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Speak another language? You could offer multilingual copywriting

Fuschia Hutton

Fuschia Hutton

Perhaps you have dormant language skills that you haven’t rolled out since university. Or maybe you’ve always spoken another language, but you’ve never thought about using it professionally. Or maybe you’re learning a language for fun and travel.

But what if you could tap into those budding language skills to diversify and carve out a copywriting niche?

What is multilingual copywriting?

Let’s be clear. I’m not a fan of the term ‘multilingual copywriting’. It’s not particularly clear and says different things to different people.

In a nutshell, multilingual copywriting is a service where you liaise with your client in your second language, but produce copy in your native language.

It’s a huge benefit to overseas clients who want to target a specific market. We all know customers want to buy in their own language. That’s what keeps us on our toes as copywriters. Multilingual copywriting gives clients a bridge between what’s in their heads – the brief – and what they want –English copy.

Perhaps the client doesn’t want a translation of something that already exists in their own language. Or maybe they have grander plans for their English-language copy.

Your offering could take you many places. From copy for hotels targeting English tourists, to blogging for social media influencers. Writing for luxury brands that can’t afford to get their message wrong is another potential option.

Just how good does your second language need to be?

This is a tricky one, and will depend on you, your market, your confidence and your other skill sets. A GCSE is Spanish is unlikely to cut it. But if that’s your level, there is no reason to think you can’t get there with motivation, help, determination, and heaps of practice.

I know people who started learning a language as a retirement hobby and have reached an impressive level. It’s never too late.

The key thing here is that your passive skills – your listening and reading – need to be top-notch. If you can’t understand the client, then providing this service will be impossible.

But don’t feel your speaking skills in your second language need to be flawless. If you can communicate confidently and your spoken skills are around C1 (about university level) in the European language framework, there’s no reason why you can’t use your language skills to add value for international clients.

The first time I had a client call in Italian, I was terrified. Would the client spot my grammar mistakes? Would my English accent put them off? Would I freeze and say something ridiculous? In the end, it was fine.

After the call, it dawned on me… the client wasn’t interested in me speaking flawless (or not!) Italian. She just wanted to be able to communicate in her own language, be understood, and get compelling copy that would work in the UK market.

Don’t underestimate the power of English!

Native English speakers occupy a privileged position at this time in history. English is the dominant language across most of the world, and used as a lingua franca.

I’ve even heard of Italian and German brands contracting native English copywriters to create English ‘master copies’ to be transcreated (have their message adapted in other languages).

But savvy business owners realise that it’s not enough to create the English copy themselves, so they need people like us to advise and do it for them.

At the same time, the number of native English copywriters who speak a second language are relatively low. So, it’s a relatively unsaturated market.

Finally, as linguists, multilingual copywriters tend to be particularly aware of non-native speakers’ experiences. That means they are well-placed to create English copy for those who speak it as a second, third, or even fourth language.

What other opportunities for diversification are there for multilinguals?

Multilingual copywriting isn’t the only option left for multilinguals.

Bilingual copywriting is a service where the copywriter has equal proficiency in more than one language and can provide fabulous copy in both.

Beware! This route is more suited to those who are truly bilingual, either through schooling in more than one country, or going through a bilingual school system. Even highly-trained translators don’t usually translate into their non-native language.

Translation is an obvious branch. But I’d encourage anyone interested in this area to learn the ropes first. Translation is a much more difficult task than it often seems from the outside, so further study is essential.

Transcreation is often described as a mix of copywriting and translation, and its demand is constantly rising. Unlike translation which transmits the same message in a new language, transcreation also adapts copy for cultural purposes. The visuals and other creative elements like an advert’s storyline are altered.

I hope I’ve given you some inspiration on how to capitalise on the foreign language skills you have, and to see that they can be a huge boon to potential clients.

What do you think?

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