Blogging Successfully When English isn’t your first language [Lessons Learned]

If you want to get into blogging, but English isn't your first language, then this post is for you. I'm not a native speaker, and here's what helped me build a web publishing business in English.

The English-speaking market is possibly the best one for web publishers. Not only are platforms, templates, and plug-ins best suited for English, but affiliate programs and publishing networks prefer sites in English as well.

But what if English isn’t your first language? Can you still create niche sites and blogs and monetize them successfully?

Clearly, yes. Many successful web publishers are not native speakers of English. I’m not a native speaker of English myself. While I do have a university degree in English Literature, I fully recognize my language limitations.

My first website was in Hebrew. Focusing on a specific type of pet, I created that site from scratch, writing the content myself, and coding in HTML. That was long before WordPress came to be, mind, more than 20 years ago.

My Hebrew site soon became the no.1 site in the niche. (To be honest,  back then, there were no other sites in the niche. Talk about a wide-open blue ocean.)  Not only did it get traffic, but I was recognized as an expert in the field, going on national TV and radio, and getting interviewed for several national newspapers.

Soon enough, I realized that I could be putting the same amount of effort into creating a similar site in English. I already had the content, so why not translate these articles and build a website for the much larger English-speaking market?

I went on to do just that. Soon, my website in English became much larger, and I focused on that entirely. That site is still alive and kicking.

Should you blog in English or your native language?

Launching your first site is intimidating, even without having to deal with a language barrier. There’s so much going into starting a site; it’s certainly tempting to start one in your native language rather than face an additional layer of difficulty.

Creating your first site in your native language –

  • You can write your content without outsourcing.
  • You know your audience’s cultural nuances, and that can help you produce better content.
  • If the site succeeds, you may be able to monetize locally with direct ads sales.

However, you should consider the following –

What’s the size of your audience?

In my case, Israel has a population of just around 9 million people, and Hebrew is the first language of most people (but certainly not all). Compared to 360 million people who speak English as their first language, the Israeli market is tiny.

Of course, English isn’t the only popular language in the world. Globally, more people speak Spanish than English. If you’re thinking of starting a site in Hindi, your problem won’t be with audience size either.

What’s the potential revenue in your market

Here’s the second question to ask yourself –

What’s the purchasing power of your audience?

Getting traffic – i.e. visitors who read the articles – isn’t enough. You need to target an audience that can purchase products online.

That’s a significant consideration when choosing a niche for a site in English, too, by the way. A site about online games for kids is going to be difficult to monetize because your audience purchasing power is limited.

You need to see if there are any affiliate programs available locally and if they’re any good. You also need to look at RPM rates for that kind of traffic. Google the topic or ask in forums.

Jot down a business plan

I know this is easier said than done, but if you’re serious about making money online, you need to do this. Regardless of any language issues.

It doesn’t have to be a fancy business plan. Just run the numbers and see if and how you can turn a profit in your local market. Figure out how much traffic you’re aiming for, and what kind of RPM’s your local market has.

In many cases, traffic from third-world countries means low RPM rates. Even if you can get the traffic – would the generated revenue be worth your time? And remember, you’re trying to compare two alternatives. A site in English that addresses the English-speaking market is always an option.

Tips for running a successful site in English – when it isn’t your native language

You can definitely create your first site in English if you think that option is more lucrative compared to a site in your native language. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years doing just that.

1. Be realistic about your level of English

Don’t let the language barrier deter you, but don’t overestimate your abilities. Just because you have no problems reading texts in the English language, or watching English-speaking Youtubers, doesn’t mean your writing skills are good enough.

I’m not saying your written English needs to be perfect. I am sure I make a lot of grammar and style mistakes when I write in English. In fact, I can’t tell you just how self-conscious of my English skills I am right now, as I’m writing this post. However, many native speakers make mistakes, as well.

