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English is the official language of software development. In this article, we’ll discuss real-world English for developers. We’ll explore some of the best habits to adopt and the most common applications of English in day-to-day programming. 

English language software
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Is English necessary in software development?

Let’s take a look at your new life working in the IT industry as a software developer.

Consider that this is your first day at a Fortune 500 company X. You are a software developer, eager and excited to take on your first project. Your project manager assigns your first task to you via an email, completely in English. For the purposes of this article, your name is now ‘Developer-1’.

Hello Developer-1!

I’m Steve. Welcome to company X.  I’ll be your English advisor. Allow me to share with you all the areas where English is necessary in software development.

The first areas, thankfully, you are already acquainted with. It is also the first information we reviewed before hiring you:

✓ Cover Letter

✓ CV (Resume)

✓ Professional LinkedIn profile and other professional social media profiles.

Other areas that will be more closely aligned with your daily duties include the following types of communication:

✓ Professional correspondence such as emails, memorandums, and formal letters

✓ Internal messaging on platforms like Slack, Discord, or Skype

✓ Descriptive README’s

✓ Github collaboration including ‘commit messages’, ‘pull requests’, ‘code reviews’, writing good ‘issues’, and writing ‘project descriptions’

✓ Meetings such as morning-session, stand-up, department, management, client, or general

✓ Growing your network with pitch statements

✓ Phrasing questions to ask for help.

This list is not exhaustive, but gives a snapshot of the scope of English activities you will likely  see within international software development.

Should software developers be good at English?

Yes! English will be used from the very first communication in your new developer role Developer-1.

To demonstrate this, here is an example of an email from your project manager:

software developers
Photo by Steve W Dames Jr

A great professional email is short, clear, and allows the reader to visualize one idea. Learn tips for writing amazing emails in this article by Dmitriy Nizhebetskiy.

Email in English as a Software Engineer

In your first email Developer-1, the ‘Subject’ is a mix of abbreviations and key title words that tell the reader what they expect the email to be about.

The reader knows that this email is with reference to ‘An Excellent Start’, your ‘first project’ from the client ‘Microverse’ dated ‘June 2023’.

The next important piece of information is found in the introductory sentence. The key words here are ‘project requirements’ and ‘client’. Notice that all sentences are brief and to the point.

A quick skim read of the email tells you all you need to know. You can start working as quickly as possible.

Finally, Nizhebetskiy highlights the necessity for including a ‘call-to-action’ (CTA) within every email. This CTA asks the reader to carry out a certain activity. The author can thus ensure reader engagement and provide a way to eliminate any reader confusion that may arise. 

Notice here that the CTA is ‘Please feel free to contact me with any questions, should they come up’. Apart from giving the reader a clear way to clarify any doubts they have, the key word here is ‘Please’. 

Using polite email phrases such as ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘could you’, ‘I regret that…’, will go a long way to easing communication. 

It is common practice that correspondence within large international companies be distributed in English to facilitate communication amongst culturally diverse international teams. If you’d like to perform any of the following:

  • Read documentation
  • Code Reviews
  • Take part in courses and further development 
  • Be competitive in job interviews.

Then you need to understand industry specific English language. 

If you want an opportunity to practice great skills in English like the ones mentioned above, while becoming globally marketable in the software development space, consider joining Microverse

Microverse is an online school for software engineers through building real-world projects and collaboration. In your time at Microverse, you will have practiced over 1000+ hours of English and be ready for your new career in the IT industry.

Why is Information Technology (IT) an English-first area of expertise?

IT english
Photo by Julia M Cameron - Pexels

IT is a global phenomena and touches many facets of life. Often there are important elements of life that we have grown to rely on that are directly connected to some form of technology.

This means that there must be a way to communicate with the stakeholders and users of this technology to ensure maximum benefit. 

When the application of a particular technology is local, then communicating to understand and utilize it becomes a local challenge. Perhaps it is even achievable through the locally understood language. 

However, there are certain technologies that grow beyond the scope of a single culture, nation, or country. There are shared needs that impact the entire globe and thus require collective experience, skill, and effort from global communities. 

