You don’t have to be a native speaker to excel as a UX writer

This originally appeared in Issue 037 of UX Writing Events.

Do you think non-native speakers of a language can be good UX writers in that language?

I sure do.

I get asked some version of that question fairly often. Someone asked again just this weekend! So I thought I’d expand what I shared with that person and share it with all of you:

Yes, you’re allowed to do UX writing in a language that isn’t your first. Yes, you have something to offer your design team.

UX writing is a design specialization. Copywriting is only a small part of the UX writing skillset. As I said in Writing for Designers, sometimes being the writer on a design project doesn’t involve writing any original words at all. The job of the writer on the design team is to care the most about the words.

Not having a native speaker’s grasp of the language has its advantages. A non-native speaker might have more context, for instance, when working on content for international audiences, or content that will need to be translated into multiple languages. Additionally, a lack of familiarity with idioms and non-universal slang can help keep that stuff out of your writing, where it likely doesn’t belong, anyway.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t any disadvantages, nor that you won’t have a harder time making a case to a hiring manager or design team that you’re the best person for the job. A non-native speaker probably shouldn’t be the last and only person doing final proofreading and quality-assurance checks on critical content before it goes in front of customers. But you know what? I’m a native English speaker and I’m not really the right person to be doing that, either – proofreading is not my specialty, and I really would hate to have to stand in front of a class and explain what a participle or gerund or split infinitive is. Like many writers, I lean on style guides, Googling, and asking friends and other writers for support.

The important thing, which you are already doing by asking this question, is to be aware of the fact that there might be linguistic or cultural gaps in your skillset that can make this kind of work harder. But as long as you’re careful, thoughtful, and talking to your team often, I think you’ll be just fine!

The conclusion? UX writing is not, in fact, poetry. It’s not literature. It’s not even copywriting. It’s design. Words and writing are part of it, yes, but a full, unassailable mastery of a given language is not required. Not in my book, anyway!

(Speaking of questions frequently asked of me, I’ve started answering some UX Content FAQs on YouTube. And by some I mean one, but I’ve got more on the way. Just hit reply contact me if you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer!)

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