So What If You Don’t Write (or Speak) Perfect English?

Car on Road to Rainbow - Perfect EnglishIt’s true.

If you can’t write or speak English, you probably won’t be able to build a profitable and wildly successful website.

But that doesn’t mean that your English has to be perfect.

If you’re reading this right now, and understanding what I’m saying, you will probably do just fine.

You see, this isn’t about crafting perfect sentences or amazing people with clever wordplay.

Building websites is about delivering helpful content to people who want it.

I wasn’t born fluent in English. I had to learn the language, and I had to spend hours upon hours immersing myself in it.

When Is Your English Good Enough?

Obviously, the fewer mistakes you make, the better, but if you’re reading this, you probably do make more mistakes than you think you should, which is normal.

I’ve seen big websites that get thousands of visitors a day written by someone who obviously is not a native English speaker.

They make mistakes. Sometimes they make a lot of mistakes.

But you know what?

People still read what they have to say, and they love their website, because they teach, entertain, or both.

I’ve received several emails from people asking me about their English and almost all of them write above average.

Don’t use your level of English, whatever it may be, as an excuse. If it is not good enough, then get better at it, but don’t think it’s a problem, because it isn’t.

How I Learned English Watching Cartoons

When I was around seven years old, I used to come home from school on those chilling winter evenings, and I would sit my little self on the couch to watch cartoons.

This was almost two decades ago, so the cartoons were in English without subtitles.

I loved to watch cartoons, so I sat there for up to 4 hours per day, almost every day, and that is how my love affair with English began.

I later started reading in English.

I watched movies in English, again without subtitles.

When I got a decent internet connection, I started playing a text-based multi-user game all in English.

You learn English by immersing yourself in the language, so if you want to get better: start reading, watching, listening to English as much as possible.

What About Writing in a Non-English Language?

Yes, it is possible to create a profitable website in languages such as Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, or even German.

I personally do not have experience in doing this, but I know several people who are doing very well.

The larger your language, the better your chances are, obviously.

For example, Spanish and Portuguese are big up and comers online, and the competition is still very weak.

The problem arises if you’re going to do affiliate marketing and most of the products are English. If your audience doesn’t speak or read English, you lose.

There are ways around this. There always are.

5 Ways to Improve Your English, Fast

And just to sum it up, I’ll leave you with five incredibly simple ways to improve your English.

They may seem overly simplistic, and that’s because they are, but the more you do them, the better you get.

That’s the truth.

1. Listen. Listen to interviews, podcasts, and music. Create a double-whammy effect where you learn the language, and you learn how to build a website by seeking out interviews about the topic. Listen to the same interview several times.

2. Read. It has been said many times before: if you want to become a good writer, read a lot. Read what you’re interested in, and do it every day. Avoid reading in your native language if possible. More English!

3. Watch. If you’re a beginner and not entirely confident with your English, this is where I would start. I would begin by watching TV-series and movies without subtitles. You will learn without subtitles, trust me on this. If you decide to use subtitles anyway, don’t blame me for your lack of progress ;)

4. Write. Begin writing as much as you can, and don’t worry about if you think your grammar or structure sucks, because you’ll think that anyway, even if your English is fine. Muster up some courage and start a website, or write privately on your computer, but make sure you write!

5. Speak. This step is optional. If you’re not interested in doing audio interviews or video on your website, then you don’t have to focus on the speaking part. If you want to be a writer, then focus on the writing.

There are no obstacles and there are no excuses (okay there are, but maybe just 8).

That may be easy for me to say, but I face my own problems day in and day out. If I were to stop at the first sign of trouble, where would I end up?

Are you going to let this determine what you want to do, or are you going to take a different path this time?

Image by David

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Comments

  1. Hi,

    thanks for article. I think my english isn’t disaster. I understand everything what I read and even watch (I watch movie with english subtitles) or listen but when I have to write something or talk. It becomes horrible. And I don’t think I can improve just by writing blog because who gonna say me what I did wrong? How can I know my grammar is correct? My readers could just tolerate it and don’t bother telling me about that.

    I also think I suck at languages. Not only at english. Because I do a lot of mistakes even with my native language.

    I wasn’t so lucky to have cartoons in english. Everything in my country is dubbed in native language and it is impossible to watch something in TV what would be in english. Now it isn’t a problem anymore but when I was kid. It was.

    Do you think, you have some tips for me? Besides what you’ve wrote in your article?

    • Having a belief that you suck at languages will definitely hold you back. Learning new languages is a skill and the more you learn, the better you get.

      Get creative and think about what kind of resources you have. Maybe you could get a few friends that are good in English to help you out, or even join a site like SharedTalk.com or LiveMocha.com where you can exchange languages, or what about getting a teacher?