For example, looking at a White House Archives article talking about International Scientific Collaboration, we find numerous humanitarian efforts that would not be possible without global teamwork.

From finding ways of revolutionizing agriculture to fight hunger, to working together to combat potentially fatal diseases such as Polio, AIDS, and cancer, there has never been a greater need for us all to understand each other. 

IT, which is the vehicle for many of these global initiatives, therefore must utilize a common language to drive change. English is that language. 

English language in the IT industry

The Information Technology Industry covers many professional disciplines. Knowing or memorizing these and their related vocabulary in English can be a challenge even for native English speakers. 

Remarkably, unless you are working in this industry you may not be aware of these interconnected specializations or the specific English language required. It will be beneficial to brush up on the most common expressions to perform well in your new job position. 

As we discussed earlier, in your daily duties as a software developer there are tasks that benefit from particular English grammatical structures and vocabulary.

Boost your English vocabulary with common phrases and grammatical forms currently used in the IT industry by taking a look at this guide for software developers and IT professionals. You’ll find useful words and phrases that every person interested in IT should know. 

English language when working remotely

When you are working remotely, your primary form of communication is often electronic; email, video conferencing, internal company instant messaging software, or good old fashioned voice calls. Increase your chances of getting hired in remote work with this article 7 best tips to help you get a remote job.

Oral and written English skills become an obligatory part of your everyday responsibilities. This is greatly increased when communicating remotely. Now Developer-1 that you are armed with some IT industry specific lingo, let’s see how we can up our remote work game.

To successfully complete your duties Developer-1, you must communicate with different colleagues, teams, departments, management, and clients when working on your project.

This can be challenging, as our company X is distributed across culturally diverse regions around the world. It’s a good thing you’re willing to invest a great deal of time preparing yourself to communicate effectively with your peers. 

It’s even better that we have a universal form of respectful and professional idea transference available at our disposal. You’ve guessed it, English!

When you focus your learning efforts on the areas where you will practice English most frequently, you cut your mastery time down to more manageable chunks. 

What is the best programming language to learn for software development?

What the best language is, is not a question that can be easily answered. The development project, tech stack of your company, and client need or scope of work, often determine which language you will use. 

Different languages have strengths particular to unique job specifications. These languages are also chosen based on how much control is needed between the programming language and the machines which they instruct. 

Programming languages are further separated into categories based on this balance of machine interaction. For instance, we have zero interaction between machine hardware and your written code with lower level languages. 

We can also have high levels of interaction between code and machine using higher level languages. Those languages falling in the middle share characteristics of both lower level and higher level programming languages.

Cleophas Mulongo explains key differences between these types of languages. Speed is stated as the major difference with lower level languages. They are usually faster than higher level languages. 

One thing all of these mid to high level programming languages have in common is that their instructive words are modelled after a language that is interpretable by humans, namely English.

How to improve your English?

This is a great question. There are many ways to improve your English. The first that comes to your mind, is often the best way. This is normally the area you are most interested in. Learning English has a great deal to do with your desire to embrace all that it is.

What is English? It is a way to convey your thoughts, ideas, and qualities that you love to the person that you want to receive them. And really, it’s no more. If you keep that at the top of your mind, then learning English isn’t a chore, it’s an expressive necessity. 

You can improve your English by simply speaking. I know it sounds too easy. That’s because it’s like coding. You want to code and so you simply code. You figure out what you want to say, your message, and you learn the syntax to convey it. Coding is very straightforward in this way, once you can define your input. You only need a feasible recipe or algorithm to implement that input into a desired outcome or output. Find the words, locate the grammatical format, and express yourself in English. 

What do you need? In this information age, your greatest asset is Google! In all seriousness, the ability to use available resources to find methods to arrive at your intended outcomes is important.

How to learn English on your own (tools)

The internet is littered with free and paid resources for learning English. Take your pick of Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Quizlet, Coffee Break Languages, Youtube (channels like “Learn English with Movies” - through to the remaining top 10 best language learning tools. But you already knew that. If you ask my advice, the best learning tool for learning English by yourself is you!

That’s right, your determination to learn English will propel you through to speaking supremacy. 

