How do you write copy that captivates, connects with and converts people when you’re writing in their second language?
This is a super important question for anyone targeting an international audience, but none more so than language teachers.
Because while most business owners are selling to people with an advanced understanding of English, the heroes who help them reach that level — teachers — must speak to those who are still learning.
And as you probably know, that adds an extra layer of difficulty to an already complicated task.
Now, here’s the good news:
Writing copy for an international audience isn’t that different to writing copy for anyone else.
Sure, you need to pay closer attention to your word choice and sentence structure (among other things) — but the basic principles of copywriting still apply.
Just like everyone else using the internet, your ideal students don’t want to read big walls of text, decipher hidden messages or decode sentences longer than their arms.
They aren’t reading your copy to challenge themselves; they’re reading it to decide whether or not to buy your product or service.
And as the language teacher turned copywriter, it’s your job to help them do that by telling them what they need to know in words they understand.
Now, here are 11 tips for writing copy an international audience will understand.
1. Break your copy into manageable chunks
This is copywriting 101. Unlike academic articles or books, copy should be short, sweet and easy to skim read. Bullet points, short sentences and snappy paragraphs make your words less overwhelming, which is important for any reader but especially those reading in their second language.
Try to keep most sentences shorter than 20 words and paragraphs no longer than a few lines.
2. Omit any unnecessary filler words
You know, like, the kind of words that fill up sentences but don’t really say that much at all.
These words are great for creating a conversational tone and adding personality to your writing. But use them sparingly to avoid overcomplicating your message and losing your reader. When it comes to writing copy for an international audience, clarity comes first. Use adverbs and adjectives to add context and meaning, but do so only when it truly adds value.
x I believe that everyone should learn a language in order to better understand different cultures.
✓ Everyone should learn a language to better understand different cultures.
3. Use the active voice
Passive voice complicates sentences and requires readers to think harder to understand the meaning. The result? Confusion, which is the enemy of conversion.
Make sure your sentences are easy to read by writing in the active voice. Avoid passive filler words like was, were, is, and are so your copy is shorter, sharper and more engaging.
Passive voice can sneak into our writing when we least expect it. Check yours by putting your words through Hemingway App — a free tool that measures the readability of your copy.
x This book was written by me.
✓ I wrote this book.
4. Avoid complicated phrasal verbs
Phrasal verbs are great for creating a conversational tone and adding more specific meaning to your copy. But as you know, they’re also super confusing for many English language learners thanks to their mind-boggling word order and multiple meanings.
Unless you’re writing for an advanced audience (say, C1 and above), you’ll need to carefully consider which phrasal verbs you use and how often. Else you risk confusing the reader to the point where they decide it’s easier to just find another teacher.
x We will break down difficult grammar rules.
✓ We will look at difficult grammar rules.
5. Use familiar tenses and verb forms
English verb tenses and forms can be tricky for learners to grasp due to their irregularities and nuances.
Most of the time, we write copy in the present tense or simple perfect. But sometimes, you might need to use the conditional, past simple or subjunctive to express certain ideas.
If that’s the case, just be mindful of which tenses your readers are already comfortable with. There’s no point expressing something that the reader won’t understand.
x If you had more time, you would study every day.
✓ You don’t have time to study every day.
6. Use a simple sentence structure
We tend to overcomplicate sentences when trying to sound *professional*. This might sound fancy to us, but it sounds like a headache waiting to happen to English learners.
Make sure they can slip through your sentences without popping a paracetamol by using the Subject-Verb-Object structure as often as possible.
x A key part of language learning is grammar.
✓ Grammar is a key part of language learning.
7. Remove idioms and metaphors
Idioms and metaphors can help enrich your copy, simplify complex concepts and make your message memorable… but only if your audience fully understands what you’re saying. If they don’t, these handy rhetorical devices act as a barrier between you and the reader.
It’s important to remember that metaphors and idioms are often understood in a wider cultural context — and if your audience isn’t familiar with what you’re referring to, they may just think you’re speaking rubbish.
So, before deciding whether to include one, consider:
- What level your audience is at — will they have learnt this phrase before?
- What their native language is — do they use a similar phrase that will aid their understanding?
- Will this simplify the topic or will they understand it better in more direct language?
It’s absolutely okay to use metaphors and idioms when writing for a second language audience — just make sure to choose them wisely.
x I couldn’t wrap my head around how to use the conditional tense.
✓ I couldn’t understand how to use the conditional tense.
8. Avoid ambiguity
This is a solid rule for any kind of copy, but it’s especially important when writing for an audience in their second language.
Be as specific as possible to make sure your reader understands exactly what you want to convey. Describe situations in detail, choose words that have clear meanings and make sure pronouns (he, she, it, they, etc.) have clear antecedents, so readers can easily identify who or what you’re referring to.
x Sarah and her friend Rebecca studied English together, which she found really motivating.
✓Sarah found studying English with her friend Rebecca really motivating.
9. Repeat key messages
Make sure your copy includes one main point, and repeat that several times. The clearer and more straightforward your message, the easier it will be to understand.
That’s not to say you should use the same phrases over and over, though. Instead, create a list of sentences that say the same thing in different ways and scatter them throughout your web pages or emails to consistently reinforce home your point.
10. Use plain English
This tip applies no matter who you’re writing to. Copy is designed to be understood — and that means writing in plain and simple language.
Just be careful not to patronise your reader. There’s a fine line between simplifying your message and speaking to them like they’re stupid. And you don’t wanna do that.
x Our school caters to individuals at all proficiency levels, seeking to refine their language skills.
✓ Our courses help you improve your French, no matter your level.
11. Write like a notification
If you’re ever unsure how to simplify your copy, check the notifications from any app on your phone. Apps have some of the smallest, strictest word count limitations, which means UX (user experience) writers must write fluff-free, direct messages.
This style is useful when writing calls to action, giving instructions or creating course module descriptions.
x After you receive your confirmation email, click the link to join the Facebook group.
✓ Click the link in your confirmation email to join the Facebook group.
In conclusion? Writing copy for an international audience is easier than it sounds.
Yes, it takes a bit more thought and attention. But let’s face it — as a language teacher, you have an advantage over every other business owner out there.
You know better than anyone how to communicate with students at different levels. Writing copy is just like talking to your ideal students, only on paper. Or a screen. You get what I mean.
If you want more tips on writing copy for a non-native audience, here’s how I can help:
1. Join my email list for free weekly copywriting and marketing tips.
2. Grab the Level Up Launch Templates for level-specific launch copy templates that your people will actually understand.