whichever way is easiest, I would definitely advise non-native speakers to engage with the native language as much as possible so they can learn from native speakers.

3. Take an online writing course.

I wouldn’t have been able to launch my business and do what I love without courses, and I wouldn’t know as much about the craft of creative writing if I didn’t invest in a mixture of online courses. 

So, I do really recommend taking at least one course that specializes in the type of writing you’re hoping to pursue (copywriting, ghostwriting, blogging, etc.). 

If you’re specifically looking for a novel writing course that teaches you everything you need to know about the writing process, from start to finish, feel free to check out The Ultimate Novel Writing Masterclass.

4. Invest in an editor.

Obviously, the book editor (me) would encourage others to hire an editor. But seriously, learning from someone who specializes in polishing words is a great way to improve your own English. 

Editors usually have degrees and have taken multiple courses, so finding one you trust is a great way to learn and get better.

5. Don’t lose courage just because you’re a non-native speaker.

The world is full of people who discriminate against anyone who’s different. But it’s important to try and keep your head up even if you’ve been knocked back for being a non-native speaker. 

As said before, people are quick to assume that non-native speakers can’t speak or write a word of English, but we obviously know that’s a false assumption. So, make sure you always push through and try your absolute best.

As a native speaker, do you consider yourself a good writer?

I consider myself a relatively good writer because I’ve been writing for years and have therefore had a lot of practice. But that has nothing to do with being a native speaker, in my opinion. 

Yes, native speakers get a head start because they’re taught to write, speak, and understand the English language from a young age. But a non-native speaker can be as good a writer as a native speaker if they practice and work on clarity and coherence. 

So yes, it’s been easier for me, in a sense, because English is my mother tongue. But I don’t think being a native speaker makes me, or anyone, a good writer. 

Take my mum and one of my best friends, for example. English is also their first language, but they’ve always considered writing and storytelling to be a weakness of theirs because their brains are wired for maths and science.

How about you?

What are your thoughts about Chelsea’s response to the existing issues most non-native speakers face in the writing industry? 

Feel free to share them in the comment section below. You may also leave questions there. I would love to read them. 🙂

About Chelsea Terry

Chelsea Terry of Stand Corrected Editing, a UK-based independent editorial business.

Chelsea is a book editor and proofreader at Stand Corrected Editing, her independent editorial business in the UK that provides editing services for writers and aspiring authors. 

If you’re looking for an affordable book editor who will polish your manuscript with passion, feel free to visit her website. Follow her latest updates on Instagram and Pinterest. 

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4 thoughts on “Here’s The Biggest Writing Problem Among Non-Native Speakers – Editor Tells All!”

    1. Thank you for leaving this wonderful comment on the post. I worked so hard on this topic because I know Chelsea’s input will help us emotionally as non-native speakers. I’m glad it did. 🙂 Keep writing, Nila.

      1. Your welcome! It was the least I could do to thank you. And I sign for your free course too, but I couldn’t see the course videos:(  what should I do?

        1. Hey, Nila. Don’t worry. The lessons will be accessible on the 30th of June. I’m still working on the last few lessons of the first module. The second and third modules, on the other hand, will be followed up. By the way, I sent you an email, too. So, you can check it out, too, for more. 🙂 Thank you for enrolling in while the course is still on the early bird access. 🙂

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