An Open Letter to ESL Writers

Carol Tice

ATTN: ESL Writers. Makealivingwriting.comThis is a hard letter to write. But I get letters from you every day, ESL writer, and I feel you deserve an answer.

You email me or hit me on Facebook, from Pakistan, or Kenya, or other points around the globe.

You’re not the rare ESL writer who’s impressively fluent, and whom I only learn from in-depth conversation wasn’t born speaking English.

No, you’re a writer who seems to think you’re fluent in English, but you aren’t. Not even close.

Despite your shaky grasp of English, you’ve fixed on the idea that freelance writing for English-speaking clients is the career for you. And you’re writing me because you want me to help you get paid writing gigs.

I’ve been working to spread hope to writers about the opportunities to earn from their craft for 8 years now. But I’m afraid today, I’m the bearer of bad news.

You probably don’t have the skills to earn a living writing in English. And I want to encourage you to stop banging your head against this brick wall before you starve.

Everyone can’t write for pay

It seems to be a popular notion that freelance writing is a wide-open field that anyone can succeed in, no matter how poor their written language skills.

At this point, I typically receive a couple of messages each day like these:

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 7.24.30 AM

Or this:

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 7.25.26 AM

And on Facebook, this:

Facebook message from ESL writer

It would be great if I had a fairy wand, and I could wave it and change the freelance marketplace so that people like these could earn a good living writing in English…but sadly, I lack those magical powers.

And paid freelance writing is for writers who are beyond competent in the language they’re writing in — they’re exceptional.

How the confusion started

In any other profession, if you’re weak in a particular skill, you would never imagine you could build your living around it. You wouldn’t think you could be an accountant if you were a D student in math, right?

But in writing, the myth persists that marginal English can somehow be turned into a decent income.

This myth arose because once — for a brief time in the beginning of Internet marketing, circa 2005-6 or so — it was true.

You could write semi-literate, SEO keyword-stuffed content for lowball websites, and they’d pay you a tiny bit. There were tons of assignments like this. If you could spin these out fast enough, it added up to at least a bare-bones living, especially in places where the cost of living is low.

But that’s long over now. This implosion in the junk-content marketplace has left ESL writers like you scrambling to find gigs. Expect there to be fewer and fewer opportunities in the future. There just isn’t a living in this anymore.

How to improve your odds as an ESL writer

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. There are still a few ways you can earn a good living online, with limited English. I’ve gone into these earning strategies in detail before, but here’s a quick summary of my tips:

  • Write in your native language — businesses there need writers, too.
  • Write for local editions of U.S. pubs — they’ll use native writers here, and be more forgiving about English flubs.
  • Hire a translator or editor — I know writers doing well this way.
  • Team up with a designer or coder who has better English skills.
  • Move into another field — say, coding, design, or photography, where the primary skill you’re offering isn’t English fluency.

Of course, there’s one more move you could make that might change your situation:

Improve your English

The denial I’ve seen from many illiterate writers about how poor their skills are is truly impressive. But if you want to earn, you’ll need to accept that you aren’t fluent — and take steps to fix the problem.

Take an English course, read books on English grammar. I know, it’s a devilishly difficult language — that’s why so many websites exclude non-native writers, because they know it’s unlikely you’ll be able to write publishable English that would help their business grow.

Realize the marketplace has changed

More than anything, I’d like ESL writers like you, who lack strong English skills, to realize that the opportunity that once existed for you in online writing is gone. Please, don’t end up living on the street by wasting time grasping for the tiny, final crumbs of article-mill work that remain!

Even content mills that used to assign hundreds of articles a day, such as Demand Media, are now down to paying just a handful of experienced, American writers good money for more sophisticated content — and many pennies-per-click sites such as Examiner have closed their doors.

It’s time to be realistic

Listening to the pleas of desperate people, all over the world, is a part of being a popular blogger that I never counted on. As an advocate for writers and for fair writer pay, it’s humbling to have to confront the fact that I can’t help everybody.

You may be a terrific writer in your native language, but as it stands, there simply is no English-language market for your services.

I won’t give you false hope about this. You likely need another type of job. Trying to be a freelance writer in a language you haven’t mastered is not going to solve your financial problems.

You are in my thoughts and prayers. I hope you’re able to find another type of work, online or off, that will sustain you.

What are the best options for ESL writers who lack strong English skills? Let’s discuss in the comments.



  1. Heather Sanders

    I firmly agree.

    I taught junior high writing for several years. When I get the emails and moderate blog comments from ESL writers, it reminds me of those preteens – enmeshed with their thesaurus, using words completely out of context. It takes years of exposure to the English language to know how to insert idioms, similes, and metaphors, much less understanding the proper context of individual words. I can’t be a Spanish writer for much the same reason.

  2. vivek chakraverty

    Dear Ms Tice,
    Have you watched Gattaca, a “native” Hollywood flick? It represents the victory of the human will, the spirit of man against insurmountable obstacles. Yes, I am a non-native English writer, and I will continue my blabberings until it makes sense. I believe in myself and my maker. I am devoted to the English language not solely because it pays me but because writing in English is a source of pleasure and posts like these a source of inspiration.

    • Carol Tice

      Vivek…you seem fluent to me (though it should be ‘until THEY make sense.’). Just take a look at the examples I gave — these are the people I’m talking to. The ones who ask me if I have any ‘advices’ on how to earn…who clearly can’t put an English sentence together.

      These writers should keep working on their English, until they can put something together more like what you’ve written here.

      • harish desai

        hi carol,
        i am a regular reader of your blogs and i have to say that i have picked up a lot from them. as i could not pick up well-paying writing gigs, i decided to start training students who were in school. in doing so, i decided to emulate your example. just as you make money teaching people writing, i started making money teaching people what i have learnt in school during my student days. although, my english too is like vivek’s, eminently passable, for an ESL writer, i smelled the coffee at the right time and decided to take the plunge in teaching. believe me, i enjoy it so much that i plan to do it for most of my waking time. i am happy to tell you that i am earning almost double in teaching than what i make writing for two clients. their rates are not befitting my 7 years experience, however, i have still kept it going so that my craft does not die down altogether. i am confident that at some stage, i will be able to earn dollars for my work.

        • Carol Tice

          I think that’s terrific, Harish! Great example of how to look in another direction and leverage stronger skills you have.

      • Abdullahi Muhammed

        Hi Carol,

        This is spot on! I’m an ESL writer from Nigeria and while my English grammar isn’t perfect, I write well enough (or so I think) to have, over the years, landed and retained dozens of satisfied clients who are native English speakers.

        My grammar used to be pretty bad, until I decided some years ago I was going to take practical steps to improve it, and went all out to do just that.

        Re: the messages you receive, I resonate with them. I get them too. The problem with some ESL writers, in my country for instance, goes beyond a lack of proficiency in English language. It’s sheer recklessness. You don’t have to be a native English speaker or have a perfect grasp of English to write “Carol” correctly or know you should not write “d” in place of “the” when you pitch a prospective client. You only need to be diligent.

        Thank you for writing this post. I still have a lot to learn and could make use of your advice on committing to improving my English.

        • Carol Tice

          I don’t have any for you, Abdullahi — you seem perfectly fluent! I sense a theme of non-native writers posting in these comments who committed to continuous improvement of their English, who write well. Hopefully a tip for everyone else!

          • Ravi

            Is he fluent? Maybe. I knew about Bamidele, who is also from his country. Whenever I read his blog posts, I believe I too can write English. Every successful non-native writer might have the same difficulties at first.

            I am writing this comment to expand the any argument. But I am disappointed with comments section. It is because you asked all of us to suggest tips and tricks to improve but nobody noticed that line.

            I have some tips and tricks to improve our language from too-basic level to next level. Can I send them to your email?

            I am asking this because I want to post them as a detailed post. And it could be a writing test for me—no, I am not asking you to test my writing—if you agree to send this to your email.

          • Carol Tice

            Ravi, I don’t generally forward other people’s writing submissions to my email list, sorry!

  3. Mia Sherwood Landau

    Wow, this took great courage and compassion to post, Carol. Congratulations, you are the brave and kind person a struggling ESL writer needs to believe. I’m learning Hebrew, but I’m sure the day will never come when I can write professionally in my new language, so I won’t try. You helped encourage me to stick to my first language today, too!

  4. Robert Blake


    As you seem in every way a kind and caring person from your core, I can imagine how hard it was writing this. Better to tell someone that unless they up their game (in this case learn to write English structurally and in nuance better), their chances of earning any meaningful income as a freelancer in the English speaking universe are slim to none.

    As a budding content marketer, I have considered outsourcing content writing sometimes to increase my client load. But I have heard many times that the experience turns out to be you have to spend so much effort editing the content, that you might as well have written it yourself from the git go.

    Although painful to deliver and some will view you advice as dream killing, you have done the kindest thing possible for most aspiring writers whose first language is not English.

    • Carol Tice

      Appreciate the support, Robert — of course, as we’re writing this, I have this conversation:

      “How do i do please? Your advice

      Me: Please read this post (LINK)

      And instead of reading the post and moving on, I get this reply:

      Him: “it is okay, next time u inform me if ready”

      Sigh. It never ends. He probably can’t understand enough English to parse this post, but on we go, pushing for help getting freelance writing work.

      • C. Hope Clark


        I receive the same. I direct folks to my submissions page at FundsforWriters, and they don’t go there. Not only is the language not up to par, but they exceed the word count or submit on topics I wouldn’t begin to accept. Then it hit me. They can’t read and understand the guidelines. I may need to do what you do . . . create an open letter to the ESL community that I link to in response to these inappropriate submissions. Thanks.

        • Carol Tice

          Feel free to use this one. 😉

        • Linda Formichelli

          I feel ya, Hope! I get the same. A lot of these emailers, though, seem to have been hired by cheap-o businesses to place SEO-type posts about their products.

          • Carol Tice

            Y E S. Often, the pitches for sponsored posts or links are completely illiterate as well! Have to wonder why they bother with that approach, does someone really agree to have them post with intros pocked with grammar errors?

        • Linda Formichelli

          Like this one I JUST received:

          We noticed that you are practicing guest blogging for your website. I believe that you are well aware of benefits of guest posting and this is the regard I contacted you.

          We want to help you to get more guest posts for you. You can visit our website [deleted] to learn more & try our service.

          If you have no idea what quest post is, Kindly forward this email to your SEO/Digital marketing agency.

          • Carol Tice

            Classic — pretty much what I get every day.

            May the era when illiterate marketing is sent out soon pass away!

          • Benjamin

            Hi, I have started to doubt some of these comments I’m reading here. If anyone is in serious business, there is no single day he/she can send such crappy requests and expect a contract.

          • Carol Tice

            Oh, but they do, Benjamin — every day. I’d love to know WHY they send them and expect a contract, but I can assure you it’s happening.

        • Linda H


          I receive these messages too. Lately, I’ve received several asking me to let them assist me to write resumes, while others want to rewrite my SEO for my website.

          One was so poorly written I replied telling him to find someone who could help him with his ESL and improve his grammar. His reply was that he had a good grasp on English and I will see his posts later and regret I didn’t hire him. NOT.

          It’s truly sad, but it’s there. I even get LinkedIn requests from ESL individuals whom I know aren’t fluent. Their profile is poorly written or just a shell and I won’t touch it.

          Carol — kudos for your post. I’m sure it was hard to write this, yet I’m confident that it served its purpose. Thanks for having the courage to write and publish it.

      • Ravi

        OMG! My English is much better than that. Isn’t it?

    • Katherine Swarts

      As a content writer who has gotten more than one “what I like about your work is that it needs so little editing” compliment from clients, I’d like to put in a word on behalf of those who actually hire for the good writing jobs people complain are “impossible” to find. As you noted, finding good *writers* isn’t exactly easy either–and as Carol’s post indicates, most professional editors/writing coaches/communications directors are forced to waste a lot of time parrying contacts from wannabes whose attitude is “I’ll just toss a quick line to everyone I can find in the field until someone agrees to give me the perfect instruction manual for making a good living this way.”

      I’ve also heard from quite a few editors who would be relieved if the problem were confined to ESL speakers–who make up a relatively small percentage of those who think it’s too much trouble to put effort into writing readable text or into reading official write-for-us directions.

  5. C. Hope Clark

    Carol, goodness gracious you just placed into words what I’ve been trying to figure out how to say. As editor of FundsforWriters, I’m deluged by ESL folks pitching to me in half-English. When I reject them, some get angry with me and others ask me to tutor them in both English and writing. There’s one particular website/email newsletter out there that is giving so many of these people false hope, and it pains me to see it.

    Thanks for saying what needed saying. Like other editors, I’m working diligently in my career, purchasing articles, aiding writers, but the swarm of international individuals begging me to give them a chance though they do not know English, is a huge difficulty. You see, I vow to respond to every email I receive. But I have to reply to five to ten of these requests per day. They number five times the other submissions to write for FundsforWriters.

    Suggestions? They should write for publications and blogs in their native countries, or for countries whose language they DO speak fluently. Or they should work in translation.