One day, I was at home experiencing the joy of remote full-time study when I started thinking, “Where are all of these ants coming from?” Apart from the obvious notion, that these ants do not pay rent, so they should not be living in my home, I thought about their resilience. 

An ant is the single most determined creature I have ever observed. The level of problem solving that ants possess is incredible. I remember trying to preserve a delectable sweet treat on the kitchen counter before bed one night. 

I set the delicious pie in a glass dish on top of a handleless cup and set the whole thing in the middle of a brimming pan of water. “I’d love to see you get my pie now ants”, I thought as I went to bed.

The next morning, through some unnatural force of nature at its best, those ants were having a feast on my mouth watering pie. 

What’s the point of this whole story? 

Be the ant, and let English be your Pie!

What are best practices for learning English?

There are a dizzying number of best practices and techniques for learning English available on various mediums today. For this reason, knowing where to start in your English learning journey can be difficult to say the least.

During my five years as a TEFL educator, I have learned time saving best practices that will supercharge your English learning. Below are my top three:

✓ Learn phonetics

Years of Teaching English in Latin America from kids to adults has taught me that knowing how to correctly pronounce English sounds is often overlooked when first learning the language.

For example, in Latin America, the sound of the consonant ‘R’ is formed with the tongue placed just behind the top teeth and barely tapping the alveolar ridge. If you’re interested, here is advice for forming the Spanish trilled 'R'.

Whereas in English, we form the sound of the consonant ‘R’ with our tongue placed lower in the mouth towards the middle and is produced towards the tip of the tongue. This great article gives advice on producing this important sound correctly.

teaching english
Photo by Polina Tank - Pexels

✓ Listen, Listen, Listen

When we are young, we learn how to identify and produce language from first listening to our parents or loved ones as they speak familiar phrases to us on a daily basis. 

This contextual repetition creates associations within our brains between language and the world around us. This forms meaning. 

Learning to speak English can be improved by listening to as many different contexts of the language as possible. 

This is easily achievable through watching movies, vlogs, tv-series, or news broadcasts. Podcasts, radio shows, and music are also great ways to improve language context association for the English learner.

✓ Read simple, and read often

When we see English grammar structures and speech patterns in written form, we naturally learn the language structure. It’s a best practice to find topics which interest you in English and read about them frequently.

Start with more simple writing and advance as your comfort level and vocabulary increases.

Use articles, blogs, breaking news, novels, and even children's story books. You will be amazed at how quickly your comprehension of the English language progresses.

✓ Speak and own your language progress

As a learner of Spanish from a native English background, I know that there is great fear in speaking your first words in a new language. 

You don’t want to sound like a novice, even if in reality you are. A word of advice, take the pressure off of yourself. People are generally very forgiving when you are learning a new language. You may find that the majority of people are more than willing to help you produce the target language, and are even happy that you are doing your best to speak it. 

Utilize online chat forums on hobbies or other areas of interest, and engage with English speakers internationally.This is a great way to practice natural English, having the ability to think about your answers before typing them or even using translators until you are more familiar with common English phrases used in your groups.

The key here is to Speak, Speak, Speak. Own your English progress and know that every day you remain committed to English, you improve.

What level of English should you have to join Microverse?

You should have Level B2  or above in English to join Microverse as all learning material, collaboration, correspondence and eventual interview preparation is 100% in English. The goal of Microverse is to prepare software development students for the global job market. One of Microverse’s aims is to give their students a competitive edge so that they stand out amongst the international software development candidate offering. A B2 level of English is an absolute requirement for this.

That's English for Software Developers

Well Developer-1, you’ve made it to the end of your first day as a high performing software developer, armed with the tools you need to communicate effectively in English. 

The IT industry, though vast, like many programming languages, has a finite library of words, phrases and techniques to accomplish your tasks. So, knowing what kind of work you are expected to do is the best way to match the necessary English language syntax to the message you want to deliver. 

All you have to do next is utilize the immense encyclopedia of free and paid resources online and begin English mastery one area at a time.

For more tips from ESL learners at Microverse, watch Studying and Working in English: How hard can it be?

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