In some niches, a good blog post is all about finding that balance between the quality of the information you have to share and your writing skills. If you’re writing about traveling in your locality, offering genuine information that’s very difficult to find elsewhere, people will be reading through your posts even if your English is sub-par.

However, in most cases, if a post is poorly written, there are better alternatives out there for your reader. Even if they find your post via Google, they’re more likely to bounce, and that tells Google your site isn’t a good resource. So, be mindful of that. If you’re not sure, ask friends who are native speakers to review your writing.

2. Avoid translating your writing

Remember my first site in Hebrew? It had such great content that my first inclination was to just go ahead and translate existing articles into English. I hired a translator to do just that.

As it turns out, “lost in translation” is a genuine phenomenon. Even without being a native speaker myself, I could easily tell the translations weren’t good enough. I can’t put my finger on it, but for some reason, it’s nearly impossible to get the content to sound as natural when it’s translated.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the solutions.

3. Hire native-speaking writers

If your English isn’t good enough, hire a writer to generate your content. I know some people have had success with writers who aren’t native speakers of English. In many cases, these writers will gladly work for 1-2 cents per word, or even less. However, there are Americans who will write for you for 2 cents a word. Why not make the most of that?

The way I see it, there’s an advantage to a writer who shares the same world experiences with your audience.

Britain and America Are Two Nations Divided by a Common Language

That saying is usually attributed to George Bernard Shaw, and it holds today.

I’ve traveled extensively in the US (45 states so far!), but also in the UK (11 trips) and Canada (5 visits). They are all English-speaking countries, right? Sure, there are dialects and some different usage issues (especially between the UK and North America), but more than that, there are cultural differences. And while arguably, there are cultural differences between people living in NYC, Iowa, or San Diego, in my experience, they are smaller than the differences between the nations.

And so, to make sure the content on my site sounds as natural as possible for my audience, I insist on hiring native speakers of English, preferring Americans where possible, simply because the US is the largest market that my sites target.

4. Get someone to proofread your text

If you’re just starting out, hiring writers may be too expensive. If that’s the case, at the very least, get someone to proofread your posts. If you can find someone who can do this for free, that’s great. Otherwise, Fiverr has many proofreaders who will be able to help you out for $5. Of course, that only works if your writing is good enough.

You can also hire an actual editor. They are usually more expensive, but if your site is making some money and you insist on writing the texts, an editor can help you make them better. That’s often true for native speakers, by the way. I have a part-time editor who goes over the texts submitted by our writers. All of them are native speakers of American English.

 5. Use Grammarly or a similar plug-in

Grammarly is a plug-in that constantly checks your writing. Going beyond grammar issues, it checks your text for style, clarity, and engagement too. It’s a handy tool for native speakers as well, and I actually bought the pro version for my editor to use.

If you’re not a native speaker, Grammarly can help you spot those little awkward mistakes that a native speaker is less likely to make. You should consider getting it and using it all the time. Not just when writing for blogs, but also when posting in forums.

Granted, Grammarly isn’t always right. It doesn’t catch everything, and sometimes it just gets things wrong. You shouldn’t follow its advice blindly, but use it to check your writing and see where you may need to improve.

6. Improve your English by immersion

Always keep improving your language skills. I certainly try to do that. They say immersion is the best way to learn a language. For most of us, traveling to another country for the experience isn’t realistic. Fortunately, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the English language online.

It can take years, but if you’re serious about improving your English skills, it’s worth the time investment.

Don’t give up because of the language barrier

Publishing blogs/sites isn’t a get-rich-quick-scheme. It takes a LOT of time and effort to create a profitable website. No matter what your native language is, there’s a leap of faith to be made here.

If you think that web publishing is for you, don’t let the language issue come between you and your dream. There are ways to circumvent this hurdle. I hope the tips and ideas in this post can help you with that.

Can you share from your own experience? If you’re not a native speaker of English and have a successful blogging business, please leave a comment. Let me know what you think about my suggestions and share your tips. I’m always eager to learn more from others!

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