Learning English as a Second Language (ESL) is, of course, extremely challenging – especially for those who haven’t had the opportunity to interact with the language since an early age. However, there are plenty of reasons why learning a 2nd language (in general) is good for your career – but even more so if you are a software developer. Here are quick tips on how to learn English faster, and why you should go for it.

Why should software developers learn to speak English?

It’s obviously true that one can write algorithms in any language they seem fit. They are the application of logic to problem-solving, and this means that thinking in whatever language is more common should make the work easier. It shouldn’t really make a difference – after all, programming is, at its basic level, a matter of breaking down issues into more granular, step-by-step solution processes.

However, most of the popular programming languages – be they used for back or frontend, infrastructure, or cloud management – use English as base. And it is, therefore, almost impossible to learn to code without learning basic verbs, for example. 

Different programming languages, specific syntaxes, but all do the same thing: present an error message to the user, for example. However, writing in English and speaking English are two different things. Some software developers and engineers might find it easy to code in English, and still struggle to carry a conversation. Let’s understand why, shall we?

ESL: Writing vs. Speaking

Most people find speaking harder than writing when factors such as self-consciousness before the live reaction of the audience, or the lack of opportunities to edit the message we send out. However, writing is far more rule-based and must stand on its own (without context, tone of voice, or body language) and can actually prove to be more challenging.

Software developers who want to evolve in their careers – especially those seeking opportunities in foreign countries have just one way to go: practice. A lot. 

Although English shouldn’t be mandatory (at a technological level), it does make life easier. Gretchen McCulloch argues this beautifully on the Wired article Coding Is for Everyone—as Long as You Speak English.

But why is IT an  English-first area of expertise?

It is quite common for different areas of expertise to use specific languages as the base for technical communication. In general, which specific language to use is defined by the Age (historically speaking, not related to your DOB!) to which that specific area of study has come about:

  • Latin and Greek are the go-to language in medicine, biology, and other such sciences. This is due to the fact that the founders of rational medicine came about the golden age of Greek civilization in the 5th Century B.C., and Latin was the language of science up to the beginning of the 18th century.
  • French is very much used in diplomacy, being the official language of the United Nations, the European Union, UNESCO, NATO, the International Olympic Committee, the International Red Cross, and international courts. For one, many of these organizations headquartered in Strasbourg, Brussels, and Luxembourg. Second, because French is spoken in many African, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern countries due to colonial processes.
  • Arabic is spoken by over 420 million speakers (native or not), as a result of the diaspora to affect the peninsula, and also due to the widespread practice of the Islamic faith. 

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that English has become the key language of reference when it comes to Information technology.  After all, the U.S. currently dominates research in computer technology – and, even if this changes, the country has already influenced this area of expertise.

How learning a second language – English or not – sets you up for career success

The most direct way learning a second language impacts your career opportunities is that it allows you to broaden your references. When you are able to read or listen to something other than your native tongue, you can access new sources of information and become aware of other thought processes. This is one of the most direct ways it can help you change your mindset, become more creative, and even make you more rational.

If you are a software developer, you have probably realized by now your role is closely related to knowledge management. Your software translates field-specific knowledge (Finances, if you’re in FinTech; Medicine, if you’re in HealthTech, etc) into features that help ordinary people apply it into their everyday lives. 

And that is why it is so beneficial to be a software developer who is acquainted with two or more languages. For one, you are more prone to empathy with the users, as you are open to different perspectives. Two, this myriad of references also gives you more input for problem-solving. 

This is actually one of the reasons why Ubiminds believes diverse teams are stronger. When more points-of-view are available to a team, the easier it is to both propose and pick a good path for the product to follow. Read more on this here. 

How learning another language beyond English changes your mindset and rationale 

If you did grow up bilingual, it won’t come as a surprise to you that language is closely tied to cultural values. If you’re Mexican American, for instance, you may find yourself more or less objective when thinking in English or Spanish. Sounds prejudiced? It shouldn’t. Studies suggest that when thinking or speaking in different languages can change thought patterns and, therefore, perceptions.

As a consequence, decision-making is affected too. If you are a software developer picking which way to go with a specific problem, the polyglot brain is a powerful ally, as it changes the way you rationalize and focus on your options. Research shows people who speak more than one language need to apply an extra dose of logic when choosing and organizing the right words. This effort makes it more likely for you to make rational choices instead of emotional ones. Curious, isn’t it?

Now you know this, use your languages in your favor. If you don’t speak a second language yet, we seriously recommend you begin to try! Brainstorming in different languages might help you make different connections among disparate ideas – and might get you unstuck from that annoying issue you can’t get past.

Convinced? Here are some ways software developers can improve their English skills

#1 Sign up for a specific course online

The world is your oyster – or, in other words, you are in a position to take the opportunities that life has to offer. There are tons of resources available out there, from friendly blog posts (like English Grammar For Software Developers) to specialized online classes, such as Voxy’s English for Software Engineering. Sign up and get started!

#2 Tandem with your peer group

Do other people in your community or workplace are interested in learning English too? If so, why not? Instead of taking classes, you can agree to happy hours and other social activities where English is the only language allowed – whoever uses their native tongue, pays a round of shots. 😉

You can also exchange time with other people, where you offer to teach your language and they teach you theirs. With tech like Discord and specific ESL groups out there, even COVID isn’t a good enough excuse. 

#3 Use specialized content – not just work-related!

Do you like games? Entrepreneurship? SaaS? Whatever you’re attracted to, there is sure to be a Podcast or specialized Medium about it. If you’re looking for inspiration, check these two lists:

Are you up to the challenge? Let us know in the comments what your key difficulties are, or what tips you have to share with people that are beginning their ESL journey.

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