    English is very difficult with so many nuances in the expression, and to pitch to publications that want experience and a superb grasp of English is sadly going to result in rejection. Publication is difficult enough for those born into the language. I hate being the bad guy in so many of these rejections.

    • vivek chakraverty

      “Cogito, Ergo Sum” – A language I hope you know.

    • Carol Tice

      Not surprised to hear you’re getting it too, Hope.

      This post marks the end of my vow to answer every email I get with a custom response. I now have this post to link them to, that gives them all the tips I’ve got, so I’m hoping it saves time.

      I’m often reminded of the story that Rockefeller got stress alopecia and all his hair fell out NOT when he built his business…but when he started his charity and started reading all the appeals, and trying to decide who was a scam and who he should give to. It’s overwhelming, feeling the weight of all these people’s struggles on you, and knowing that you’re helpless to make a difference.

      But maybe this post can help. 😉

  6. Janet Whitfield

    And I’ll pile on. I spent 6 years in China teaching English communication at trading companies. Because the students applied their English less in speaking and more to email communications with their foreign customers, I emphasized improvement of their writing skills. It wasn’t easy getting them to realize that a comma is not the same as a period/full stop and that just a couple words or punctuation can change the entire meaning of a message.

    Having said that, speaking English as a first language does not a writer make. It’s a skill that has to be continually developed. Carol could apply some of her suggestions above to native speakers who aspire to some quick writing cash.

  7. Mia Sherwood Landau

    Anybody experiencing hurt and/or anger with this post might want to consider this – have you ever tried to help a native English-speaker write fluently and intelligently in your own native language? That’s an important consideration.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for that thought, Mia — I think you’ve hit on something. I think many of these writers are thinking maybe it’s something quick I could fix for them. But it’s not.

  8. Derrick

    Thank you very much Carol for this brave piece. It must have been so hard to craft.
    As much as it is true that ESL writers should find new income providing careers to sustain them,it however will take lots of time for the info to sink in, properly. I am not a native English speaker myself so I know how hard this hurts. But it is the truth anyway.
    I am pessimistic they will take it positively.
    P.S. I was a little nervous about the Kenya mention and I can strongly testify that 90% of Kenyan writers do write good publishable pieces. I am in Nairobi-Kenya’s capital city- as I write this.

    • Carol Tice

      Two countries hit me so much that I hid my Facebook page from them — Pakistan and Nigeria. (Onibalusi hit me to complain!) But honestly, I was getting several PMs a day on FB, mostly from those 2 countries.

      I’d feel obligated to respond…and then it would become this endless back-and-forth, as it does on email. No matter what I said, what resources I referred them to, they just keep coming back at you: “So…you could hire me yes?” No matter how many times I explained that I am not an employer.

      It’s not fair to the writers I CAN help, 1,200+ of whom pay me for support, for me to spend precious time with people I cannot help. My first priority always has to be to support students in Freelance Writers Den, and in my courses at Useful Writing Courses and at Small Blog, Big Income. It’s also completely fruitless and unrewarding, for both parties. I got into mentoring writers because I’m hooked on the thrill of helping you find better clients, quit your job, and earn more. And there’s no joy with this group.

      Kenya is a close third, judging from my mail. From what I’ve seen, 90% of Kenyans are NOT fluent enough in English to earn a living at it. There’s fluent, and then there’s ‘fluent enough to make a living where writing is the core skill.’ Seems like you’re doing fine, though!

      • Sophie

        Excellent post Carol, and I sympathise with your mail problems! Re: Kenyans. I think the difference between the 90% you’ve encountered and the 90% Derrick referred to is that the ones with great English (Derrick’s 90%) are not writing to you. The ones who contact you are a tiny proportion of the Kenyan population – and they are the ones reaching out for help precisely because their grasp of the language is poor, whether they realise it or not.

        As someone from an ESL country, I have come to realise that the Dunning-Kruger effect is particularly strong when it comes to language and writing skills. Maybe because we learn and use English just well enough to think we are good, especially when compared to the rest of the population, who may not speak it at all. Higher education makes use of English extensively, if not exclusively, so any person with a college degree already has above-average English skills.

        The thing is, people can have problems even if they speak English as a first language (as I do) because the ESL environment can make it hard to acquire top-level skills. Add to that the fact that our local English pronunciation, idioms, syntax and slang are unique and you can imagine the pitfalls we face.

        The end result is that many people do not gain top-level skills in any language (neither in English nor another local language) and that is a hindrance when it comes to formal writing. On the bright side, we are almost all multilingual, and that can be a huge advantage. The key is to find the right opportunities. And the first step lies in realising that what works for an Anglo-American may not be the best strategy for an ESL writer.

        • Carol Tice

          You nailed right there. You’re multilingual — I’m completely impressed! Why not get work interpreting for an embassy, or a hospital? I think there are many opportunities, it’s just that writing in English isn’t one of them, for most ESL writers.

      • Firth McQuilliam

        At the risk of attracting flames from Internet trolls, I must respond to the implied notion that you owe anyone your time. No! Your life is your own! People who refuse to pay attention to what you’ve already written don’t deserve even a response. If you must respond anyway, though, I’d suggest the following boilerplate, blowoff response that adheres only to the most minimal standards of courtesy:

        “Thank you for your comment. Please refer to the following URLs.”

        The “following URLs,” of course, would be the posts you’ve already written such as this post. You should be able to set up macros that allow you to respond with a single button press to “I’m totally not paying attention to you” emails, private messages and other communications that are in fact not communications at all but rather incessant bleating from self-deluded avatars of wishful thinking. -_-

        Personally, it wasn’t until after months of on-and-off reading and rereading of the great stuff you’d already posted here on your website, including large portions of the extensive comment threads, that I felt moved at last to post a comment of my own. I think the wisdom contained therein is finally sinking into my sludgy mind! ^_^

        • Carol Tice

          That is what I’m doing now, sharing the link to this post!

          Got hit on Facebook yesterday, and after reading it, the response I got was, “No one will support me. This world is cruel and dangerous.”

          And…I feel bad! This person said they don’t have food money. I told her to get a job quick and stop imagining English writing is going to solve that problem.

          I mean, I’m here to encourage people, but not give them false hope or sell them the Brooklyn bridge or anything.

    • Benjamin

      Hi there, I always take in positive criticism and have been following this blog for years. However, I will always disagree with blanket comments that suggest that more 1/2 million kenyan writers including marketers like me fall in the same group. In as much as there are BAD ESL writers, there are others who are on top of their game.

  9. Funmi Ajayi

    Carol, I quite agree that I am a non-native speaker of the English language. However, this fact does not put me in the category of an illiterate, because I am learned and very knowledgeable. How you came about this conclusion. I do not know. It is not a good thing to stereotype, believing that every non-native speaker of the English language is an illiterate. Please be guarded in future not to jump to conclusions in this manner. Thank you.

    • Clairels

      Where exactly in the article did Carol say “every non-native speaker of the English language is an illiterate?”

      Nowhere. You’re putting words in her mouth.

      • Benjamin

        Hi, take a look at the title “An Open Letter to ESL Writers” what’s the opening statement

        “This is a hard letter to write. But I get letters from you every day, ESL writer, and I feel you deserve an answer.”

        And yet the specifics is in 3rd paragraph, the 2nd paragraph is still an introduction.

        “You’re not the rare ESL writer who’s impressively fluent, and whom I only learn from in-depth conversation wasn’t born speaking English.”

        Lastly, the use of the word rare, while there are literally thousands out there is a clear indicator of bias (my opinion).

        In every sense, if you are an ESL like me, you will feel like you are targeted because you’re not the rare species of a writer who can make money writing. Dont you think so? I’m not being critical but just airing my views.

        • Carol Tice

          I didn’t say ‘who can make money writing,’ I said the rare ESL writer who’s impressively fluent. Which is how fluent you need to be to get a gig.

          I’m speaking from my own experience reviewing 100s and 100s of pitches from ESL writers, that it truly is rare to get someone who I could hire to write for my blog that’s for an audience of freelance writers who is not a native speaker.

    • Eloise McInerney

      I think Carol meant that people were illiterate in English, not in their own languages, though I can see how you might have interpreted it differently 🙂

      Turning to myself as an example, I speak French fluently, having been raised through French by my mother, but while living in an English-speaking country. I was educated in English (in school, university, etc.) but not in French. I consider myself only semi-literate in French because my spelling is still quite bad (though I’m working on it!). Literacy refers to the ability to write and read in language, not to your general knowledge and education.

      I would never dream of writing in French as I know I don’t have the mastery or cultural knowledge to ever be half as good as I am at writing in English!

      • Carol Tice

        Great point, Eloise – there’s having basic literacy in a language, and then there’s “I have a command of this language and can creatively write a compelling story in it.” I think many writers don’t understand the vast gulf between those two points.

      • Kate Bales

        Eloise, I am in a similar situation, but I learned both English and German as a child. Fortunately for me, German is much easier to spell than French (or English!), but I am constantly mixing my syntax in both languages and must triple check anything that I write in English. I don’t even try to write in German.

    • Carol Tice

      Funmi, I’m talking illiterate in ENGLISH. I know that many of the people who reach out to me are college grads, in their native land. And…see my early paragraph in here that this post is NOT for the few non-natives who ARE, in fact, quite fluent. It’s for everybody else. So…no stereotype. I’m agreeing from the outset that not every non-native writer needs this letter. But many, many do.

      • Katherine Swarts

        One could probably write a whole post on the futility of taking this or that blog personally and rushing to comment on how hurt you were by it. That’s one reason I never read comments on news articles; someone always manages to start a long boring argument.

      • Funmi Ajayi

        Carol, I have a write-up saved in my document file which I would like to post to see if it meets the standard of work expected from a freelance writer. It’s been a while since I wrote it, and I simply have no idea how to acccess your website to enable me post it for your reading. Would appreciate a response from you. Thanks.

        • Carol Tice

          I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to provide free reviews of writers’ work and give you evaluations on your prospects — can you imagine how many people would want that? It’s not actually a service I offer even for pay. I also can’t have dozens of people accessing my website, for security reasons.

          Find an English teacher or writer group — those are good places to get feedback.

          Also, there is no one ‘standard’ for writing quality. Every client will have their own. As we saw years back, some clients had very low standards…but now that type of client is a vanishing breed, and quality longform is ruling online content. That’s why the opportunity for semi-literate, non-native writers is also vanishing.

          • Gail Gardner

            “There is no one ‘standard’ for writing quality.”

            This is the part so many cannot understand, and that includes both ESL and natives of the United States. Even among American writers who are making a full-time living writing, there is a wide variety of quality.

            Not every client or site prefers the same style of writing. That doesn’t necessarily make one writer bad or another better. Sometimes it is simply personal preference.

            I do find that the people who write English poorly often have difficulty understanding why they should stop trying to focus on writing for a living. Some even start businesses specifically for that purpose in spite of being unable to write content editors would actually want to publish.

          • Carol Tice

            Gail, my recent topper was someone who wanted me to look at his site, for which he’d chosen an English URL name that was ungrammatical. But he didn’t know it.

            And when I pointed it out, he said that the URL he’d wanted wasn’t available, so he thought this would work. But it won’t.

            It’s sad to me to see people spend time and money trying to build a business that’s doomed to fail.

          • Gail Gardner

            Yes, but even if they fail at first, they will learn a lot from the experience. Sometimes it is better to jump in and fail than just keep planning and never start anything.

          • Albert

            I think your English is also poor – by certain standards!

          • Carol Tice

            Well, it’s not British English, if that’s what you mean. And in blog posts, we write in copywriting style, where grammar rules can be broken.

            But given the number of SPJ and SABEW awards I’ve racked up over the years, the two staff writing jobs I was able to hold for 12 years, and what I’m able to earn from this blog, I guess I feel my English is good enough to get by. 😉

  10. Mai Bantog

    As an ESL writer, this was really painful to read. What if I’m one of those writers you’re referring to? It made me question my English writing abilities, whether or not I could be at par with native English speakers.

    For me, the biggest challenge isn’t English grammar–that can be studied and mastered. But fully understanding American culture and systems–now that’s something that I won’t be able to fully grasp unless I live in the US for a few years. One client fired me because it was obvious in my writing that I haven’t stepped in an American clinic before, and that was what I was supposed to write about. It did make me feel a bit insecure at that time, but that was a valid complaint. At least I’ve never received complaints regarding my grammar and style.

    I’m still working for American and Australian clients at the moment, but the deliverables are mostly informative and news-type articles that aren’t very particular with cultural nuances. I think ESL writers with an excellent grasp of the English language will thrive in those kinds of jobs. Many freelance workers here in the Philippines are also shifting from writing to virtual assistant jobs, as perfect English skills are not necessary for the latter.

    Still, thanks for this wake-up call, Carol. It really made me evaluate myself so that I can better position myself in the freelance writing marketplace.

