The importance of learning English professionally in IT

Being a manager involves developing people, sometimes firing people, and most importantly hiring the right people for your team. Sadly for Esperanto and many other attempts of so-called “universal” languages, English has taken over this role for over a century already, and is considered the official workplace language in multicultural organizations.

Over here in South America the development of English as a workplace skill is still a work in progress, the fact of living in a continent where Spanish is the dominant language with exception of Brazil (still Portuguese and Spanish are highly Intelligible to each other) makes things difficult. In IT however English is the dominant language, since almost all the documentation, training, discussion forums and conferences are done entirely in English and therefore for IT professionals English is not, in my personal opinion, a nice-to-have, it’s already a must

Several organizations (American and British mostly) have different exams and scales to asses the level of proficiency for non-native speakers, but the most simple one i use as a standard in my hiring process is the ICLS Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale, which consists in 5 levels of proficiency.

Given these scales of proficiency, you can identify which one could work for different companies depending on what they do for a business. Let’s say you work for an MSP, your duties are deploying IT infrastructure or automating proceses and you need to digest documentation in English, configure systems presented with GUIs or CLIs in English, etc.. but you don’t need to interact with vendors or customers in English. In such places an ILR level 2 Limited working proficiency is enough. But things get complicated when you DO need to interact with people and not only with systems, that’s when you need to get at least a level equivalent to an ILR Level 3 Professional working proficiency.

But, why is this important? well, the best IT jobs are exactly in this type of companies, with multicultural teams and customers, and speaking English at least on a basic level but with sufficient structure to understand others and be understood is necessary. We’re not talking about social English skills, just working proficiency, if you have an accent that’s fine, i do myself have an accent and so do the rest of my team, which is normal, acceptable and nobody will ever mention anything about it because we’re looking for functionality and not perfection. 

Unfortunately the psychological barrier from being able to read English to actually speak English is high, the technical gap not so much and most of the time is just weak vocabulary. For us Spanish speakers the English grammar is much more easy to acquire naturally than for a native English speaker to get ours, but yet the fear of not being able to speak properly and the lack of opportunities to practice English in the workplace -living in a continent where Spanish is the dominant language- poses a big challenge for candidates to get good jobs, and for us managers and recruiters to find the right talent. Right now i’m recruiting for 3 positions I can tell you for a fact that for every 10 candidates i get, only 5% of them speaks any English, and the rest tries to convey something known as “technical english”, which is a made-up concept here in Chile, basically an ILR level 2. 

To close this post i would like to stress the importance of learning English professionally especially in IT, we’re living a dramatic transformation in the age of COVID, where more remote work is available to us, from abroad, from companies whose workplace language is English, immigration is on the rise worldwide, English will not stop its race to become the standard workplace language and you need ride on time

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