When it comes to writing copy that feels right, there’s no substitute for being a native speaker. But could learning a foreign language improve your English?

Lost in translation: a good dictionary will improve your writing.

It can sometimes seem as though everyone speaks English, so there’s no point in learning anything else. But learning a foreign language is still worthwhile, even if your profession depends only on your grasp of English.

In the 1980s, teaching English grammar in schools started to go out of fashion. So it became the job of German, French, Latin, Spanish and even Russian teachers to explain the basics of grammar. Because without the experience of a native speaker, students need grammar to navigate a path through the maze of tenses, cases and pronouns.

It’s not difficult to get through life without knowing the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom’. But as a copywriter you need to be able to explain the difference to your client, and crucially, tell them whether or not it matters (and why).

There are other benefits too. Learning another language gives you a second viewpoint on the way you write and speak. You learn how native speakers use words we’ve adopted into English. You find out which words have links to similar words in other languages, and what they originally meant. 

And you come across words that mean something brilliant and very useful, but have no equivalent in English. Zeitgeist is a great example of a word like this – one we’ve adopted because it expresses exactly what we mean.

Speaking any other language, no matter badly you do it, gives you a greater appreciation of English. So I’d encourage anyone who writes for a living to give it a go. Vive la difference!

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