    • Rai Cornell

      Mai, you write beautifully. I don’t see a single mistake or even a typo in your comment. As Carol said in her post, ESL writers can improve on their writing skills in order to make it in the industry, and it’s clear to me that you’ve already done that. You seem to have a mastery of English writing and you should be proud of yourself. While your experience with American culture may be a hindrance, your language skills clearly are not. And you can always hop on over here to learn about American culture and enjoy a vacation. It’s not an insurmountable obstacle. 🙂 All the best of luck to you!

    • Alan

      Mai Bantog, your written English is excellent.

    • Carol Tice

      Mai — this letter is not for you! For folks who don’t know, Mai is so fluent she has actually done transcribing work for Freelance Writers Den. 😉

      I do agree that even if you are really fluent, the culture will still be a challenge, so you have to choose topics you know.

    • Marisa

      Mai, your English expression and fluency sound better to me than what I see around from many native English speakers. If you hadn’t said that English wasn’t your first language, I’d never have guessed. You do write beautifully, and with a richness and complexity that the average native English-speaking writer doesn’t have. Cultural differences, sure – I live in Australia and when I spent a year in the US recently I was shocked by how different things were in a country that I’d expected, naively, would be ‘kind of like Australia but a lot bigger’, lol. But I wouldn’t go doubting your writing skills. I’m always deeply impressed by people like you who can learn a second language to such a high level that you’d never know it wasn’t their first. Taking my hat off to you!

    • Mai Bantog

      Thanks for the kind words, everyone! I guess this post just really touched on my insecurities as an ESL writer. It is a definite disadvantage in the freelance writing marketplace, and it can sometimes be frustrating when you come across job posts that look for “native English writers only” when you know perfectly well that you have a lot to offer with regard to the topic that they want you to explore. Well, that’s the cross that we ESL writers have to bear. The only thing left to do is to prove them wrong. 😉

      • Firth McQuilliam

        I’ve been a top-rated writer at Textbroker for the past few years, and I’ve read tens of millions of words over my lifetime. I might be no great shakes myself as a writer, but I know good writing when I see it. Frankly, Ms. Mai Bantog, the quality of your writing exceeds that of at least 90% of the so-called “native speakers” of English I’ve seen struggling with the intricacies of English grammar and syntax. Far too many “native speakers” don’t even seem able to avoid simple spelling and homonym errors. If it weren’t for subtle indicators in your word choices that likely would elude the great majority of readers, I would myself have guessed you to be a native English speaker. ^^;

        You’re right about the innumerable quirks of American English, but you can continue to improve your grasp of popular culture by reading as much as you can. Familiarity breeds comprehension. ^_^

    • Kat Bautista

      I’m Filipino too, and I also think I have a lot more to prove to clients and know I have blind spots I need to work on. But I also think you’re doubting yourself too much, the way I feel we ESL writers tend to when it comes to English. For Filipinos at least, English comes bundled with a lot of issues to the point that not sounding identical to an American automatically means, to some people, we’re not fluent. That how English has evolved here is invalid, that us coming up with our own expressions and terms means we’re not speaking “correctly”–because we think only Western countries can claim to having “correct” variants of English. Of course, I’m talking about “Philippinisms” like Grade One instead of First Grade, rather than actual wrong grammar or grammatically correct English that lacks that nuance/voice/cadence that you find only in fluent speakers and writers. Which, because we’re an ESL country, we have a lot of.

      Of course, we’re at a disadvantage when clients, like the one you mentioned, want something indistinguishable from what an American writer can produce. We just don’t have the kind of experience needed for that (like knowing what an American clinic looks like), and we have to watch out for our own Philippinisms. But I don’t think it’s fair for you to see your lack of the necessary experience that one time as a mark against your skills as a writer.

      • Kat Bautista

        Edit: “not sounding identical to an American automatically means, among us Filipinos, we’re not fluent.”

        • Carol Tice

          Remember, you ARE covered under my Universal Comment Typo insurance. We get it, and it’s just blog comments!

          • Kat Bautista

            Thanks! The errors started popping up all over the place for me only much later, so this is a relief to see!

      • Carol Tice

        I agree — and I think if you do write well and know the subject matter well, editors are going to be more flexible about correcting the odd phrase or two.

        We ALL have a client that doesn’t work out, once or twice. If it was EVERY client ends up firing you, I’d be worried. One, no.

    • Mariana

      Mai, your post shows the mark of a true professional – someone who can take criticism, apply it, and improve her craft.

      And as Carol said, this letter is definitely not for you!

  11. Rai Cornell

    Carol, your timing is impeccable, as always. I received this email in my inbox yesterday and saw that you too were on the recipient list:
    “Hi my fellow freelancer,

    I am [NAME] and I want you to help me in this way. How much should I charge a client to write an article for top medical sites like WebMD?”
    This is one of the more well-written pleas I’ve received from ESL writers, though. I have been getting many of these since I put up my writer website and it breaks my heart to know that some people will just never be able to make it in this field. I’m glad you said something, because I have been at a loss for words.

    • Carol Tice

      LOL, I got that one too! What I’ve learned is that we simply have to not answer some emails. That’s really hard for me — I love to be responsive! I like interacting with my readers! But answering emails like the ones in that post, I’ve learned, is completely unproductive.

    • Katherine Swarts

      Oh, I got that one too. He didn’t even have the sense to use the blind-carbon-copy function; who wants to send a personal answer to an obviously mass-distributed comment?

  12. Idun

    I don’t do freelance writing in either English or my native language, but I do work in translation, and we pretty much have the exact same problem there since you need to be a good writer to be a good translator (obviously you need to understand the language you are translating from as well). In translation you also have the problem of people translating to their non-native language(s) or, the horror, between two of their non-native languages where they know neither of them well enough. Let’s just say the results are rarely pretty when most people translate to anything else than their native language. A lot of people seems to think that “Oh, I know X language and Y language is my native language so of course I can be a successful freelance translator”. Never mind that actual writing skills (among other things) are necessary to do it well.

    Anyway, thank you for putting it so clearly, as it definitely seems like a lot of people need to understand that writing/language skills actually is a real thing that you need to work in the field. Hopefully your post will help some people who need it realize that freelance English writing might not be for them.

  13. Maja

    That was somewhat hard to read, but I totally get your point Carol. Not a day goes by that I wouldn’t think about my English writing skills. Some days it’s a burden to be an ESL, with all the shortages in my knowledge suddenly turning on me, but there are days when I know I can whip up an article that reads as if it was written by a native. Just how good do those days feel!

    But I’m humble. I read English books and I keep on expanding my knowledge of the language every day. And I guess that’s the problem with most ESL writers. They take what they know for granted, thinking it’s enough. But it’s never enough. There isn’t a profession out there which can be mastered without further expansion. Writing, regardless of the language, is no exception.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. As always, you’re inspiring.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for sharing your story of continuous improvement, Maja — I’m sure it’s helping you to move forward in your career, and wish a lot of other writers would do the same.

  14. Elizabeth

    I am a former ESL college instructor, and regularly work in a college writing center with ESL students. Many students can become fluent with years and years of hard work (and never in the coarse of a class or two), but fluency in a language doesn’t always equal creative, engaging writing fit for publication. It’s more common than not that English language learners who can speak fluently may not write fluently; those who can write in English fluently cannot speak fluently, which may be where their misconception of their ability comes from. It’s also true that native US students are the worst writers, usually because they do not read – but they are well aware of it.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for your perspective, Elizabeth — it’s true, when I call US writers on their grammar they’ll usually own up to it, where the non-native writers I mention it to are always in total denial.

      • Katherine Swarts

        I remember an anecdote, recounted by Dale Carnegie, about a native English speaker writing job-search letters (this was before computers as we know them existed) to Swedish businesses. When one reply came back stating “You can’t even write good Swedish,” he was halfway through a “who do you think you are” response when the thought came to him: Who am I, as a second-language speaker, to tell a native speaker he doesn’t know what he’s talking about? So he wrote another letter saying “Thank you for calling to my attention that I’m not as competent as I thought; I will definitely go back to studying and trying to improve.”

        The epilogue was that the soft answer ultimately led to an interview–and a job. (Lest I tempt anyone to false hopes there, let me emphasize it WASN’T a writing job.)

  15. vivek

    I think a distinction is to be made here between article and blog writing and literature. The latter chooses you much like Asimov’s aspiring writer robot.

    • Angie Mansfield

      Hi, Vivek –

      Carol’s definitely talking about freelance writing as a career – magazine articles and copywriting for businesses. She’s not addressing literary writing like fiction or poetry – that’s *never* been the focus of Make a Living Writing.

      And while I don’t want to put words in her mouth, I think I can confidently say she’s NOT talking about people who have honed their English skills and can competently put together a sentence, like you clearly can. She’s referring to people who have a very basic grasp of English but still aren’t able to construct grammatically correct sentences. I know it’s harsh, but if a person is unable to write a fully coherent sentence in the target language, they are not going to be able to make a decent living by trying to write in that language.


        That I must admit is true. But if they have persistence, they should hone their skills. Read, listen to music, watch movies and most importantly write, but in English. The key lies in thinking in English.

      • Carol Tice

        Thanks, Angie. And absolutely — I mean, Ed Gandia is an ESL writer!

        It’s not that you can’t end up writing professionally in another language. It’s just that very few have the dedication it takes to get there. It’s a LOT of work, to become that fluent in a second language. And my hat’s off to everyone who’s done it.

    • Carol Tice

      Since literature — fiction, that is — isn’t really part of the freelance writing world, that’s another conversation.

      But as I said in the post, the era of being able to write low-grade blog posts for pay is over. The gap between the quality needed for a blog post and a magazine article has narrowed almost to zero. This is what is leaving a lot of ESL writers out of the marketplace.

  16. Yassir

    Hi Carol,

    Thank you for writing this post, it’ll probably convince ESL writers that this industry is not a game.

    As an ESL writer, my posts were always ugly that the editor might commit a suicide because of it. 

    The best solution that worked for me is working with a great editor. I was always getting rejected because some phrases (or many phrases) were not making sense. My editor solved this problem and helped to get my first client (whose gig is $70 per article.)

    The editor doesn’t have a lot of work to do, as I am spending a few hours reviewing what I wrote. 

    I started learning English in 2015, and I am a 15 years old high school student.

    Bottom line: It’s all about “knowing how.”

    • Angie Mansfield

      Hi, Yassir –

      I must congratulate you on being so proactive at 15 years old! And I’m confident all those hours of reviewing your own work will serve you well. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Wow, Yassir — what a great success story! Congrats on being smart and hiring an editor to work with you.

    • Ravi

      Seems like I am in the same bot.

      But it’s true that we have to write at least basic English, otherwise we have to forget writing English.

  17. Ravi

    “If you cannot accept the reasons behind today’s defeat, you cannot win tomorrow.”

    Whenever I see this kind of posts, I feel like an insult. I would feel it because I am a non-native English person. But I know the point what you’re trying to say. The point is fluency is must to get paid for writing, no matter you’re from a native or non-native English world.

    I have a good record in my English tests and better than many of my fellow people. But if I believe my English is good to get writing jobs, I am crippling my dream myself. No, I accepted my level at English. I would be too basic, but what’s wrong with this?

    Some people think listeners appreciate and honor them if they speak with rarely used and difficult words, but researches say they’re incorrect and listeners treat them they’re foolish.

    I am a reader of many authors’ sites. Go Angela Booth’s sites, she writes in plain and she’s a reputed copywriter in Australia. When you look at her sales pages of her books, you cannot go without taking action. She tells the writers to not thinking too much on word-lists.

    I found punctuation and spelling mistakes in all the sites I follow including this one. Who can stop me to say this? Because they know everybody makes mistakes.

    I have been writing descriptions for videos of my own and others. I also gave my voice to many videos. Until so far, I have no complaints.

    But what I do for the above is I check twice before submitting my writing. I don’t do that usually when I’m not writing for a serious work.
    As long as readers can understand what you’re telling and no grammatical errors in your writing, no matter it is basic or advanced level English.

    Currently, I am trying to get published in big publications like HuffPost, LifeHack etc. I know it’s not easy task to make that possible. But I am trying hard to prove that non-native writers can also get serious gigs.

    I have some tips for the writers who come in this group:
    * Write your article or post.
    * Verify your writing after completing writing.
    * Submit your writings to a proofreader who has a good reputation and learn from where the proofreader corrected your writing. This helps you to learn fast. Do this even if you think your writing has no mistakes when you’re newly writing in English.
    * Don’t cry and give up whenever you find posts that discouraged you. Instead, accept your faults and try to correct them. Mostly authors like Carol don’t discourage but they want to save us from wasting time when we’re not at the level clients expected, and at the same time they tell us to improve, show the ways to follow.

    Hope you like my tips what I follow.

    • Angie Mansfield

      Hi, Ravi –

      The post isn’t saying that you have to use long, complicated words instead of simple language. It’s saying that you need a strong grasp of English – or an English proofreader/editor – in order to succeed.

      I think you provided great tips at the end of your comment. 🙂

    • Chana Roberts

      I am not a native Hebrew speaker, but have recently (in the past year and a half) started writing in Hebrew, for native Israeli markets.

