Thursday, March 21, 2013

Little Known Ways to Be a Better Writer Abroad


Writer Abroad recently had a yearly review. Since it was the first one she’s ever had after working abroad as a copywriter in Switzerland for almost seven years, it forced her to consider her job and everything she thought it would be seven years ago and wasn’t.

When you take a job abroad, even if it’s the same job description and title as you had in your home country, you will need skills you didn't consider. Because while your job description might be English copywriting and your title might be English Copywriter, you will probably also be expected to be an editor, translator, proofreader, and God of Grammar.

For example, people in your office abroad will expect you to be a grammar whiz. You speak English. You write English. You must be able to define every part of speech that ever hit a sentence. You must be a slave to spelling. You must have an internal thesaurus that instantly spits out alternative phrases for “high-quality products.” You must be able to recognize that someone is saying “salon” when they are pronouncing it “saloon.”

People want you to edit, but you’re not an editor. They want you to translate but you’re not a translator. They want you to read briefings and client emails in a language you weren't hired to work in. They want you to explain the difference between speciality and specialty on the spot. They want you to write in British English when you’re an American or vice versa. They want humor but they don’t get yours. They want something with a twinkle in the eye, but their example is anything but sparkly.

The list goes on and on.

So how can you become a better writer abroad? Here, after seven years in the trenches of various Swiss ad agencies, are Writer Abroad’s six conclusions:

–Learn as much of the local language as you can. At least try to understand its spoken and written form. It may not be a job requirement, but it’s a survival requirement.  

–Take a grammar and/or editing class so when your ESL colleague tells you she wants you to use present perfect, you’re not left Googling your own grammar.

–Recognize puns and plays on words and don’t use them in an international setting unless you enjoy that glazed over look from your peers.

–Try to learn basic differences between British and American English, or at least recognize typical spelling differences and usage differences (such as how to write a date correctly in each).

–Learn what people find funny in your host culture so when they say use humor you know what they mean.

–Accept that English in an international setting–especially English that needs to be translated into other languages–will not always be as creative as you want it to be.

Anyone else have thoughts on how to be a better writer abroad?

35 comments:

  1. Really interesting post, Chantal. Sounds like you have, and are in, a rather challenging position. If I'm ever in the position of being a Writer Abroad, or I ever need to counsel a student who is seeking to do that, I'll pass on your advice. Your post reminds me of a funny story a teacher of mine from grad school like to tell. He's speciality was Medieval Literature and for a time he lived and taught in Germany. Instead of just being accepted as medievalist, however, he suddenly was called upon to be the American Studies guru! Medieval Lit is about as far away as you can get from American Studies. But I guess it's kind of natural this would happen, and he made the best of it.

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  2. To be honest, I think it’s a gamble when you decide to work for private schools or companies. It may be rewarding it the end but I wouldn't recommend doing so, especially when it comes to a different country. You need to know certain people or come up with a legal agreement beforehand. For example my sister got defrauded by some printing company and had to use help of my essay writers online to make sure she meets the deadline. This whole situation could be avoided if she had checked the history of that company. Ann

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