Guide to Proofreading in Your Second Language

Proofreading is an essential skill that everyone should master. Even if your job has nothing to do with writing reports or any kind of paperwork, we interact with people regularly and having poor punctuation and orthography can often make us look pretty unprofessional — something we have to avoid at all costs.

But what happens if you’re living in a country whose language you’ve acquired? You’re somewhat fluent, but by no means a native speaker — how does one proofread and edit a document in that case? What if you’re a beginner proofreader but you’re not sure how to proofread a document in a tongue that is not native to you?

In this article, we’ll take a look at a few things you need to take into account when proofreading a document in your second language. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

We all need structure

In order to do something challenging, we need some sort of methodology. Many people will have different approaches to proofreading, and most of them are equally good. The essential thing behind a methodology is structure — an almost mnemonic sequence of things you’ll have to do to ensure that the text has no errors.

Below you’ll find a similar sequence of actions, which you’re free to change to your liking, but before you do that, make sure that there is logical reasoning behind their progression. Otherwise, your methodology may prove to be inefficient.

But first, let’s take a look at an essential distinction.

Editing vs. Proofreading

It’s safe to say that the vast majority of people won’t be able to tell the exact difference between the two, and that’s totally fine. However, if you’re reading this article to potentially do some proofreading work in a second language, it’s essential to draw the line between these two practices.

Typically, an editor is the specialist responsible for elements such as style and fluency. Their task is to make sure that the text is easy to read, has a cohesive style, makes proper use of niche terminology, whether it’s a written piece or a translated one.

Whereas a proofreader is the last line of defense against typos, lack of clarity, and small formatting issues the editor may have missed. Another critical thing that needs to be taken into consideration when editing a text is the editor’s recommendations — to err is human, as they say.

What needs to be underlined is that you, as a proofreader, don’t have to focus on making changes in the meaning of the text, especially if you’re dealing with your second language. Unless what you’ve spotted is an obvious mistake. It’s best just to leave a comment, rather than make corrections right away.


So as we mentioned previously, it’s essential to have a predefined sequence of actions you’re planning to take when proofreading a text in your second language. Here’s a potential iteration of a proofreading sequence:

1. Take a very general look

Start by reading the text from start to end and inspect it for any inconsistencies regarding its format and structure. Don’t make any changes at this point, just be mindful of the things you’ll have to take a look at. Inspect the consistency of the headings and whether they’re appropriately numbered.

2. Test the flow of the piece

Checking for flow is fairly complicated, especially when you’re proofreading in a foreign language. Consider reading the text out loud. This will allow you to detect inconsistencies much quicker. Pay attention to connectors and transition words and whether they’re used appropriately. In case you find that a certain part of the text lacks a connector that would improve cohesion, consider leaving a suggestion.

3. Zoom in on minor details

Focus on minute details like grammar mechanics. There will often be typos that a text editor won’t be able to catch because the misspelled word is a word in itself. Here are a few examples:

– Daniel left wit Maria
– They were banned form the conference

These issues can be taken care of with spell checker like Grammarly, but even they occasionally miss certain things. Therefore, you must dedicate your undivided attention to minor details like these.

4. Re-read for clarity

This is probably the best moment to re-read the piece and ensure that there are no sections that demand clarification. Some sentences may simply sound too vague, which can, in effect, damage the clarity of the text. This part is especially tricky because these aren’t small details that really stand out like a poorly worded sentence. Clarity-related issues are much more subtle.

5. Keep an eye on punctuation

Proofreading for punctuation is also pretty tricky. Many of the apparent issues have already been taken care of by the editor. Therefore, you need to be very careful to spot more complex punctuation issues like comma splices and misused colons.

Luckily, you don’t really need to be a native speaker to spot inconsistencies on a punctuation level. Most of them are rigid rules that can very rarely be bypassed.

“Be mindful of the different types of dashes and other trickier signs. Check whether they were used correctly within the text.” — Estelle Leotard, a writer and editor at Studicus.

6. Follow local standards

There are many regional differences between languages that you need to take care of as well. These have to do with time and date formatting, whether you use “and” after juxtaposition, and a wide array of other minor details.

Rinse and repeat

Once you’re done with your proofreading itinerary, repeat the process once again to ensure that everything is taken care of. During the second reading, review the entire text once more, moving through every single step you’ve gone through previously. Be especially mindful of the clarity and the flow of the text.

Do your thing

Don’t forget that you can always choose to devise your own itinerary, when it comes to proofreading a document, just make sure that your methodology is exhaustive. It needs to take care of all the aspects mentioned above, along with others that are relevant to the language you’re dealing with.


It’s not mandatory to be a native speaker to proofread a document, but it’s important to underline that it’s not an easy task. By applying these straightforward principles and adapting to the needs of the language you’re working with, you’ll most definitely excel at proofreading in your second language. Good luck!

Author bio: Bridgette Hernandez is a Master in Anthropology who is interested in writing and is planning to publish her own book in the near future. Now she is a content editor at BestEssayEducation. The texts she writes are always informative, based on qualitative research but nevertheless pleasant to read.