15 Free Writing Tools to Improve your English
Need help with your English-language writing? These free English-language tools are perfect for international brands on a tight budget.
Grammarly sits at the top of the list as the AI-driven reigning champion of tweaked typos. All 15 English-language digital marketing tools were divided into four categories:
- translation (quite Finland-specific)
- monitoring progress.
These tips are free and were test-driven by the team at Helsinking, a Creative Media Company based in Helsinki.
Translation tools (Finland-specific)
For when you know what you want to say in a language other than English
If you’re a Finn stuck for a word, sanakirja.org is a sturdy option and one you’ve most likely already used! The dictionary hits most of the business lingo you might need in your marketing efforts, depending on your industry.
Another goodie for Finns, kaannos.com used by some of the Helsinking crew for casual English-language send-outs.
Given last year’s ramping up of Google’s AI, Google Translate functions as a handy springboard for anyone not-quite-near-native. For those closer to the Language Professional end of the scale, I wouldn’t recommend running your piece through Google Translate as your first port of call. I find it hampers me achieving the tone I want for the text at hand. Translation memory software will serve you far better, capturing past strokes of genius.
Google Translate now comes with a Tap to Translate function for Google Translate for Android’/ iPhone. It allows you to ‘tap to translate’ whenever you’re emailing or instant messaging in a language other than your mother tongue.
Technological safeguards against English-language errors
Grammarly is an AI-run platform — released late in 2009 – which today is used by over 7 million people around the world. The app can run as a Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge or IE extension. The free and premium version of the app is a useful once-over, picking up obvious spelling/grammatical errors. Available on desktop or mobile.
For near-natives, the Premium version has its noticeable downsides. It won’t be able to replace a professional proofreader, at least not yet! Hence I wouldn’t trust it with any long-lived content with enough of a budget to get a professional involved.
The extension allows Grammarly to check anything you’re writing in English online in real-time, whether that’s an email or a tweet. This attribute alone makes it worth a try. Another useful functionality is that you can set it to regional English, whether that be British or Australian. I haven’t tested this function as the default US English serves my purpose.
ONE LIL’ NOTE OF CAUTION: Don’t draft work on the desktop version of Grammarly, for if your WiFi craps out, you might lose a good chunk of it!
Phone keyboard settings
Activate a UK English or US English keyboard on your phone or tablet, depending on where your audience lies. It’s more of a spell checker than a grammar guide, but still well worth having. Here’s a how-to guide for iPhone and Android.
If you’re someone approaching near-native (personally I like the term ‘placebo native,’ could it catch on?), this tool’s a great one for you. The Hemingway App helps you accurately judge the readability of your texts. Hemingway comes with a desktop app, and alongside readability will help you monitor your use of adverbs, the passive voice, and complex phrases.
For the lower the reading age, the clearer your text, especially for digital where attention spans are hard-pressed. By telling you the ‘reading age’ of your work, the Hemingway app helps you work towards getting it down to 10. Wisdom has it that if your text isn’t clear to a 10-year-old, it won’t be clear to your key audience, either.
This doesn’t mean you’re dumbing yourself down. Rather, you’re just making your point more clearly. And clarity should always beat cleverness when it comes to English-language content for your business.
Just Plain Old Google
Ah, Google. Where were language professionals before you arrived at their digital doorstep?
We’ve all googled something to check whether we’ve said it right. As tools go, this one’s pretty relatable.
But there’s a trick here for businesses who aren’t writing content in their mother tongue (or their go-to written language). Make sure to ONLY mirror native English examples! I’ve often spotted faulty prepositions hiding in the digital marketing efforts of Swedish competitors, for example. Stick to the British/American/Australian ones just to be safe.
Your Dictionary Sentence Examples
One Look Thesaurus
One Look Thesaurus is the indie alternative to, and a cut above, the ubiquitous Thesaurus.com. It provides a lot more hits and is better at detecting phrases. But, and you’ve been warned: only use words that are a natural part of your vocabulary. The less familiar a word is to you (even if it sounds cool), the higher the risk of you misusing it.
For recognizing your English-language pitfalls
These tools are social in the old-school sense of the term: they involve you stringing a sentence together and reaching out to a fellow human being. By doing so, you’ll gain self-awareness which will benefit your professional use of the English language in the long run.
I’m guessing that if you’re writing English in a marketing department, you’ve pretty much made it. There was stiff competition for the job you landed, and you studied for decades to get there. Well, counting those middle school days, but still. Kudos!
A lot of the errors in English-language communications by European businesses stem from a simple lack of humility and self-awareness. For content marketers wanted to reach the top internationally, it’s an attitude that’s got to go.
Ask a Native Speaker
Ask a British, American, Aussie or Kiwi mate whether the strapline you’re proposing for a digital ad works or not. This is genuinely fun and an ego boost for the friend in question! Expats in Finland, for example, love to feel included and tend to hate typos/grammar fails on billboards or online. Only some of the reasons why they’ll probably oblige you.
Have A Friend Check You in Conversation
If you happen to work with or regularly interact with a native English speaker, permit them to correct your English, live. Prepositions are veritable banana peels for Finns traversing the illogical walks of the English language. A little bit of old-fashioned honesty from a friend can do a whole lot of good.
Monitor Your Progress
Good things come in increments
Improving your language skills is an incremental process and, unfortunately, if you don’t capture the inputs and lessons as soon as they come in, ‘aha! moments’ can sift into obscurity like sand through your fingers. Here are my top tips for how you can implement monitoring to improve your — and your brand’s — English.
Keep a Corny Language document on file to capture phrases that you love! Rumor has it that Leo Burnett (an advertising dinosaur and the brain behind the Marlboro Man) kept a folder in his office called “Corny Language” where he stored tidbits of English that had caught his eye.
This document becomes a wealth of inspiration for creative slogans and suchlike.
Social media provides a constant flow of words in our modern lives. Follow people on social media for their language skills! Newscred’s 50 best content marketers tracks content marketing superheroes. I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but do stick to native English companies for language inspiration purposes: UK, US, Australia, etc.
When you do get corrected by an app, a Language Professional or a friend, make a note of it and understand what’s gone wrong. English is a notoriously illogical language. Often it’s the linguistic structures of your mother tongue which override the text you’re working with. And causes it to sound foreign or unclear to your international audiences. Monitoring past bloopers builds self-awareness which is pretty fundamental for self-editing.
Last but not least
Know what you want to say before you set finger to keyboard
By honing the message you want to get across before you set finger to keyboard, you save time and improve your chances of succeeding.
Grammatical/spelling errors lump you in with the worst companies in English-speaking countries. Over half of British consumers are turned off by poor grammar on a website. That’s a sizable group leaping straight into the loving arms of a competitor who has upped their English-language game.
Small businesses seek to remain agile by not allocating budget on professional native speakers. This 21st-century, digital toolkit provides ways for you to fake it till you make it.
– Heidi Aho, English-language Copywriter at Helsinking Originals