      And I’m good.

      So? That doesn’t mean that all immigrants who learn Hebrew are good. I’m unique. I know that. Saying that immigrants don’t know Hebrew as well as the natives doesn’t insult me. It’s true.

      There’s no reason to be insulted, even a little teeny bit.

      P.S. – I found two mistakes in your comment, without even trying. I’m pretty sure I could find more.

      • Carol Tice

        We’re NOT going to pick at mistakes in these comments…just making a rule here. Because it muddies the point. We all make typos in blog comments, and that’s not what we’re talking about here.

        And…Hebrew is easier to master than English, because of all the extra words and letters we dropped while we were wandering around the desert for 40 years, to lighten our load. 😉 I’ve studied it a bit, and German was my college language, and I just think…English is nuts! Crazy hard.

        • Ravi

          Actually English is not hard if we only target at basic level.

          Don’t you think Shakespeare’s English is very basic? Would he get your gigs if he’s alive and try for writing gigs you write?

          • Clairels

            I wouldn’t call the writing of someone who essentially reinvented the entire English language “basic,” but one thing is for sure: he understood grammar. If you don’t understand English grammar, you will not succeed as an English writer.

          • Ravi

            Of course. But I can say one thing that is proofreader can save only if we know grammar and basic writing skills.

            I know if I hire a proofreader I can win the game. But I want to reach the level to go without a proofreader in future.

        • Chana Roberts

          Carol, I agree that Hebrew is easier to master than English. In fact, I am pretty sure that English is one of the five hardest languages for second-language learners to master.

          Regardless, it took me years of daily interaction in Hebrew before I felt confident to write, and several more before I could write well.

          LOL re the extra words and letters. I think English is just a schizophrenic mishmash. Hebrew has nice rules and roots. Unfortunately, Hebrew is getting muddied, too, by foreign words that were adopted as slang and became “decent.” 🙁

          I’ve never learned German, but once upon a time, I could understand Yiddish. Does that count?

          • Carol Tice

            Close enough! And I know what you mean about ‘autoboos’ and all the other words that are making their way into Hebrew. But it does have easy 3-letter roots and you can suss out the gist of what’s being said fairly easily, I think, compared with English.

            Anytime we complained about English grammar in my high school class, our teacher would stop everything and diagram a Latin sentence for us, to show us how easy English was by comparison. 😉 It’s all relative!

      • Ravi

        I didn’t mean it. I tried to say be positive and take action to improve.

        As I told you before, I could find the errors in my comment after verifying.

        Feel free to tell me the all errors did you find in my comment. I’m happy to know that because next time I can kill them to not enter in my writing.

        • Carol Tice

          Ravi, we’re not here to provide free proofreading and grammar lessons for you — and reviewing a few paragraphs would just scratch the surface. You’d have to commit to some serious study to get your English to where it would be useful as an earning skill.

          • Ravi

            I didn’t ask you to do that. I asked “Chana Roberts” to show my errors, so I can learn from those mistakes and will be able to repeat them not.

            I always get great grades in English exams, but I fail here. Hope it’s a matter of now, not the future.

    • Carol Tice

      Ravi — that’s it exactly. I want to save you from wasting time in an endeavor you can’t succeed at.

      Given the many grammar errors in your comment above, hiring a proofreader is a terrific move — good job!

      • Ravi

        A small confusion:

        Can I get gigs if I hire a proofreader, or can’t I get success even if I take a proofreader’s help and should stop trying?

        I think if I hire a proofreader now and follow his/her advice, I can write and submit without a proofreader in future. Do you think it’s a good idea and will it work I sincerely follow that technique?

        • Carol Tice

          Ravi, I don’t know — and YOU won’t know if hiring a proofreader would help you move ahead, unless you try it. Whether you’ll improve to where you could write without one is an open question. I know some very talented ESL writers who still rely on one.

  18. Janeka S.

    This is the first time I have been moved to respond to any of the blogs I receive in my inbox on a daily basis.

    I have been following you since I first decided that it was time to leave the corporate world behind and earn a living building my freelance career.

    It was quite disheartening at first (just about 2 years ago) to find that most sites were full of content-mill type job postings, seemingly content with barely legible copy. My proposals were rejected again and again because people believed that just because I did not reside in America, I was not worth what I was charging (even though I am a native English speaker and write at graduate level). I actually gave up and took a year-long contract with a local company. But when I dipped my toe back into the waters just 4 months ago, I noticed a drastic change. I started being able to win bids at higher prices, and people were more responsive to my quality.

    As a national of a tiny 3rd world country, I really do feel for those who are losing their current livelihood at the low end of the market, but I have to acknowledge that their loss means that more opportunity is opening up for people like myself who can deliver a native, idiomatic product competitively (compared to U.S. – based writers). I am also (as an Internet user) not sorry that the bottom is dropping out of that super low-end content market, because much of that kind of writing is just painful to read.

    Part of being a freelancer is being entrepreneurial. And part of being entrepreneurial is being aware of market trends and desires. I do wish all those who are bearing the brunt of the current changing trends are able to find a niche that is better suited to them.

    And I thank you for doing the hard but necessary work of spelling it out so clearly.

    I look forward to reading your next missive!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Janeka — welcome to the blog!

      I wrote recently on the trend to higher rates and better quality:

      I don’t know if the disappearance of junk content is creating a lot more opportunity, as it’s simply a market niche that is disappearing.

      I guess SOME of that content is getting replaced with better quality, but I think many of the sites that relied on junk content are just disappearing, a la Examiner. We’ll see how it shakes out, though! I’m definitely excited to see better rates for some blog posts.

  19. Eloise McInerney

    Some hard truths here, which people do need to be aware of. I suspect it will probably get some people’s backs up, though, as they won’t read carefully enough to pick up the nuances of your argument.

    I taught English as a Second Language for many years, and know many non-native speakers of English. Rarely have I come across someone who can write perfectly, or almost perfectly, in English. Even the best ones sometimes make tiny mistakes that a skilled native writer never would – which in their case is fine, I think, because a proofreader can easily clean it up. Usually, these people have been living in a native English speaking country for many years, and are also specially gifted with language. It’s definitely something that ESL writers can aspire to – and should aspire to, if that’s what they want – but as you say, they need to be realistic about their current skill level and maybe work with a writing teacher who can help them see their mistakes.

    One of the issues, of course, is being able to capture tiny nuances of language. It’s probably okay if you stick to writing quite technical stuff, where language isn’t expected to be very inventive. But it really shows when people are writing other kinds of texts, such as catchy blog posts.

    I also work as a translator, and I don’t know how many times I’ve had to fix very poor translations by non-native speakers because they thought they were fluent, and/or that translating was only a matter of copying over words from their language into English.

    And people often overlook is that many native speakers of a language can’t write well in their own language. It’s a skill that must be developed and honed, with some people being more gifted than others – just as some people are really good at Maths and other people cry (me) when too many of them are thrown at them at once!

  20. Eloise McInerney

    Ugh – reading over the last paragraph I see that it was missing a couple of edits. I wish we could edit them after posting! For my peace of mind, I’ve rewritten it here 😉

    And people often overlook that many native speakers of a language can’t write well in their own language. It’s a skill that must be developed and honed, with some people being more gifted than others – just as some people are really good at Maths and other people cry (me) when too many numbers are thrown at them at once!

  21. Ann Walker

    I think part of the problem is that the content mills buyers will accept low standards for low pay. Being one of the newbies who has been using one of these places to get some sort of a foothold, I see this all the time.

    A job will go up asking for 1000 words in English for $5. Some of the US and UK writers will make quite scathing remarks in the comments box about the offered rate being scandalous and insulting, but there will be 10 bids from folks in India and other such places. Looking at the bio’s of some of the bidders, they are barely English-literate.

    Apart from anything else, while this continues, pay rates at the lower end of the market will never go up.

    • Chana Roberts

      They will.

      I worked for a Hebrew-language content mill. (I hated every minute, but it gave me the confidence I needed to start writing in Hebrew.)

      I only worked with them for a few months. When I started, we blah-blahed (I was still trying to make it interesting) on anything that included the keywords (as many times as possible, please, and at least three times). But just before I quit, we were writing about specific topics and somehow making the keywords (three and only three mentions, please) fit nicely with the rest of the article. The topics were mostly unrelated, but needed to a) give readers interesting info, b) come up on Google searches, c) not be penalized. And this is in Hebrew!

      Hebrew Google searches are easy (for companies), because there aren’t enough real site to create competition yet. Israeli companies are just starting to get the hang of content writing….and most are a few years behind (old-style SEO, please). But again, it doesn’t matter, because a penalty of being on page 9 of 10 is not nearly as bad as a penalty of being on page 70 of 100…

      • Carol Tice

        A Hebrew content mill — who knew? Hopefully they’ll follow the route of English mills into better content..and until then, stay away!

    • Carol Tice

      Ann, the solution is…don’t be at the lower end of the market. 😉

      • Ann Walker

        I’m doing my best not to be Carol – I got a little gig today writing a 1200 word article on teeth-grinding, of all things (I’m a qualified nurse from long ago and your articles about niches have nudged me towards medical writing). It’s only worth about $90 and is probably priced way too low, but it’s early days.

        Back to the topic – as I mentioned on another of your posts a few days ago, I put a call out the mill myself looking for a web designer to team up with. I wrote the offer very carefully, explaining that I wasn’t offering a paid job, but that I hoped a good collaboration would lead to paid work. I also said that I preferred someone in the UK, for ease of communication.

        I got 10 people contacting me – 1 from Jamaica, 2 from Bhutan, 3 from India, 3 from Pakistan and 1 from the UK. All except two gave me a bid price for the ‘job’ I was offering and had sent obviously generic proposals in very poor English. They had all completely missed the point and several didn’t understand my explanatory email reply. It’s very sad.

        • Carol Tice

          Well…probably a bid-site isn’t the best place to try to get pro bono work out of others, so that may have been a factor.

  22. Chana Roberts

    Thanks for writing this, Carol.

    I really do feel for those writers, and often, I’m impressed by their grasp of English. As an ESL teacher, even if I wouldn’t hire these guys – I certainly would pass them, with a 70-80!

    But it really is different. In classes I teach, I’m looking for an ability to communicate, learn, and understand. In writing – you need to impress. Not just impress. You need to convince, sell, and awe. And…basic communication skills just don’t cut it.

    I’m happy to edit for these people, and even give them Skype lessons in English. But it pains me to see them hurting themselves and possibly the market, too. As we say here, it’s just, “chaval.” (Chaval: Hebrew for “a shame,” or something like that. My translation abilities have the same bedtime as my kids.)

    And…I just didn’t know how to word it nicely. So thanks, Carol, for doing it for me. 🙂

  23. Joey

    No need to question your English Mai…If your fluency is good, it is good. I’m Kenyan, and I have to agree (wholeheartedly) with everything Carol had to say.
    No part of this post made me feel any bit insecure. Because Carol is being honest here.
    I have witnessed, first-hand, how college graduates are trying to break into the writing industry by their numbers. I’m sure it’s the same story in the Philippines…
    See the sad reality, Carol, is that there are very few jobs in these parts. A lot of young people just want to follow the standard script after graduation: apply to a content mill and start earning money immediately.
    I just wish we would consider mastering other skills. Coding, design,handcrafts, and the biggest one–farming. But writing looks like the perfect fancy career you’d want to brag to friends and neighbours about.
    As a writer, I know that we all can’t excel at the same craft. We don’t have to.

    • Chana Roberts

      Joey, I agree. And KUDOS! Your writing is great!

    • Carol Tice

      I’m well aware of the economic struggles, lawless quasi-governments, and instability so many people face in countries all over the world. It’s heartbreaking for me to hear from young would-be writers, sometimes my own oldest son’s age, who can’t afford their school fees, and are hoping writing for US platforms could help them put food on the table.

      Often, they are orphans or have one living parent. I think most American writers couldn’t imagine what they’re coping with every day, and the spirits of people with the will to try to overcome it all inspires me.

      But: I. Can’t. Help.

      I agree with you — please learn other skills! Stay safe. And don’t starve. I want to hug all of you. If writing truly is your passion and you want to write in English, keep working on your skills, and don’t give up. But…be realistic. There is a wide gap between fluent writer and professional writer.

      • Henry Munyalo

        This post seems to target the ESLs in Kenya, who have dominated the global freelance industry. Kenya is the home of freelance writing, and posts like this one do not add up!

        • Carol Tice

          Not targeting Kenya at all, Henry — just mentioned it as an example of one of the countries whose illiterate writers I frequently hear from. Certainly India, the Philippines, Malaysia, and many other places also have people looking to earn from writing, even though they lack the skill. Not in any way trying to single out Kenya or Pakistan, though I think those are the 2 countries I hear from most.

  24. Rai Cornell

    Carol, this is slightly off topic, but where do you find your images for your posts? I love the one you included with this post (the typewriter message).