      I’d say to keep immersing yourself in English as much as possible. Keep reading if you can’t find any of the above, because your brain will start soaking up the structure of the language, and you will get a feel for what’s right and what’s not.

  2. Nice one Henry, I´m sure it will make people make up their mind if they are still unsure whether to do a business in English or not.

    Before starting my blog, I was tempted to do it in Portuguese (I`m Brazilian), but when I thought about the products to sell, and the fact that I like to browse in English, I took the chance.

    I know I make a lot of mistakes. My firsts posts were corrected by friends and to each of them there were plenty of corrections ;) So I know that since I haven´t had anyone to check on my texts they must have lots of errors, but the message I want to spread is there, that´s matters.

    • I remember we talked about this. I’ve been looking at what you’ve been up to these past few months and I have to say, you’re doing a great job!

      And I completely agree with you: improve your English along the way and get the message out.

  3. Hey,

    We talked a bit about this when we met, and you’re definitely right. Don’t know why but I see myself reflected in this post ;)

    Keep rocking!

    • Yes we did!

      It’s so easy to underestimate your language skills. The best way to test if you’re fears are grounded in reality is to try it out and get real feedback.

      Or you could just outsource everything ;)

  4. Good points Henry….This is an important post, seeing as in this is a dilemma for many people starting a business-online or not. I speak 3 languages like they are my mother tongue, and 2 other languages in a semi-fluent way….I think what helps is definitely listening and more listening…watching movies and cartoons in that language. Especially cartoons, since they are more basic in the language.

    And also, funnily enough, not ‘thinking’ too much about it. I’ve found that my linguistic ‘break-throughs’ come when the listening is an open space in my mind. Not trying to frantically translate in my mind, or frantically thinking about the sentence structure etc. When my mind is receiving the language without the barrier of my thoughts trying to put it all together, it somehow falls into place and there begins to be ‘understanding’.

    I think your tip about reading and listening to things to do with your business is great. Sometimes you don’t need to learn the entire spectrum of a language. You can concentrate on the vocabulary of your own business or niche (to begin with). For example, I did a lot of business in India, and I learned the Hindi I needed to do business with, I couldn’t hold a conversation on philosophy or anything, but I held my own within my own niche.

    • I’ve discovered the same thing; when I relax, everything goes much smoother. When you’re watching TV (without subtitles), you don’t have to strain your brain to try and translate everything.

      You won’t understand much, especially in the beginning, so just focus on the images and try to figure out what’s going on, just like you did when you were a child.

      Awesome tips on concentrating on a piece of the language!

  5. Regarding Movies and TV with subtitles:

    If you’re a starter in English, Henri is right: subtitles in your own languages can make your brain lazy and you won’t learn from it.

    However, if you have a decent level of working understanding, a movie with subs is a fantastic to increase your understanding on autopilot.

    Just sit back and let it happen. You’ll get into it and you’ll end up being awed by how your brain connects sound and text on a semi-subconscious level.

    • I humbly disagree, Martin.

      I would never put in subtitles. Not in the beginning, and not when you’re advanced. That’s what works for me.

      Hope you’re keeping Spain in one piece over there!

  6. As a native English speaker, one of the best ways I enhanced my own writing/language skills was through instant messaging and playing MUSH’s back in the day (think more role-playing than hack-‘n’-slash MUDs). When you are forced to communicate in a written manner, you get exposed to new words, new phrases, and you get to write them yourself right away. I agree that reading books, blogs, magazines can help you learn but only if you pick up modern books first. Reading Charles Dickens or Shakespeare can be difficult for even us native speakers.

    Learning French was a requirement when I went through the education system (I think now they have the option of Spanish, German, etc. in larger schools). The best way for me to become more comfortable with it was watching the news in French with French subtitles. It helped if I watched a national broadcast in English first so I could prepare myself a bit for what was to come. By watching it in French with the French subtitles, I was able to learn the phrases and get used to the flow of the spoken language.

    • Excellent points, James!

      In the end we have to find out what works for us and the strategies will differ from person to person.

  7. I have a thing for languages (I speak 5 of them). I’ve always learned them easily and effortlessly, but that doesn’t mean I never make mistakes and that I can always remember the right phrase that I need. Don’t stop yourself if you don’t speak perfect English. I believe you can improve your language by blogging. Why? Because you are trying to express your opinion which is always about something else. You will have to stretch your vocabulary and learn new words as you write more. Phrases and other forms will come to you naturally as you read and, as Henri said, immerse yourself into the language you are trying to learn.

