Writing Great Web Content In English (When English Isn’t Your First Language)

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Do you have an English language website? Are you not quite fluent in English?

Then guess what: there’s an elephant in the room. Actually, there’s an elephant on every single page of your website.

The English language expression “an elephant in the room” refers to a situation when there’s something obviously wrong about how you present yourself but no one mentions it for fear of embarassing you.

For instance, if you are attending a funeral with your fly wide open and your shirt sticking out, there’s an elephant in the room.

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Do you have an elephant on your website? If you struggle speaking English, chances are you do. To an English-speaking visitor, your web content probably sounds “not quite right.”

Now don’t feel bad. I’ve seen plenty of web content written by native English-speakers that reads poorly. Some people just don’t know how to write.

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But you do know how to write. You’re fluent in your own language and you’ve worked hard to develop fluency in English. I’ve been contacted by numerous non-native English speakers at my own website who ask, “How can I learn to write web content like you?”

They can’t. I’ve been speaking English since birth and writing professionally for nearly 20 years.

But why would they want to write like me? Why would they want to write like anyone other than themselves? You see, here’s the thing about elephants in the room:

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If you acknowledge them, they tend to go away.

It’s true! When you don’t acknowledge the elephant in the room, people tend to roll their eyes and whisper behind your back. They think you don’t know how you sound. You don’t know how you write.

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But if you do acknowledge the elephant, all of a sudden you’re accepted! And liked! And if you can acknowledge the elephant with humor, even better. Visitors are much more comfortable with a host who is capable of laughing at him or herself! In fact, they will probably begin to find your English and your web content “charming.”

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Instead of “broken.”

Wouldn’t that be great?

So how do I acknoledge the elephant?

There are as many ways to acknowledge the elephant as there are websites and web authors. You could say,

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“I hope my English is not hurting your ears.”

Thought it might be funnier to say,

“I hope my English is not hurting your brain.”

Or you could mix it up a little, to make it still more awkward:

“I hope your brain is not hurting from my English.”

You could also say,

“Think of me as your New York cabdriver. If I could speak better English, wouldn’t you wonder why I didn’t have a better job?”


“Please feel free to laugh at my English. That is how I will know you are still there.”

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These are all just examples. You will surely do better and be more convincing if you write them yourself. Also, you probably want to acknowledge the elephant more than once on your website. It would be a good idea to do it near the top of all your entry pages.

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It would be even better to express it differently on each of these pages.

Something amazing happens when you acknowledge the elephant

Not only do your visitors forgive your English and learn to enjoy it (and perhaps stick around a little longer, and take a little more of your advice or buy your product), but once the elephant is acknowledged it frees you to worry a little bit less about your English.

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Why? Because you’re no longer trying to fool anyone into thinking you’re a native-speaker, which they probably didn’t believe anyway!

In fact, maybe you can have a little more fun writing your web content once you’ve acknowledged the elephant. You might even choose to make your English a little more entertaining – as long as you’re sure it will still be comprehended.

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Of course, when writing website content, there are two types of writing that are important.

  1. The written English that your visitors will read
  2. The written English that the search engines will read

As you probably know, the search engines are looking for a certain mix of keywords and content that, to a large extent, results in ranking some websites highly and some not so highly.

If your websi
te isn’t ranking highly, you need another kind of English help than this article is offering. (And also some incoming links, of course! Visit http://value-exchange.sitesell.com/writingsuccess.html for a great way to get some.)

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I invite you to a special page on my website for some thoughts on writing excellent search engine English. See http://www.best-childrens-books.com/web-content.html.

Steve Barancik is a screenwriter with a passion for children’s books. Find out more at his web site, Best Children’s Books – Find, Read or Write, at http://www.best-childrens-books.com.

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