Have you encountered job ads that exclusively seek native speakers? Have you faced rejections due to not being a prolific writer?
As a non-native writer, you may have great thoughts, stories, or research to share, but your writing style and quality may not always measure up to those of native writers. This often results in discrimination and prejudice. And, this bias is not just limited to non-native speakers but also extends to native speakers from BIPOC communities, who face constant scrutiny.
Anecdotes from exophonic writers – the term for those who write in a language that isn’t their mother tongue – residing in countries like the US, Canada, and the UK suggest that non-native writers are at a disadvantage when applying for jobs or submitting their work, leaving little to no chance for those who have never been to Western countries.
While linguistic discrimination is a common problem, it is understandable that editors from reputed publications may not have the bandwidth to edit and publish articles that are not well-comprehended, as doing so may require additional editing time and resources.
This results in non-native writers constantly facing rejection across various genres, from artwork to scientific research, solely on the basis of linguistic proficiency. However, the emergence of AI tools like ChatGPT has revolutionized the writing industry and levelled the playing field for all writers. It’s time to step up!
Understanding Discrimination and the Barrier to Entry
Before discussing ways for non-native writers to improve their writing skills to meet “native standards,” it is important to address the issue of discrimination and prejudice that create a barrier to entry that doesn’t automatically get eradicated by a better quality of writing. This section will present anecdotes from real writers and research papers as evidence.
Nilofar Shidmehr, a well-known writer, a PhD holder, and a faculty member at Douglas College in Canada, has experienced discrimination based on her background as a non-native English speaker. “In Canada, I have sometimes felt that others consider me less capable of becoming an ‘English’ writer, and it saddens me to a great degree,” she says.
Rachel Werner, a BIPOC author and the founder of The Little Book Project WI, speaks about the bias against marginalized communities. “It’s no secret that the publishing industry has numerous issues in terms of excluding individuals from marginalized communities. This is true not only for who gets hired as writers and editors but also for the sort of content which repeatedly gets published,” she says. Rachel also talks about the snide remarks she would constantly get. “It was obvious I was less respected than several of my co-workers. Oftentimes, demeaning remarks would be attributed to my ‘lack of experience’ working in glossy editorial and my age.”
Paula Cheung, a self-published author with a Master’s degree from the UK who currently resides in Canada, shares her experience of feeling bias and wanting to give up.
I didn’t think that publications or editors would ever be biased toward BIPOC writers, but at the back of my head, I did. I felt it had something to do with my Asian surname, so I adopted a pen name. The discrimination made me question myself as a writer. A few times, I was on the verge of giving up until I realized that writing was, in fact, my true passion.
Aside from anecdotal examples, research has well-documented discrimination against non-native speakers in both speech and text.
- People with accents are often perceived with skepticism and considered to be less reliable. And, this is the case for both non-native speakers and native BIPOC speakers who are given less credibility because of their accents.
- Publishing may require more effort from non-native writers.
- Research papers and academic journals are often rejected because of poor linguistic skills.
- The requirement for ‘Native English’ in job ads, while unlawful, is still very much prevalent.
In conclusion, discrimination against non-native speakers and writers is a well-documented issue, and the steps to address it through legal means can be discussed another day. While discrimination stemming from prejudices cannot be helped, we can still take steps to mitigate discrimination against ‘inferior’ writing skills by identifying the main challenges and using language processing AI to improve quality.
Linguistic Challenges Faced By Non-Native Writers
Before we jump to how AI can help, we will try to break down the challenges faced by non-native writers.
When we think about linguistic challenges, we often focus on issues related to the language itself and how to write correctly. However, the cultural challenges of a particular language are often overlooked. Non-native writers may fail to align with the culture of their target audiences, which can create challenges in areas such as humour and conversational style. Conventions differ across cultures, and the inability to comprehend the etiquette, styling, and cultural references that resonate with the target audience can be problematic.
Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation
Sentence structure, verb tense, articles, and prepositions can differ significantly between languages, making it difficult for non-native writers to apply the correct rules. Additionally, spelling and punctuation differ between US and UK dialects. For instance, the usage of periods and commas around quotation marks or the correct way to spell words can get confusing due to these differences.