    On the note of whether your website should be in English or not…it really depends what you are trying to achieve, how much work you are willing to put in and how many followers you want. Of course that the more people speak the language, the more options you will have, but some websites/businesses can work really well in any language. I know of a few websites that have about a million hits a month and one that was sold for A LOT of money, all written in Croatian. For comparison, Croatia has around 5 million people.

    • Excellent stuff, Stella.

      I completely agree that you can create awesome and profitable sites in almost any language, but each language has different factors. Some nations are easier than others. It all depends.

  8. Thanks for this post!
    English is my second language and this is why I’ve been postponing writing a blog in English for ages. I assumed that people would immediately spot that my English is not perfect and that it would turn them off. So I never even bothered trying. But finally, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to give it a go. I started a blog. In English. I’ll see how it goes. Whoever reads ‘About’ page on my blog will know I wasn’t born in English speaking country, and if that bothers them let them be :)

    • People may notice that you aren’t English, but it doesn’t matter. There are tons of websites out there that are clearly written by non-English writers, but they do just fine.

  9. I have been pondering about this earlier and have finally realized, that when writing your blog, it may not be that big of a deal after all (if you don’t write perfect English).

    I’m about to start with my blogging soon and I have been thinking about of writing it in Finnish. But then, there are only “handful” of people that can understand what I’m writing about, so English is a natural choice.

    However, I believe that this is a different story when you are creating a product (e-book or such), that you are going to sell. In those cases I feel that you should let some one else to proofread it first.

    Timo

    • Well yeah, if you’re unsure about your writing then it definitely doesn’t hurt to get someone to proofread it.

      I know many English natives who get people to proofread their work. Sometimes it’s just hard to spot your own errors.

  10. Archan Mehta says:

    Henri,

    It has been well-documented that a people from a lot of different countries/cultures resent the fact that English is the lingua franca, especially the French.

    So, it is important to learn foreign languages. You have pointed this out through your own struggles and that’s just great about you.

    Learning languages other than our mother or father tongue enables us to empathize with people who are different from us in terms of origin and tastes and sensibilities. This is really necessary in a global age.

    Those who choose to remain insulated from such global trends would probably find the world a boring place. Sometimes, you have to leave your comfort zone to discover new vistas of possibilities. Luckily, we have hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects to choose from, so take your pick. I wish everyone a wonderful and rewarding linguistic journey. Cheers.

  11. Good one, Martin!

    I am writing in German and translate it into English and I was shortlybefore ginving up the English blog. But I don’t know how it will turn out, maybe I will get famous for a bilingual blog?

    I have to overcome a few obstacles like how can I integrate the two of them so all of my readers reach the blog easily? I started with wordpress.com and it took me a few weeks to find out that I can’t make money from it, so I started to move the German one, but there’s o way to integrate the English one and blablabla.

    What I want to say is, if you want to achieve somethig really badly, you’ll find a way. If you want to make money from blogging find a way to write in English! Or find a way to make money in your own language. Nothing happens from complaining. Everything happens from DOING!

    Thanks and have a very happy Christmas!

    • Thanks Tanja!

      Nice blog you have there! Are you on twitter?

      • Thanks Martin!

        Just posted a new one!
        You find me on twitter: tanjaadamski. I’d be glad to be followed by you!
        But it’s even less than the blog. I am lazy on Twitter because I watch it and most of the A-List-guys just blow out random stuff, sorry, no offence to anybody here. They speak of content all the time and then what?

        • Oooh, now that’s a strong bit of point you make there Tanja. I know what you mean, there are so many big names who just bleat whatever link or complaint comes up. I just unfollow them when they bore me, no matter how A-list they are.

          After that, I’m left with a small group of pretty awesome people. Like Henri, though he doesn’t seem to tweet much these days.

          Maybe his fingers are too frozen.

          Henri? Hey, Henri? Just nod if you can hear me, k?

  12. Hi Henri!
    You’re absolutely right. I started to blog in english in March and when I see how many times I had to check a word in dictionary then and how often I do it now, I see a great difference. Hopefuly it will continue.

    About a month ago I started to make YouTube vids in english. It was first time I’ve heard myself recorded. Oh my! I just couldn’t believe – Am I speaking like that? It’s good that most natives are understanding and tolerant. I was ashamed but lately I needed to make a vid against giving puppies as a Christmas gift, and that just changed my opinion. It was too important to make excuses!

    And about cartoons – I had similar story, I’ve learned to understand german by watching my fav sci-fi series. For over two years I could only see it on one of german channels. While I wouldn’t wrote a single word, I can understand most everyday phrases.

    Your “5 Ways to Improve Your English, Fast” list is so true! This year I had listened to several audiobooks while getting to and from work, have read all Potter books, I watch movies and TV series in english, write a blog for over 8 months and now I’m starting to speak. And I intend to improve on that soon!