  25. Susan Anderson

    Hear, hear! If it weren’t so long, I’d consider having this entire article tattooed onto my body. You’ve broken the heartbreaking news I’ve tried a thousand ways to explain before to aspiring writers.

    There’s the fluency issue, first. If only it were ESL writers who struggled with that! Many students who’ve approached me about writing for my team are in the same boat. The samples they provide leave me shuddering, and then feeling sick… how can I break this to them?

    Second, there’s the matter of idioms. I’ve known some ESL writers who have impeccable grammar and spelling, but still there’s something off about their writing. There’s a voice or tone or cadence – can’t put my finger on it – in American writing that’s not taught in schools overseas. I’ve advised watching American TV and movies (feels funny because I don’t even have a TV) to help them pick up more of an American accent in their writing – but have never heard back from anyone who did so.

    Your advice also touched on the question screaming in my brain every time I’ve run into this situation… why not write for businesses in your country? Even in “second world” countries like Fiji (I went there in 2014 to teach my course) the businesses have websites, do advertising, and would benefit from professional writing. That would eliminate the lost-in-translation issue and serve everyone better.

    Thank you, Carol.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, the reason ‘why not’ is that rates are going to be much lower in their country. Many ESL writers have dreams of making a killing in US markets, and are wasting time in pursuit of that pipe dream, instead of making what could be a decent living in their own language.

  26. Michelle

    Wow, looks like typical Dunning-Kruger Effect, when someone is too bad at something to know how bad they are at it. I’m not trying to bash anyone’s intelligence, it’s just something that tends to happen when people have marginal skills at a hobby or trade, but they lack the fundamental knowledge to know where they need to improve and how to do it. I think that may be why you’re seeing these people be so utterly in denial about their English skills. If you haven’t read about it, Google Dunning-Kruger sometime. It explains a lot about the world.

    Anyway, I hope your letter reaches some people so they can truly improve or find a less frustrating way to earn a living. I also have to wonder how many of these people take the time to read works in English. That could potentially show people where they can improve and add some more context to the language.

    • Carol Tice

      Wow, I didn’t know this problem had a name! Thanks for filling me in. 😉

    • Kat Bautista

      I was going to say this, too! But besides this, from my experience (ESL writer, Filipino; while I know I’m not this post’s intended audience, I know I have blind spots), I think there could be class insecurity on the ESL writer’s part that makes it harder to take advice like this well. I can’t speak for other countries, but from where I’m from, there’s a hierarchy–not just based on how fluent you are, but also on how American you sound. And you can use English to show off and intimidate other people. So some ESL writers can see this as a way of telling them they’re inferior, even when that’s not what you intended.

      • Carol Tice

        Definitely not what’s intended — I’ve met Indian writers who’re doctors, engineers — but their English is very poor. They’d like to chuck it all and earn $1 a word writing in English, and that’s just not going to happen.

        • Kat Bautista

          (Edit: “see this as you telling them.” Sorry about that.)

          Could be ironic, but besides Dunning-Kruger their being doctors and engineers might just make them more defensive. (Well, okay, I’m probably just thinking of arrogant professors I had.)

    • Gail Gardner

      I was recently contacted by a person representing a writing company of all things. His English was so bad that I was prompted to ask him why people who cannot write in American English want to start a company offering writing services to Americans.

      Apparently, his comprehension wasn’t any better than his writing as he did not understand what I meant or why I would say that. Hmmm.

      • Carol Tice

        I’ve had that EXACT experience too, Gail! It’s fascinating how people with minimal English think the thing to do is start a writing agency. What?

  27. kapush

    I’m glad you decided to put it in so many words: about time somebody did! Being polite to people and pretending to not notice their lack of proficiency in an area of expertise they hope to base their livelihood on does not help them one bit. Come to think of it, it is probably not very polite either. I just hope everyone keeps an open mind and looks upon this article as the bluntly helpful advice that it certainly is.

  28. Rosa

    Hi Carol,

    As a non-native English speaker that have been studying the language for 22 years and living in an English speaking country for 16, I have to say that I agree with you. I wanted to do freelance writing for a long time, but it’s only now I am taking it seriously. I am very self-conscious of my need to keep studying the English language, and I do lots of reading and writing to keep improving. Writing in another language is not easy, especially if you haven’t spent time living in a country where people speak that same language.

    It’s important, to be honest with ourselves and to know when we can or can’t do something. Having someone brave enough to tell us honestly, as you have done, help us in moving forward in our abilities and our skills.

    In Spanish, we have an expression that goes like this: ‘Better to be red once than yellow millions of times”. I give you an example of the meaning of this phrase since I translated it, and I am not sure it’s understandable in English. If I had sent you a piece of writing and it wasn’t any good, I would prefer you to tell me (I would be red once), and not being sending my copies to other people believing I was good and not getting an answer from anybody.

    I hope that makes sense! And by the way, I love your posts; they are always full of insights! 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      I’m not sure I DO get that expression — which points up the problem in writing in a nonnative language: so much nuance that is very difficult to translate!

      Glad you find my posts helpful. -)

  29. Rosa

    Ups! of course you don’t understand, I didn’t explain it properly! 🙂 Sorry, I had dinner in the oven, and I rushed to make sure it was not burned!

    I’ll go again, see if this is better:

    In Spanish, we have an expression that goes like this: ‘Better to be red once than yellow millions of times”. I give you an example of the meaning of this phrase since I translated it, and I am not sure it’s understandable in English. If I had sent you a piece of writing and it wasn’t any good, I would prefer you to tell me (I would get red once cause you told me my writing wasn’t good). But if I send copies of my writing to other people believing it was good, and I wasn’t getting an answer from anybody (I would be getting yellow thinking because I wouldn’t know why they are not answering to me). So, that is why being once red, is better being lots of times yellow.

    Anyway, it’s a metaphor, and they are difficult to translate, at least I hope it’s a bit clearer! 🙂

    • Katherine Swarts

      The “red” part is understandable enough, since English speakers talk about turning red with embarrassment or anger. But I’m not so sure about “yellow,” which means “cowardly” in metaphorical English, while you seem to be using it to mean “frustrated” or “impatient.”

      • Rosa

        Hi Katherine,

        Yes, of course, the red is embarrasing! Thank you for refreshing my memory 🙂 “Yellow” in Spanish (in that content of course) is more like “blushing or a little embarrassed” in contrast of red “intense embarrassment” I guess! 🙂

        And by the way, thank you for letting me know that “yellow” means “cowardly” in methaphorical English, I didn’t know that.

        • Carol Tice

          Yeah, I think that’s what was hanging me up about the yellow — and this has all provided a great example of how tough it is to translate culture to another language and audience.

  30. Roger Pell

    Thank you for this candid description and assessment of the ESL writing experience. A thought, not of my crafting, comes to mind. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Best of luck to all!

  31. M. Edward Lovett

    I was the foreign expert advisory editor for a Chinese ESL media publisher. I polished the written English of 16 Chinese editors. At the end of the day I would spend an hour with the asst. chief editor, and another half hour with the chief editor. I have to tell you, most of the 16 young graduates were quite amazing. The company had to weed them out from thousands upon thousands of applicants just to find them however. The 16 was overkill. They knew perhaps eight would produce outstanding work. Also remember I was polishing everyone’s work. That amounted to me mostly marking it up and sending it back for re-writes. If a writer was continually giving me schlock, I would show it to the asst. chief editor and some sort of coaching, warning, or even firing would be in order.

    Only one of them had “the gift”. She was a natural. I never had to correct anything she wrote, ever. She went on for a Masters of English in London, returned to China and works for a big Chinese conglomerate as the liaison for foreign investors.

    I also gave mock IELTS exams to 6,000 college graduates for two language schools and one university over five years. 3/4 failed. Two dozen out of the remaining 1500 passes could actually compete with native English writers.

    The best non-native English writers I met in my five years in China were hands down, the Russians. The most hopeful were the Indians–emphasis on hopeful. More realistic goals as you put forth are in order for the majority of them.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for the hard stats on how few non-native writers can really cut it — very interesting and NOT surprising to me, based on what I see out there.

    • Leslie

      That is so interesting about the Russians. I wonder why.

    • Firth McQuilliam

      Oh, wow — that’s absolutely fascinating! Dey be boppin’ along, mon, and den de teach, she say nope! Ain’t no pass! The faces grow long and sad! ^^;

      Sorry about that last bit, by the way. I tend at times to break into a silly and totally non-genuine mashup of various English dialects or whatever they’re called. Oy vey, can I be a nebbish! Sometimes, my word mangling is just sick! ^_^

      Seriously, I wonder where one might find an easy-to-understand study of what makes idiomatic American English so difficult for non-natives to master. Other than common weirdness such as “in order to” and “kindly,” I’d be hard pressed to clearly describe how I and doubtless millions of others can so quickly identify ESL writers. Is this phenomenon any different from, say, how a native French or Spanish speaker can quickly identify a nonnative speaker?

  32. Karla

    If you can’t help someone at least don’t hurt them… As a writer you should know that words are a powerful tool, they can touch souls in both good and bad ways. It was very painful for me to read this article. As an ESL writer, I struggle everyday to improve my English. I understand around 95% of this language, I read books in English and I don’t need subtitles when I watch a movie. Writing is the real struggle because I can’t find the right words in my head in order to compose sentences. At least not at the level that I want. But if I can recognize the words when I hear or read them, it means there are somewhere in my head and I need to give my brain some time to get used to it. I need to have PATIENCE and keep going. I have an editor to help me proofread and edit my articles. Sometimes I pity him because is not an easy job. But he’s also a witness to my progress. Because progress requires ACTION. And action means daily writing. So please, please don’t tell these stubborn ESL writers to get another job. Or to get hired at a local newspaper. I pay a good percentage of my income to my editor and I still earn more than a normal salary in my country. Not to mention the freedom of a freelance job. You should know that there are places in this world where the notion of content contributor doesn’t exist. I understand you’re getting e-mails from people asking for help, but discouraging them from following their dreams is heartbroken. The best thing you can do is encourage them to use English daily and let them know that with perseverence and hard work everything is possible.

    • C. Hope Clark

      Some of us are simply editors managing a business, not teachers, not mind-readers, and our days are slammed with deadlines. When I receive submissions so wrought with errors, I tell them I an sorry, but it is too obvious that English is their second language. And when they are so far off the mark in the topic they pitch, I direct them to the submissions page. However, when they jump back, so eager that I even wrote them back with a rejection, and want me to teach them English and writing, give them one chance . . . sorry, I can’t. The rejection ought to be the lesson. I am not their motivational guru. Then some get angry because I rejected them stating I don’t give people chances. My job isn’t to give people chances. It’s to provide a solid publication to readers who expect good work. Then there are some who resubmit, again with a topic that doesn’t have anything to do with the publication indicating they didn’t bother reading the guidelines. It’s not just the ESL issue. It’s disrespecting the publication by defying the guidelines and not submitting properly. Some of that has to do with their lack of understanding of English. Some send me five or six in the same day after I’ve nicely tried to advise them. By the fifth or sixth submission, I simply tell them no and do not submit again. Respect isn’t a one-way street. It goes both ways. As managers of publications, we do not get paid to continually deal/train/educate those not reading guidelines or those who aren’t versed in the language. The first time merits a nice response. Repetition takes tough love and a firm no.

      • Carol Tice

        One tires of the assumption that I’m here to provide 24/7 free mentoring via email to people who are hopelessly non-fluent — and as you say, that is NOT my mission.

        And I’ve found the same, with people whose English skills are so poor, responding at all just seems to open the door to be hit endlessly. No matter how you say no, they keep coming back at ya.

        For me, a break point’s been hit — the final straw was that replying to one these led to a major email hack on my account, I was getting weird messages for weeks, and hearing from people on my list they were getting them, too!

        It’s just not on mission for me, as someone trying to help writers earn, to spend time with people who cannot. So, as sad as it makes me feel that I can’t help people who lack fluency to become writers, I’m stopping.

    • Monica Leftwich

      I’ve gotten similar emails that Carol posted and I have to agree. I’ve followed her for a few years and she’s never purposely hurt anybody. Just in reading the language of this post, she tried to write with care. And frankly, she provided actionable advice to ESL writers towards the end of the article. And I’m sorry but if your skill set is not exactly up to par, I would suggest to people I care about to improve their craft or find another skill set, the same thing Carol just did. I was not always a good writer but I did make it a hobby for several years before taking it serious and making money. And English IS my first language! As a freelance writer, you simply cannot wear your heart on your sleeve, dear. Carol did not write this to hurt anyone.

      • Carol Tice

        Thanks for the support, Monica.

  33. Gary Harvey

    Carol, your article combines common sense with grace and encouragement. Let’s hope those who need your sound advice read it.

  34. Soumen Purkayastha

    Greetings from India, Carol. Thank you for your caring words and I find them valid. However, I think that the ESL writers could be categorized into two groups based on their English-writing skills. For the sake of clarity, allow me to name them as group one and group two.