Sentence structure can vary significantly between languages, and it can often be a challenge for non-native writers to write sentences that are easily readable for their target audience. This is something I personally struggle with, and you may have come across sentences in this article that are a bit too long!
Style and Tone
The style and tone of writing differ significantly among regions. While writers from Asian countries tend to write in a descriptive and formal manner, readers from Western countries often prefer a concise and conversational style of writing. Professional editor, Chelsea Terry, argues that the phrase, “write as you speak,” is not applicable to non-native writers.
AI Tools and Their Role in Assisting Non-Native Writers
Thankfully, with the recent advancements in AI language modeling and the accessibility of specialized tools, we can address many of the challenges discussed in the previous section and write better.
Utilize ChatGPT to generate ideas, receive constructive feedback on your writing, correct errors, and enhance the style of your writing
ChatGPT is a language model that has been designed to understand and generate human-like text. Backed by Microsoft, which has recently invested $10 billion dollars in its parent company, ChatGPT has taken the internet by storm.
For writers, it is a valuable resource that can help generate ideas, correct grammatical errors, suggest improvements for text, rephrase sentences, and tailor them for the intended audience. The tool can also critically review your work and suggest ways to improve it.
However, caution should be exercised when using this tool as ChatGPT can sometimes be incorrect and does not hesitate before lying. Plus, Generating passages with the application and using them in your articles can be a bad idea as it essentially is plagiarism with extra steps. Plus, incorrect usage of the tool can spread misinformation, and perpetuate biases and stereotypes, given that the system has learned from a vast dataset without any filters.
Nonetheless, for non-native writers who struggle with style, tone, and syntax, ChatGPT can be life-changing. The best use case of ChatGPT is to improve your original content instead of generating content for you.
Use Grammarly to fix grammar and typos as you write
Grammarly is an AI-powered, cloud-based typing assistant that has been widely used by writers long before ChatGPT came into the limelight. The tool seamlessly integrates with webpages such as Google Docs, Gmail, Facebook, etc., and provides real-time suggestions for corrections as you type.
While the product is commonly used by writers to fix spelling, grammar, and typographic errors, it can also help simplify sentences or adjust the tone of your language. For example, it may suggest breaking up a long sentence into two or three shorter ones or using simpler words to make a sentence more concise. By selecting the target demographic within the tool, non-native writers can write content that is suitable for the intended readers.
Use Hemingway Editor to make articles more readable
Hemingway Editor is a web application that uses language processing to recognize problems in your writing. The most important use case of this application is to help you make your writing concise by providing suggestions that can make your writing easier to understand. The application helps you create simpler sentences, avoid passive voice, and eliminate complex or unnecessary words.
In the previous section, we talked about how many non-native writers have a descriptive style of writing while the Western audience looks for a simple conversational, and engaging tone. This application can help in solving this problem. The application also provides a readability score, which estimates the education level required for readers to understand your writing. This can help you tone your writing for the intended audience.
Word of Caution: Do Not Lose Your Voice!
While AI has helped non-native writers improve their writing skills, it’s important to use these tools carefully. Over-reliance on AI can strip away your unique voice, which is essential to give soul to your work. And, without a soul, you might as well just create AI-generated content and call it a day!
AI, in its current form, is neither a replacement for a unique human voice nor a replacement for human feedback and the editing process. Plus, these tools are not always accurate and can make mistakes.
When I first found ChatGPT, I would use it for trivial tasks like reviewing personal emails, even when I did not need it, because why not? The tool is always available. Over time, I started writing sentences more hastily, relying on my stream of consciousness, as I knew I could fix the piece later using my own editing skills combined with AI suggestions. It also brought self-doubt and anxiety if I wrote something and did not get it checked by AI.
The key to improving the quality of writing for writers is to use AI to enhance what has already been written instead of over-relying on the strength of technology. For many writers, AI has the potential to completely transform how they write and bring their own unique thoughts and ideas to the global stage. We can hope that discrimination against non-native writers will start to fizzle out as AI tools help increase the quality standards of writing.
Nilangan is a B2B marketer and writer. When not creating content, he indulges in his hobbies such as motorcycle touring and flying drones in the Himalayas of rural India. Connect with him on LinkedIn to discuss collaboration opportunities.