    Have a Marry Christmas, and thank you ;)

    Andrzej

  13. This is a really nice post, Henri. I think this is very timely since a lot of people from various countries are trying to get published both online and offline. As someone whose native tongue is not English, getting to a point where I can speak and write in decent English took a lot of hard work. Your tips on how to improve English skills are awesome. They’re simple yet effective. On my part, reading a lot of books on just about anything and watching a lot of American TV shows helped me improve my English speaking and writing skills. Listening to the dialogues of the characters will really help. Most of the times, I find myself taking inspiration from the stuff I hear and watch on TV.
    Once again, you did really great!

    • Nice! I read, listen, and watch so much English that I prefer it instead of Swedish and especially Finnish, which is hell to read ;)

      • Seeing and reading a lot of American shows and books definitely helped me hone my English skills fast. I’m sure others would, too.

        I’d love to learn Swedish if given the chance. It sounds cool :)

  14. It is great to read that kind of post. I’m a french blogger and I always wrote in french because I don’t feel confident enough in my english. I read a lot in english (blogs, ebooks, forums…), and always watch americans or english movies or tv shows in english, but I have to admit that I watch them with french subtitles. Whithout subtitles, I can feel completely lost because sometimes people talk way too fast for me, but I think that english subtitles can be really helfpful…

    I think I may try to translate my posts, but I’m afraid that if I make mistakes, people will think I’m not “serious”. What do you think ?

    • Who cares?

      Let’s look at it from a different perspective: if you think one of your posts could help someone, or bring value to their life, do you think it really matters if you have a few spelling errors in your English posts? Not really. I think your English is good by the way, so rock on!

      • There’s a lot of truth in that, Henri.

        It takes a lot of guts to do it because you’ll turn off some people while you turn off others, but the ones who are turned on and tuned in are what makes your work or blog or whatever worthwhile.

        The ones who are turned off and leave? Not your audience anyway. If it’s because of language or grammar, same thing.

        The question is: Can you get your point across? If you can, you win the people who matter. The others, well they don’t matter, do they. :)

  15. Joanne Tatham says:

    Good point, guys! That will be my 2011 goal for my blog then. I already began to translate some articles, I’m very excited about this :) I won’t create a brand new blog in english, but at least when I comment on a blog in english people can read something they will understand when they click on my link !

    Thank you so much for giving me the guts to try, I’m very grateful!

    And Merry Christmas :)

  16. Hello,
    Thanks for your articles.. Nowadays, we need to learn different languages in order to understand others especially when your country consist of different races that use different languages. As for me, I need to learn English as my second language, and Chinese language in university.. I found it so difficult although I learn English since primary school. I don’t have confident to speak and write in English as there are a lot of grammar mistakes and people might misunderstand what I mean. After reading your article, I think I should start watching TV shows completely in English without subtitles. Before this, I always watch TV shows in Chinese or Japan with English subtitles and it help me a lot to improve my vocabulary as there are a lot of new word that I rarely use in daily life.. It’s fun to learn different languages and I’ll try harder to learn it all well..

    • I would definitely watch more TV shows in English, read English books, and even chat online in English. Anything to immerse yourself in the language.

      The reason I like watching TV (without subtitles) is because your brain learns from the context of what you see and attaches the new words to what it sees. It takes a while, but once it’s there, you won’t have to translate anything in your head.

      You just know what words mean, and use them.

  17. Thanks for this post. I have also considered to start blogging in English. For two reasons: to learn more English. And to make some money. You gave me inspiration to start as soon as possible. And I got a lot of inspiration and thoughts from great comments you have here!

  18. What a great post. My native language is not English and took me a while to collect the courage to start writing. I have created more than one website since ;)

    I used to ask my husband (who is American) to help me go through my posts and proof read them. And every time he did, he would say, you write as you speak, I can understand everything. So what if you don’t say something in perfect English.

    So I just stopped asking him to read and started being myself…it is working…

    Anyway, I read somewhere that you should write blog posts as a 6th grader. Everyone understands that. And I think it is the best piece of advice ever.

    Also, I waned to say that I learned “my first English” as a kid watching movies and cartoons. I learned to read as a very young kid and in my country movies had subtitles. So I learned to read really fast and at about age 5 I could manage to read all subtitles and hear the actors. Have no idea how, but I started connecting the meanings, and started speaking English. And my language has no connection to English what so ever.

    • Hey Brankica,

      Your English is awesome!

      Sounds like you learned English much the same way I did, albeit much faster, and when you were younger. Using simple language (a.k.a 6th grader style) is what I try to do as much as I can. It’s easy for me, and it’s easier on my readers.

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