    Group one comprises the writers you had interacted with. I agree that such writers do not have the skills to produce quality content in English and they will probably never evolve into good writers. English is not their forte. Such writers have jumped into the freelance writing bandwagon by writing a few crappy SEO articles. All of my friends in this forum know how low the entry barrier is for claiming such articles. While I am sure that Kenya and Pakistan are teeming with such writers, India, too, have ESL writers who can’t put a sentence together correctly.

    Group two comprises ESL writers who are capable of producing high-quality stuff but unfortunately, they are a minority. You would probably know that as a society, Indians tend to value good written and spoken English skills. Parents prefer sending their children to schools where English is the medium of communication. You can attribute this tendency to decades of British rule — we used to be a British colony once. The English education system in India produces professionals many of whom are adept with the written word even if they do not make a living writing. Many of us have had the opportunity to gain some knowledge about American culture and lingo because we have traveled to the US and UK to work on IT projects. I believe such people are capable of becoming good writers, should they chose to even if their primary occupation had been something else.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m aware that the commitment to English is high in much of Indian society. And trained workers with a background anywhere in IT have a built-in possible writing niche. Focusing in an area such as technical writing, where your knowledge of the product is more important than perfect English (which someone else could edit for), is a great way to transition into writing, too.

      I used to have an Afghani friend who was trained by British schoolteachers, and when people couldn’t understand her in the U.S., between the British-accented English and her accent from being Afghani, she would get indignant, saying that her English was better than theirs! But she wasn’t trying to earn a living writing in English — that’s the divide that I think most ESL writers don’t understand is so difficult to cross.

      • Soumen Purkayastha

        Just going off the topic a bit — would you offer your views on technical writing/API documentation/technology writing as a niche?

        • Carol Tice

          The biggest problem tech writers seem to have is they can’t kick the habit, because the pay is so great. 😉

          • Soumen Purkayastha

            Thanks Carol! You’ve been an inspiration.

  35. John Morland

    Thanks Carol for being up-front with reality for the ESL writers. Two things come to mind for an English speaking Canadian who decided to live in Quebec to experience the French Canadian culture and to learn the French language. I did become fluent enough to attend the University of Laval in Quebec City. However, back in English-speaking Canada after graduation from a technical writing course, I thought that I could use my French language fluency to advantage by applying for some bilingual writing positions. I quickly realized that I was completely beyond my depth, and that it would take many years and many courses for me to gain the knowledge to become competent—even in a bilingual situation.

    Five ESL students initially enrolled in the same technical writing course as me. Only one completed the course although all of them seemed fairly fluent in English. All of the English-speaking students were successful.

  36. Felix Abur

    Lol. Carol Tice, I’m Kenyan. Thanks for mentioning my country. I have done my best trying to offer writing gigs to my countrymen and there’s lots I could complain about. Especially in terms of our language skills.

    Most of us born in the city have English as our PRIMARY language. We were born into families speaking English full time, in neighborhoods where everyone conversed in English and only occasionally inserted Swahili words in their English sentences.

    Our TV programming is 90% English. Our education system is conducted almost 100% in English, right from baby class level. The exception is for language classes.

    So I usually explain to prospective clients seeking native speakers that even though I wasn’t born in North America, the UK, or Australia, I think I am as good as a native speaker who has at least a High School diploma (I am a post-graduate).

    Anyway, fellow Kenyans especially those from upcountry who only started using English full time when they joined the workforce as adults, may think Carol Tice is being malicious.

    She is NOT. She is simply stating the truth. ESL writers need to work on their (I mean OUR) language skills. Or forget about earning a living writing in English.

    Another hard truth is that all of us, even native English speakers, need editors. If you want to earn from your writing in whatever language, you need an editor. No two ways about it.

    Lastly, if you don’t believe Carol Tice is right, check out this article posted on Huffington Post.

    Unfortunately, Carol has blocked URLs from comments. So go search for an article on Huffington Post titled “Writers want to get rid of fraudulent”. I mean, even the title tells you something is wrong here, right?

    Clearly, the editors are yet to see this piece. I don’t mean to belittle the writer. I just want to reiterate Carol’s point.

    Work on your English language skills and get yourself an editor. And that applies to ALL writers, not just ESL.

    • Carol Tice

      That’s interesting to know about education and language in Kenya — thanks for adding your perspective.

  37. Evan Jensen

    Pursuing a writing career for English-focused clients when you don’t have a solid grasp of the language is a tough road to travel (and that includes ESL and native English speakers). It’s not impossible, most people can learn to write and speak well if they really want to. (Virtual fist-bump to ESL writer’s who’ve posted here demonstrating their fluency, which no doubt required a lot of work).

    In my former life (like 20 years ago) I was a fairly fluent speaker of Afrikaans and mediocre speaker of Sotho and Zulu, but there’s no way I would have ever considered trying to write copy in these languages.

    But if you’re too self-absorbed to pay attention to feedback about your writing and language skills, and even recognize/admit that your grammar, spelling, and understanding of all the nuances of the English language is poor, it’s going to be near impossible to build a successful writing business. (This is true for native English speakers, too.)

    Your “Open Letter to ESL Writers” might sound harsh to some people. But it’s the kind of in-your-face-get-real-wake-up-call advice some people need to hear to make a course correction. ESL writers can still make money and be successful freelancers, but might just need to take a different approach.

    (Your post makes me think of Dr. Phil. I’d imagine the conversation would go something like this: “So you’re trying to make a living as a professional writer in English, but you have the language and writing skills of a first-grader. How’s that working for you?”)

    In your true helpful fashion, you’ve also given people some practical advice to keep moving forward (improve your English, redefine your market, be realistic).

    Thanks for having the chops to put this out there.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks, Evan — love the Phil-ization of my point there!

  38. Leia Woods

    I feel that part of the problem are services like Amazon. People trying to sell their $2 ebook. People selling services that say “you don’t have to be a good writer and some saying you don’t need to know English”. There is a big difference from people doing the writing version of drive by verses being a professional writer.

  39. Marisa

    This has been such an interesting conversation! But one thing that’s really caught my interest is the handful of people who’ve commented here, who are non-native English speakers yet have managed to reach a level of proficiency in the language that their writing is either indistinguishable from that of a native speaker, or close enough to be good enough with a few minor edits. Perhaps if some of them provided tips and advice as to what practices they’ve used over the years to reach this point, it could form the basis for a great resource for all other would-be ESL writers. I was thinking that Carol and others who are constantly beset by requests for advice or work, could perhaps just send the link, or a copy of that resource to anyone who contacts you and really isn’t ‘ready’.

    Seems like a lot of people who don’t usually comment crawled out of the woodwork to respond to this thread because it was such a complex and intriguing subject. And I’m one of them, lol! Thanks for making me think and participate Carol. 🙂

  40. Mariana

    Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes, Carol.

    As a non-native writer, two things irk me: job posts requiring “only writers born and raised in English-speaking countries” (yes, that’s an actual quote), and the writers who make those posts necessary.

    I recently wrote a post in a Facebook group basically saying the same thing you’ve said here, in much less eloquent terms. Some people chose to see it as discrimination against international writers… which is ironic, considering the source.

    Anyway… thank you for saying what not too many are willing to say. Hopefully, at least some non-fluent writers will take it to heart. It would help their careers immensely.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks Mariana — can’t believe how many comments are on this post!

      I’ve often wished there was some ‘English improvement for non-natives’ course I could refer people to. I’ve even thought about trying to create one, but haven’t gotten there yet! The problem is, what could you charge starving people? And how could you even feel comfortable doing that?

      I think the big tip from all the fully fluent, non-native commenters in this thread is: study, study, study. Be constantly improving and working on your English.

      That’s how you master anything. Stop assuming you know enough, and run on the idea that you have lots to learn, and keep learning.

  41. Babatunde

    I am definitely annoy with you Carol.

    Just kidding 🙂 I would have responded like that 9 years ago. Ever since a client asked for a refund because my English was too bad, I’ve read almost every book on English grammar and writing. Great post Carol.

    • Carol Tice

      Would you like some ‘advices’ on how to earn as a writer? That’s the big one I get. Good for you for keeping on learning!

      • Babatunde

        Of course. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want advice from Carol Tice.

        • Carol Tice

          Just joking, my point is the ‘tell’ is that they always ask for ‘advices’ rather than advice.

          And the answer to your question is…my kids. 😉

          • Mariana

            hahahahaha Carol!

            After a particularly difficult morning/early afternoon with my kids, this comment just gave me the laugh I needed.

            Glad I’m not alone!

    • Cherese Cobb

      Learning is a great way to take charge, Babatunde. Whether you’re an ESL writer or native-English writer, the goal should be the same: continue learning and growing, as a writer and a person. 😉

  42. Andre

    I’m disappointed and a little insulted by this post.

    I understand you’re talking about a specific kind of person – one whose grasp of written English is tenuous at best. But, frankly, singling out ESL writers is rather condescending of you. Native speakers’ writing usually has different problems, I’ll give you that. But it can be equally bad.

    • Carol Tice

      I figured someone would be, Andre…but just speaking the truth of my experience here, over 8 years of looking at guest post pitches and requests for assistance. I’ve never, NEVER had an American writer compose me a note remotely as poor as what I see from writers who hit me from the Third World.

      Yes, plenty of Americans have poor English skills. It’s just that few of them seem to imagine then that writing should be their career. That’s the difference.

      • Andre

        Carol, your comment gives me the impression (mistaken, I hope) that “ESL” and “Third World” are interchangeable in your mind. This is hardly accurate.

        I can’t even begin to imagine how frustrating it must be to receive badly written emails from would-be writers day in day out. But I doubt these people are representative of all (or even the majority) of ESL writers. Tarring millions of people with the same brush is incredibly unfair. As Jackie below me said, this should be an open letter to “bad writers” not to ESL writers. As you acknowledge yourself, one doesn’t necessarily equate with the other.

  43. Jackie

    Well, I don’t think it’s accurate to assume that all ESL writers are poor in English just because you’ve received a couple of poorly composed emails. I also can’t deny the fact that there are ESL writers who shouldn’t even attempt to make a living out of writing in English because of their poor English skills.
    But at the same time, I think we have all seen and heard some English native speakers who just don’t know the difference between “to” and “too” or “your” and “you’re”. Maybe your article should have been an open letter to EVERYONE with a poor grasp of the English language trying to make a living writing as an English writer, not just ESL writers.

    • Robert Blake

      Hi Jackie,

      “Well, I don’t think it’s accurate to assume that all ESL writers are poor in English just because you’ve received a couple of poorly composed emails.”

      Jackie, Carol or course can speak for herself and I am sure she will respond, but I highly doubt she wrote her open letter based on a “couple” of poorly written emails from foreign non English speakers who wants to write for the English market.

    • Carol Tice

      I think if you read the opening paragraphs, you’ll see this letter is definitely NOT addressed to ALL ESL writers. And it isn’t a couple poor emails — it’s a couple A DAY, day after day, for many, many years.

      Certainly, there are US writers who don’t know the grammar fine points — but as I said in the comment above, I find the majority of them are NOT trying to make a living as a writer, where many ESL writers who don’t have even a rudimentary grasp of English seem to still think a writing career is in their future. And look at the letters I’m getting — it’s not about the occasional usage slip, it’s a fundamental illiteracy in English.

  44. karishma

    I am not a fan of the examples you gave but ‘Native’ has a completely different meaning in different parts of the world. Thanks to colonisation or colonization, what is native English now? A lot of people in third world countries have English for their first language. I agree the kind of people who are asking you for advice in the examples that you have shared aren’t good enough to make a living writing but let us not put all ESL writers in that category and let us not generalise or generalize!

    • Carol Tice

      I agree, I think in these comments I’ve learned a lot about how ‘native’ English may vary from place to place! I didn’t know of the prevalence of English in major cities in Kenya, for instance.

      But all that said, the bottom line is that I have NEVER seen either the level of illiteracy OR the sense of entitlement for free advice and paying gigs from any US or UK writer as I have from writers in other countries. They’re in a class by themselves. It’s a real heart-wrenching situation to me, because obviously I’m not hear to squelch writers’ dreams but to give them hope!

      But I’m also here to be realistic and not give people FALSE hope — and if you cannot construct a decent English sentence, there is no earning opportunity for you online anymore, writing in English.

      • karishma

        Hey Carol,

        Didn’t think you’d actually reply but like I said, colonization; so, it is no one’s first language. Yes, I understand that the examples you have mentioned are neither people you can help nor those you can publish. They will first have to learn English and then write. Honestly, I have been planning to pitch both, you and Hope since maybe 4 years and haven’t yet because I know I am not yet up to the mark. May be some day. However, all I am saying is why discourage these guys for no fault of theirs? English teachers don’t know English in India and neither those who run English speaking classes. I have seen funny videos of Chinese teachers teaching English where they can’t pronounce certain words correctly and the rest of the world is laughing at them. I do not know how the situation in other Asian countries is but if it is bad in the fastest growing economies of the world, then well. I totally understand where your frustration is coming from, and yes, it is irritating but let us encourage and not demotivate. May be, provide these guys with some sensible places where they can go to for learning English? I guess you can’t do that to each individual but a new blog post or anything would be of help to them. And yes, they email back because even in India if you don’t speak English, it is difficult to gain employment irrespective of how good you are at the required job skill. If you are advising us to write in our own languages, we don’t know, we are sent to English medium schools where the staff is incompetent in English. I hope you understand. My intention isn’t at all to offend anyone and I repeat, I totally get where you are coming from 🙂

        • Carol Tice

          Karishma, I want to discourage illiterate writers from persisting in the idea that they will write in English for a living…because it’s not going to happen. Not anytime soon.

