My computer pings as an email pops up in my inbox. A list of job advertisements from LinkedIn. ‘Gesucht: Texter, deutsch/english’. I am tempted to reply to one of these ads. Not to apply for a job, but to advise them not to waste their time with their search.
Finding an excellent copywriter can be a challenge. Finding a copywriter in Germany who writes in English is even harder. Finding a copywriter in Germany who writes in both English and German is next to impossible.
Why? Because copywriting is not easy in your native language. If it were, companies wouldn’t hire people like me.
Writing copy in a foreign language, even one in which you are fluent, is exceptionally challenging.
If you were to hear me speak, you might think I am German. I even have a local Franconian accent. When we exchange emails, you’ll see, however, that my grammar and syntax in German is not perfect. And writing emails in a way that others understand is very different from writing persuasive copy.
The difference between bilingual & multilingual copywriters
We often use the terms ‘multilingual copywriting’ and ‘bilingual copywriting’ interchangeably as there is no real definition for them, but as a rule, professional copywriters and translators write only in their native languages.
If you are a company looking to hire a marketing generalist who can write copy in both English and German, you are likely to be disappointed. I won’t say that there are no bilingual copywriters in Germany, but they are rare. And they are unlikely to be looking for an entry-level marketing job if they have this specific set of skills! There is a much higher chance of you finding a multilingual copywriter in Germany, though many of us work freelance.
But can’t a non-native speaker write English texts?
Yes, of course, they can. But it will never be as good, as fluent, and as professional as texts written by a native English speaker. Here’s what will be missing:
The advantages of using a multilingual copywriter
A broad vocabulary and a feeling for the language
You don’t need to use lots of long, complicated words when writing good copy, but you do need an extensive vocabulary to mix things up a bit. If you always use the same adjective, such as ‘excellent’ or ‘huge’, your text will be a bit boring and bland.
You also need to be able to recognise the subtle differences between words, e.g., ‘features’ and ‘functions’. I come across these regularly, as I have several clients in the software industry. A non-native English speaker is unlikely to have this insight, even if they lived in the UK or the US.
And you need to know when to use which words. In the previous paragraph, I initially wrote, ‘You need to be able to discern the subtle difference between words’. I changed it to ‘recognise‘ because many of my readers and most of my clients are non-native English speakers. I want you to understand me, not to be opening dict.cc in another tab to look up unfamiliar words! I have years of experience writing for non-native speakers which helps me to decide which words to use.
An ability to spot Denglish and avoid using it
What’s Denglish? It is DEutsch-eNGLISH. When words or grammar structure of both languages are mixed in one sentence, or when a German sentence has been translated word for word. I can always recognise the original German text from a Denglish text. Take the following translation. The English text was clearly translated by a non-native speaker, most likely using an online translation tool.
I could have another rant about the use of English swearwords in Germany, but I’ll link to my previous blog post on this topic. Cultural understanding goes beyond no cursing in your marketing copy.
The first thing I do with a new client is to gain an understanding of the target audience. Is the audience in the UK or the US? Is it an international audience, communicating via the universal language of English? Can I use local colloquialisms?
In a translation for a tourist brochure, for example, I noticed that the copy stated the service was available from the ‘Osterferien bis zum Ende der Herbstferien’. I noted to the client that foreign tourists wouldn’t know the dates of the Bavarian school holidays – even tourists from other areas of Germany might not know this! Not to mention that tourists from different cultures might not know the dates of Easter.
The ability to write CLEAR, CONCISE & COMPELLING copy
I have a post-it note on my computer with the words ‘CLEAR CONCISE COMPELLING’ on it. Why? Because it’s my aim when I’m writing copy.
Clear – klar und deutlich – if you have to reread what I’ve written four times to understand it, I’ve not done a good job. Clarity is especially important when I’m writing about complex topics or explaining something technical to a non-techy audience.
Concise – prägnant, kurz und bündig – when I finish writing, I do a final edit
. This is when I to remove any additional, unneeded words.
Compelling – überzeugend – I want your potential customer to take the next step, whether it is downloading a white paper to provide you with a lead, signing up for a webinar, or arranging a sales call.
I couldn’t do this in German. I just don’t have the same connection to the German language as I have to my native language. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. But not enough to fill all the positions being advertised.
Are you looking for a ‘Texter/in deutsch/englisch’ ?
If you want a permanent member of staff and have a large content requirement, then my best advice is to hire a really great German copywriter who speaks fairly good English. I’d aim for B2 Level if possible as that will make communication with the translator most efficient. And then have an experienced German>English translator transcreate the content into English.
If you only need occasional content (a couple of blog posts and some social media posts a month), then you might find it more cost-effective to hire a freelance multilingual copywriter to create your English texts. Especially if these texts don’t need to be translated into German.
Have discussions on the content of your texts in YOUR native language. Don’t try and explain complicated concepts in English. That’s why you are hiring a copywriter or translator.