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Natasha Lane
Natasha Lane

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Making it in the World of Coders as a Non-native English Speaker: How to Boost Your Knowledge and Portfolio

The IT industry has been dominating – and is set to further dominate – both the international and many national job markets.

Coding, development, design, and testing have all become coveted positions that are not only interesting to work in, but also well-paid.

Add to that the fact that diligence, perseverance, and a willingness to learn often constitute the most important traits needed to get into the industry, and that you can usually start your career at a low-level position and work your way to the top, and you’ll see why working in IT is becoming the new prestigious career path.

However, there’s a bit of a fork in the road here.

In order to make it in the high-powered world of coders, you do need to fulfill one universal criterion: have a very decent command of the English language.

The importance of the English language

To a certain extent, it’s true that you may not need to speak English all that well to land a job, depending on where you live in the world.

However, code itself is in English, so understanding it will be much easier. Plus, most IT products are exported from second- or third-world countries to what are predominantly English-speaking countries. Lastly, English has become the unofficial lingua franca of the IT world – so if you want to make it big, and work on the more exciting and lucrative projects, language learning should be at the top of your priority list.

1. Learn the language through a course

The obvious first step you can take is enrolling in an English language class, either locally or online. Having a tutor is the best way to learn a language because you get to hear it, speak it, and ask questions immediately, which is not the same when you’re learning all on your own.

You can choose one of the most reputable courses available to non-native speakers, such as one of the Cambridge Certificates or IELTS. Both will provide the knowledge you need to make it in IT, and both are recognized internationally by employers all across the industry.

You can find plenty of online resources for both these courses, and work on your vocabulary for IELTS, or practice your grammar for the Cambridge set of tests in your free time.

2. Watch and read to help you deepen your knowledge

Another great way to learn a language is to watch movies and shows and read as much as you can.

Try to use either no subtitles or use the English subtitles to help you better understand what is being said. Also, make sure you watch something that’s interesting enough to keep you wanting to watch even when the language becomes a bit difficult.

Reading in English should be the least of your challenges. Anything from blogs to the news is a welcome option, but also make it a point to read something directly related to the role you want to pursue in IT. This will both help your knowledge of the language and your industry knowledge.

3. Find a native coder you can talk to

Forums and Slack channels are a great place to find fellow coders who will be willing to help you out, both with untangling a specific problem and with your practice of English.

Try making a couple of international friends whom you can talk to regularly, and focus on working through some of your challenges. Don’t expect them to be able to explain the workings of the English language, though – you can rely on a tutor for that. Just focus on noticing how they talk and enrich your vocabulary that way.

4. Don’t let fear hold you down

One of the most common fears non-native speakers face is that everyone is paying attention to their mistakes and laughing at them internally.

This is most certainly not the case. In fact, you’re already ahead of most of the native-speaking coders you come across, as you speak at least two languages, while many of them only speak one.

Try to work through your fear as much as you can, in settings that scare you the least: chat with someone online, leave comments on posts and forums, and so on.

Once you accumulate enough experience, you can take on an actual project.

5. The payment gap

As a non-native speaker, there’s a certain level of certainty that clients will want to pay you less than they would a native speaker.

Instead of delving into the ethics of this move, let’s explore how you can deal with it.

First, you can accept the lower rates as a way of getting into the industry, and work on smaller projects that will add to your portfolio. That way, you will have relevant experience to showcase and can leverage it into better jobs later.

On the other hand, you can absolutely refuse to settle for the lower price, especially if the code you write is very good. There are people out there who won’t care about your perfect English as long as your product is on par. Looking for them might be a bit of a longer affair, but it can be worth it.

Both of these courses of action are a good option. Your choice should depend on your personal situation and what you would like to achieve.

6. Prep in advance

Once you start working on a project, you can always prepare ahead before a meeting or even before writing an email.

If you have an English tutor, you can go over what you’re going to talk/write about with them, and make sure you cover all of your bases well. You can also ask a native or near-native friend to look it over and help you out with the grammar and wording.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, though – all non-native speakers do. As long as you show you’re working on it, and are genuinely interested in the project and contributing your best work, you’ll be coming off as committed, dedicated, and a true asset.

Final thoughts

As a non-native English speaker, you may feel at a disadvantage, but you don’t need to. Always keep in mind that the IT community is vast and truly operates globally. Finding your place in it may be a challenge, and it may take a lot of work, but it is nowhere near impossible.

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