          And the people who write me are desperate. Their families are hungry. I want them to know that they need to think along other lines. I don’t want to feel like I offered false hope to anyone who then ended up starving on the street.

          Freelance writing is one of the worst ways to earn money quickly, as it’s often been said. And that’s when you write WELL! This is simply not a good business for anyone in desperate straits, much less someone who has years of developing their English yet to go.

          • karishma

            Alright! Let us peacefully choose to agree to disagree. I guess both of us are coming from very different places. 🙂 Good Luck with your blog. Apart from this particular post that slightly unsettles me, your blog has always been of great help in my freelancing career. Once again, we peacefully call truce! 🙂

  45. Bonnie Juettner Fernandes

    My best advice to ANY writer, whether English is your first, second, or umpteenth language, is to read, read, read, and write, write, write. Not just in terms of volume, but variety–read and write in many different formats and styles. That’s how you pick up the skills that are needed to read and write in English (or, I suspect, in any language) at a level of advanced fluency.

    The Internet provides lots of opportunities for small doses of writing practice in any language–simply friending and holding regular conversations with people who speak the language that you’re learning will help.

    As an aside–Carol, when I first saw your title for this post, I thought you were referring to people who write ESL textbooks! Which is a niche that some writers do specialize in.

  46. Bonnie Juettner Fernandes

    A second comment, because while scrolling up I noticed a comment asking “what is native English?”:

    It’s true that there are many dialects of English. On Wordy, a real-time editing platform, the editors are divided into those who specialize in UK English, those who specialize in US English, and those who specialize in Australian English. And of course there are many other dialects out there, like African-American English, which has its own rules. Speakers of different dialects might easily misjudge each other as non-fluent or illiterate, but that isn’t necessarily so. However, I don’t see that happening in the letters that Carol included as examples above.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, this isn’t about British vs US spelling. This is about a complete inability to compose a basic English sentence — and a complete inability to realize that means writing isn’t a line of work you can earn in.

  47. C. Hope Clark

    Wow did this topic get splintered in a lot of directions. As a sister-type editor to Carol Tice, as editor of FundsforWriters, I experience the same problem. While all writers should read the guidelines and edit to present proper English (since we are English-speaking/writing publications), many do not. I have rejected three already today. All three were most-likely from countries that are not known as native-English-speaking. The English was broken, not even close. One piece was about a blind brother and sister growing up together in Azerbaijan. Another about a young boy moving to Mumbai to make for a better life. And the other was a general request to write for FundsforWriters (below is cut and pasted from the actual email): Hello I need little business i can make articles of 300-600 or more words with quality . I m Hammad Shiakh from Pakistan and 16 Years Old. My favourate topics are on Society , Computer , Some of Animals and Some Debates . I will Not disappoint you if You Hire me Thanks Waiting For your Reply

    I could list 20 or more per week, just like this. It’s rare that anyone has read the FundsforWriters guidelines. Somewhere they’re read that we want 500-600 words, and that’s as far as they got. They ask to be paid via PayPal or ask me to make exceptions and pay in other ways….often demanding to know how fast I pay.

    As a fulltime editor and writer, my hours and minutes are precious. I want good material for my readers. I do not care where anyone is from. I have hired writers from Pakistan, India, South Africa, and more. However, I can count on one hand those writers, and they work extremely hard to present themselves professionally. I publish them repeatedly because of their diligence. However, the worst submission I receive in the US is better than the average submission from countries outside of North America, Australia and Europe. That’s a statistical fact.

    The rejection rate is higher for those from those other countries, and it is not discriminatory. Frankly, most of my readership is in the US. It’s what I know, and it’s primarily my focus. I do not apologize for that either. I know Carol can take up for herself, and I do not stand up here in her defense. Instead, I wish people would truly understand the guidelines and VOICE of the publication.

    Goodness gracious, who likes to be rejected? It’s as if some of these folks have a sadistic streak in them. Some days it’s painful to reject. Other days it angers me that they made me open such a horrific submission and waste my time. Just please…if you aren’t even close in your writing or language skills, pretty please…for all our sakes…don’t submit.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m with you, Hope — I have published guest posts by writers in Pakistan, Nigeria, India, you name it! I have a nondiscrimination policy for gender, sexual preference…I’m wide open to anyone who can write and has useful information for my audience.

      At this point, I’m simply not engaging with people like your emailer above — and yes, I get tons of those general ‘please give me a chance!’ pitches with NO IDEA proposed, even — as it only opens the door to additional timewasting. I cannot help people who are utterly illiterate understand they need to look elsewhere for a career…because I believe they can’t parse what I’m writing well enough to ‘get it.’ Their English skills aren’t strong enough.

  48. Carole Cudnik

    Hope and Carol, I feel for both of you. Maybe you could “teach a man to fish” so ESL writers can help themselves…? One thing that’s not been mentioned is the use of MOOCs to learn the fundamentals of Engish grammar and communication (conversational and business).

    For those not familiar with these, MOOC stands for Massive Online Open Course, and 98% of these are free. Some of the main delivery platforms are Alison, Coursera, and edX. The specific courses are taught by accredited colleges and universities.

    This blog won’t allow me to leave the links, but anyone wanting to learn more about these courses can surf the web for Alison, and once on the site, do a search for English courses — the same for Coursera. If you use edX, check the “Communications” section.

    • C. Hope Clark

      As I tried to state above, I am an editor. I’m overrun with submissions as it is, without taking the time to teach people how to write, much less pitch. These sorts of submissions are literally eating into my income-earning / newsletter-producing / novel-writing day. The ones I mentioned are not even the ones asking me ( ) for free money/grants/assistance from me to self-publish their first book . . . written in the same type of English. I fully understand agents who do not reply except when interested. It’s so out of control.

      • Carol Tice

        And of course the stream of these continues, even right after this post. One I got today, copy-pasted in verbatim:

        “hi maam please send me some work.. i want to work .please maam i request you”

        One thing I’ll say for other cultures is that many seem to be more polite than your typical young writer in the U.S. But there’s still the problem that I cannot send someone like this any work. I don’t have work I send even US writers!

        I mean, I accept THREE guest posts a month, that I pay for. That’s it. I get tired of explaining to people that I’m not a content mill…that instead, I’ve spent 8 years trying to help writers stay OUT of those.

        • Katherine Swarts

          Kudos for your patience, Carol. If this is the price of fame, I’ll need to hire a secretary-gatekeeper when I achieve my place in the spotlight. I’m sure I could never manage to stay polite after the first week of this stuff!

          • Carol Tice

            I HAVE an admin who handles much of my email! For a while, I had a stock response about, ‘Hey, you don’t seem like your English is strong enough to earn well — keep learning!’ or some such.

            But then they’d email back, and back, and back…I’m sad, but it seems like the only way I can continue serving the writers I actually CAN help is by not responding to these at all.

  49. Carole Cudnik

    Sorry about that, Hope. When I edited my original to remove the links, I took out a bit too much. I had originally posted the bit about the MOOCs on the Make A Living Writing FB page, and Carol asked me to mention the topic here. My thought was maybe you and Carol could put a small blurb on your websites that would refer ESL writers to the MOOCs. That way, you’re giving them the info without taking out the time to give each individual the info. It’s on them to read it and act on it. But we got the mention in here, and hopefully, some needing the help will stumble on it.

  50. Sumanto

    Hi Carol,

    I am a regular follower of your blog and I find them to be very practical and relevant.However,I would beg to differ with you,that all ESL writers are made of the same stuff.The ones you have mentioned above are exceptions and not the rule.Although I am an ESL writer,and might not be as proficient as you but this much I can say is that whatever I write is correct and precise.I am not being critical of you but I personally believe that English is such a language which has its own nuances and if one is serious enough then the language can be mastered.However,I can very well understand your situation since you must be receiving mails in bulk from such people.Thanks for handling different issues related to writing and keep on guiding and educating us with your posts.

    • Carol Tice

      Sumanto, this post does NOT say that ALL ESL writers are substandard — read the opening paragraphs again.

  51. Ohita Afeisume

    Thanks, Carol for this post. I am a trained teacher and so I appreciate how tasking it is for you to be inundated with such poor specimens of writing, day in day out. It takes loads of patience on your part to be able to maintain the necessary self- control to do your work and to keep helping others.

    For me, English is my second language. One thing that has helped me immensely is my love for learning. I am a lifelong learner. Therefore, I read a lot and have continued to improve my knowledge of the English Language. I do not take it for granted that I am proficient in it simply because I have a degree in English. As they say, the room for improvement is the largest in the entire world.

    My advice to the ESL writer concerned, is to have a teachable spirit. Study! Learn from the media such as radio, television and from people who speak and write well. Go for a never- ending improvement in your written English especially if you seek to make a career in writing. Indeed, practice makes perfect. Make this sacrifice and never give up. God helping you, you will get there.

  52. Daisy K

    Hi Carol. It would have been easy to take offence at the sentiments expressed in this article considering I speak English as a second language, and I’m from Kenya- one of the countries mentioned in the article. However, I don’t. I’m just sorry that the mistakes made by some,cast the rest of us -who are giving it their best- in a negative light.

    Anyway, I really liked the tip about using an editor to proofread my work. I always learn something new from your posts.

  53. Alex Maina

    I’d agree with your premise that if one is not a good writer, they should look for another freelancing gig.

    However, I have to disagree with the notion that ESL writers can never be as good as Native (read American) writers. That is a bit condensending.

    Just as you blame the fact that “native” writers may not grasp the tiny nuances in another language, you should also blame the fact that the writing market is not the same the world over.

    Most of the people writing to you have been attracted by the notion that they too can make a living online. Through your blog, you have contributed to this by encouraging them to talk to you. Of course, you are bound to recieve emails from those who can and those who can’t “write”. It’s part and parcel of your celebrity. People love you.

    I’ll speak for Kenyans. You are right that a lot of us who try to write for a living soon discover that its not as easy as we had thought. So most move on. Most of those that write to you are young and straight from High school. You will not find an educated Kenyan who has a steady job writing to or for you.

    In fact, you shall find them in American University halls as lecturers, professors etc. Just Google. They teach the English language to Americans and Britons too.

    I don’t think you meant it, but I wanted to make it clear to your readers that Kenyans are more educated than you may think. Especially in the Queens language. I know of very many Kenyan writers who are earning more than American writers on this blog. Just because they don’t send you and email doesn’t mean that they are dumped into an amorphous group called “ESL”.

    It’s nearly impossible to find a good writer anywhere in the world. I’ve been in the internet marketing world before the years you have mentioned above. I stopped bothering with ESL or not a long time ago. I look for good writers. Saves one a lot of pain and heartache. Read the article, if you don’t like it, throw it away. Trying to figure out if the writer is native or not is a waste of time and resources.

    I agree with you on one level. I totally disagree with how the article came out. I know it was not your intention, but it did. That is a lesson too for us on nuances in language especially on the internet.

    PS: Please don’t check on my grammar mistakes, I’m not a writer. I know my limits.

    • Carol Tice

      I’d like to know where in my post it says that ESL writers can never be as good — I certainly don’t think that, and one of the paragraphs in the introduction addresses that fact, that there ARE great ESL writers where you’d never know it wasn’t their first language. And more power to them, I say!

      • Robert Blake


        Some posters on this discussion are projecting through their filters what you are reeeeally saying and mean per their incredible mind reading powers, instead of what you actually said and mean, no matter how many times you have made clear what you are saying and mean without malice and as a practical matter of conducting business.

        Some people just loves to take offense where no offense was meant in the slightest.

        A few ex girlfriends comes to mind for some strange reason.

        • Katherine Swarts

          I’m bored to death with the “you’re just plain biased against ESL people” comments this post has drawn–glad I don’t have to answer them!

          • Carol Tice

            As I say to my kids around this point… asked and answered.

          • Mariana

            I use asked and answered to my kids too! Works like a charm. Hopefully it’ll work here as well 🙂

  54. Boris Ulianov

    The same advice applies for those non-native Spanish speakers from USA and UK. Damn, hire a translator, for God sake.

  55. Boris Ulianov

    I can’t help myself. The same piece of advice should be applied for SSL (Spanish as Second Language) writers from the US. Just look at spanishwritingcenter dot com. Their writing samples are just awful, but they sell them as high quality articles.

    If you don’t want ESL writers bugging around legit English writers, please practice what you preach with Spanish articles.

    Let’s just be fair, people. Most of you aren’t able to write in Spanish.

    • Robert Blake

      “Let’s just be fair, people. Most of you aren’t able to write in Spanish.”

      Agreed Boris. Hence why I have enough common sense not to attempt to write for the Spanish language market.

      • Boris Ulianov

        Of course. And, while writing in English when you’re not fluent creates just eyesores (like this) you can make pretty entertaining Youtube videos! Just look how successful is Taras Kul (Crazy Russian Hacker) in Youtube. 😀

        • Carol Tice

          Perfect point. Not super-fluent? Make videos! Stop focusing on freelance writing. Please!

      • Carol Tice

        YES! That is the difference. How many English-speaking natives wake up in the morning and think, “I know — I’ll pitch some Spanish-language sites for pay!” None.

        The lure of strong US dollars is strong, but unfortunately writing is actually a skill you’d have to master to earn at it.

        • Robert Blake

          Yep indeed. I am on the list of a Nigerian gentleman who I will not name but you likely know who he is because he helped promote one of your workshops some time ago. He has a writers site to help others learn to write for a living online…like you do. He also like you is a very successful writer.

          Seems he gets having a foundation writing skill in English is central to him getting hired as a content writer in the English market. His English writing is exceptional.

          What is the big brain leap about understanding this?

    • Carol Tice

      I know I can’t!

  56. Jane

    I’m Kenyan and I find your mention of Kenya in this deeply racist post offensive. Pick another country! The entire education system in Kenya is in English. Kenya has its fair share of dropouts like everywhere else in the world, but those who complete the education system are indeed fluent in English. Do a little research Ms. Perfect English. As a Kenyan and successful freelance writer, editor and media consultant, I read your blog and considered you like-minded,not realizing there was a white supremacist angle to your POV. Yep, I’ll unsubscribe. Two words, Jeff Koinange. Look him up!

    • Carol Tice

      As a Jew, one of the groups white supremacists have persecuted through the years right along with people of color, I’m a little stunned by your reaction.

      Given that I’ve published posts from people of all nationalities, creeds, religions, and sexual orientations from all over the world, and have a clear nondiscrimination policy for submissions, I hope I’ve made it clear that I never rule out anyone’s pitch due to their location or race.

      I reject all pitches that are illiterate. Period.

      I think if you read through these comments, you’ll see my response to those who felt their countries were singled out. I’m just reporting where I get the most illiterate hits from — I could certainly have made a longer list, and no country was being singled out here. Nigeria, Malaysia, the Philippines, India…I could have made a long list but just gave a couple examples. And of course, there are US writers who send ungrammatical, unsuitable submissions as well, but nothing like what I get hit with from abroad. Which is why this post addresses the problems of ESL writers in particular.

    • Katherine Swarts

      I dare you to ask Koinange what HE thinks of the examples Carol quotes.

      • Katherine Swarts

        Better yet, I dare you to volunteer to answer all the requests Carol receives from your fellow Kenyans.

        • Carol Tice

          Well, that would be sort of perfect…but I do already have an admin that answers basic inquiries I get.

          At this point, I’m just sending illiterate ESL writers to this post to read, and that’s it. I need to keep helping writers who CAN earn a living at this, writing in English, because that’s what I know how to do. I’ve had to admit I can’t help everyone.

        • Benjamin

          Katherine, if any unprofessional requests come your way the only option is delete them. Period! I would like to inform you that any message that is targeted to the BAD WRITERS, but the word ESL has been emphasized will always send the wrong signals. What I am trying to say is that; with emphasis on ESL and singling out Kenya you can by no means separate BAD WRITERS AND ESL. Our brains are structured in a way that they absorb “repeat information”. In the content of this piece of writing can you tell which word stands out most and where emphasies are placed between ESL AND BAD WRITERS?

    • Cherese Cobb

      Jane, a white supremacist by definition is someone who believes that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race and should, therefore, dominate society.

      Carol isn’t saying that only “whites” write well. And she isn’t saying that ESL writers shouldn’t write for English-speaking markets. What’s she saying? If you have trouble mastering the grammatical basics of English, you should stick to writing in your native tongue or improve your English skills.

      Since you’re a “successful freelance writer, editor, and media consultant”, she isn’t talking about you.

      I also think I should note that I’m an American-born Irish-Jew. I was born into the working poor. (I spent the majority of my childhood homeless.) I too have been following Carol since I started writing a year and a half ago. I do not consider her an elitist or white supremacist.

      That aside, my English if far from perfect, and I’m constantly working on improving it.

  57. Angela Brown

    I find it fascinating that people are getting so offended by this. This same advice could be given to English writers trying to sell work in Spanish, French or German. If you can’t speak, read or write in a language fluently, how can you expect to make money selling your work in that language?

    Why does everyone have to turn everything into a race issue? This is about skill. It doesn’t matter if you are from Kenya or Japan (or even the USA), If you can’t speak and write fluently in English, you won’t be able to sell your work. Try freelance writing in your own language. It’s common sense.

    • Robert Blake

      Angela, of course you are correct. As I said in a previous post, some folks just wants to take offense where none was implied or meant. And “folks” is not code for a certain race or country of people. Some humans seems to be wired this way. I also said previously that a few ex girlfriends fits this pattern. I wasn’t trying to be funny, just recalling many arguments that should not have happened if not for them “knowing” what I meant, when in fact I meant nothing of the sort. Sigh.

      Nothing Carol can do but ignore them now because denying her post is racist in any way will just fuel their belly’s with “Yes It Is!” unjustified indignation. She’s likely tired of beating that dead horse.

      Lord knows I would be.

      • Carol Tice

        Yeah, not going there — I would hope my track record of publishing guest posts from writers all over the world speaks for itself.

    • Benjamin

      Hi Angela, it’s nothing to do about race, culture, creed, religion, or anything in this line. It’s all about the angle this piece was written. I do respect Carol! I have been following her posts and I can attest to the fact that she has been my mentor/icon, and I’am 100% sure she has no idea how she has influenced my writing career, not to mention how to ditch content mills. In as much as you might see this piece from a different angle, the mention of Kenya seems demeaning in all sense. It seems fascinatinating to you because you have no idea to be pin-pointed when statistics are showing otherwise, Right?

  58. Craig Fleming

    Thank you for providing advice that is valuable to accomplished writers, as well as to those who are struggling to write coherently. I encountered a similar problem, but from another perspective. I accepted a project from a client who initially demonstrated marginally intelligible English skills in their job invitation to edit a manuscript. I determined very early on that the entire manuscript was in dire need of a complete overhaul. However, it was all but impossible to convince the client to make the changes necessary to accommodate an English speaking audience. The previous writer had most likely abandoned the project for similar reasons – her notes inundated the text. My tenacity has always been a valuable asset, but it was not in that instance; eventually I had to distance myself from the project to preserve my credibility. Subsequent to that unfortunate relationship, I contracted with a very respectable client – we had an excellent relationship, until he was saturated with technical problems. That situation resulted in an additional incomplete project. Consequently, my rating on the jobsite was decimated. Prior to those unfortunate circumstances, I had been cultivating a very respectable client base, with my 5 Star Rating. I appealed to the management of the jobsite, to no avail. I understand that this letter may be considered by some readers to be a bit off the topic, and I apologize in advance to them. However, I would appreciate any advice from anybody who has experienced anything resembling the aforementioned. Thank you very much.

    • Carol Tice

      Craig, the solution to the problem of getting your 5-star rating hit on whatever mass platform you’re operating on is…stop using these platforms!

      You’ve had a hard lesson in the capriciousness of their ratings. They also randomly ban people.

      Prospect and find your own clients, and leave this wacky world of platform ratings behind, and your career will never be held hostage by some faceless online editor again.

  59. Ariel

    Hi Carol,
    Thanks for your website and resources. Your help is appreciated, I just wanted to ask a question. Do you have any article I can read about how to properly cite sources and which format to use. I am new to this.

    Thank you so much 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Ariel, the proper way to cite varies from publication to publication — study the one you’re writing for to see what their convention is. Academic publications tend to use footnotes, where newspapers and magazines will weave the credit into the narrative.

  60. Shoba

    Hi Carol! I see in a quick browse of the comments that you’re seeing a spectrum of responses from deep gratitude to extreme outrage. In sharing my perspective, I hope you understand those of us stuck in a place of bemusement.

    I’m not a regular follower of your blog. Your post has been shared by others and I read it via Twitter. In visiting your website, I see that you have a specific context and frustration that has prompted your post. Outside this context, ‘An Open Letter to ESL Writers’ is way more problematic. May I suggest a renaming of the title to something like ‘An Open Letter to Terrible Writers’ or better yet, ‘An Open Letter to Developing ESL Writers!’ As it stands, it plays right into the hands of the prejudiced and the entitled.

  61. Benjamin

    Carol, any smart kenyan writer will definitely feel offended by the mention of Kenya. As stated above, in some of the comments, there are literally thousands of kenyan writers who are great, in the very essence of the word! And even a good number are guest posting on major publications for the so called “top bloggers”. Let me tell you something (my view); from the angle this ESL piece was written, I’m pretty sure It did’nt reach its target audience but was meant to flare up some ‘funny’ debate, If I may say so.

    • Carol Tice

      Benjamin, there’s nothing funny about the volume of broken-English emails I get from writers around the globe, every day, and I definitely didn’t write the post to stir up a debate. I wrote it to bring a problem in the marketplace out into the open, and to let people know that I am no longer trying to help people who can’t compose an English sentence — because I CANNOT help them. There is no place in the English-writing marketplace for them, at this point.

      As I said to many others, Kenya was just one example of the many countries I hear from a lot with illiterate pitches, and is in no way being singled out in this post.

      • Benjamin

        Hi Carol, I do understand the picture you’re painting for the so called ESL wanna-be writers. Neverthless, a better title or angle could be much helpful. I can see that you were bothered, frustrated, or, irritated, by innumerable mails from BROKEN ENGLISH writers, and you had to find a lasting ‘solution’ once and for all where you could refer them. And so, did that lead to this piece of writing, to say the least. In my POV, your tone in this writing says so much before the decision was reached. BTW, those who can’t afford food in kenya there is no way they can access internet.

        • Carol Tice

          That’s NOT my experience, Benjamin — they’re still emailing me, hitting me on Facebook, talking about how they can’t afford their school fees, their family is starving…it’s very sad and stressful for me because I CAN’T HELP. I wish I could make the whole world a freelance writer in English, but it actually requires mastery of the language.

          I really just mentioned the 2 countries I think I get hit by the most, Benjamin. Perhaps I should have also done Nigeria, which I blocked off my FB because it was just endless, the pleading requests for help.

          This post is just about helping people not waste their time, and helping steer them in a direction that might help them earn in future, because for many freelance writing in English simply cannot be the way.

  62. Will

    To be completely blunt I hate ESL writers – truly hate them.

    They drive down the wages and quality in this industry to a horrendous degree, leaving both clients and native writers worse off.

    Why can’t they write in their own language, or better yet try to make money with a skill they are good at? Sure beats writing verbal diarrhea for .003 cents a word doesn’t it?

    Most of them are simply terrible at writing, yet try and make a living doing something they are terrible at. It’s intolerable, words cannot describe my anger at these people.

    • Carol Tice

      Will, I try to have compassion for people who are usually desperately trying to survive. I gather businesses don’t hire freelancers or would pay pennies, in many countries. Not every culture has the same attitude toward freelancers.

      I believe the whole era of junk SEO content created a subclass of illiterates who discovered they could ‘write’ and earn. The problem is now, that era is over, but these desperate people haven’t caught on yet, and there isn’t another type of writing work they’ll be able to do, in English.

      I wouldn’t lump all ESL writers into one boat, though — some are completely fluent and you’d never know English wasn’t their first language. And more power to anyone who can write well in more than one language!

      I’ve just read through a series of increasingly hostile, disrespectful posts subsequent to this one, all from you, and deleted them and the responses to them.

      I strive to keep it respectful and civil on my blog comments. Please respect that policy. I won’t tolerate attacks on other commenters.

      The fact is, illiterate writers don’t affect the high end of the market in any way — and it’s incumbent on American writers (or UK ones, etc) to FIND that end of the market and stay there.

      There is no way to stop starving people from trying to better themselves — but I do want to steer them to something they can succeed at. I was gratified in this thread to hear from Harish, who took this advice, and found himself some tutoring jobs and stabilized his income that way.

  63. Will

    And Carrol, if you really want to help ESL writers you will leave my comments up.

    Feelings will heal; these people need to hear the truth.

    • Carol Tice

      Will, I’m removing your comments.

      To repeat, my blog is not a place to heap abuse on individual writers or groups of them. There are great writers in English in every country in the world, and great ESL writers, and this post is not a place to slur them all.

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9 Journalist Interview Tips from a Successful Freelance Writer

9 Journalist Interview Tips from a Successful Freelance Writer

Have you been struggling to interview sources for your freelance articles? Then these 9 interview tips are for you. These journalist interview tips will help boost your interviewing confidence and make you better prepared to take your freelance article to the next...