10 Rules to Build English Communication Skills For Developers
Today's world is about distributed teams across the globe. A team member sitting in the Indian Silicon Valley or a software company of the financial capital of India might be reporting to a manager sitting in Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond, Washington (a suburb of Seattle, Washington, USA). This is almost as if you have travelled around the world. Hence, long-distance communication has become prominent over the last couple of years.
How it matters
But I am technically strong, so how does it matter to me?
Well, if you are really interested in moving up the career ladder then communication is the key. For instance, if you want to be promoted to be a Tech/Team Lead then good communication skills will help in the longer run.
Good communication demonstrates good leadership skills and so helps you to pave the road to new roles and responsibilities. Would you like to send a software architect to a client or listen to him on the phone when he can barely communicate; would you like to work with a team/tech lead or on-site coordinator that can barely explain what the client wants? I am sure not.
Why English has become so important
Do I really need to explain that? If you are reading this article of mine, then you are in the same boat as I am. In other words, the software development field. English is a global language to communicate with anyone whom you don't know how to connect with. Besides, if you are planning to travel, work abroad, deal with higher management in your company and pave your road in a highly competitive society then a good command of English is like “Cherry on the Cake".
Many deserving candidates are rejected every year for a USA visa (H1B, L1B even studying abroad) in their interview because they can hardly communicate well and can't impress the consulate person who is interviewing the candidate.
Consider that, even for technical interviews, how to express that you are a good candidate and understand the technology. That time is gone when you can cram for the questions and spit them out to the interviewer. The trend of interviews have changed. For instance, now people don't really ask the difference between “Abstract class and Interfaces”.
Instead they will ask you a scenario where you choose to implement an interface instead of an abstract class or vice versa. Even, based on your project description they drag you into a totally un-imagined situation and ask for your views. Such just-in-time situations and scenarios are hard to cram for, or even prepare for. So you end up sharing your thoughts or thought processes during the interview. Do you feel little sweating in your palms or forehead?
Techniques to develop good English Communication Skills
So what's the technique to have good English communication skills?
The following is the Rule of Thumb as it appplies to those candidates whose Mother Tongue or Native language is not English, just like me.
Don't panic about or fear English communication; rather work on it. I can share how I (a small town's boy of Hindi medium from northern India) made it possible.
Rule #1: Focus on learning English grammar to strengthen the fundamentals. If there is a need to improvise your English grammar then work on it for some time and the remaining can be learned by listening and speaking with others. Here is a good E-Book to strengthen the fundamentals from the basics to the extreme expert level.
Rule #2: Don't focus on accent (American, British and so on) immediately; instead focus on grammar for the correct usage or words and accurate sentence formation. Accent will come automatically later when you work with people across the globe and have developed a good grasp of the language.
Rule #3: Your skills building, in other words learning, must be by using English only. For instance, I see some people prefer to learn technology in their native language. I don't understand how learning .NET or any other topic will help you better in your native language, because most of the terms are English only; C#, CLR, Framework, Language, Compile, Code, Debug and so on. So why to worry so much for some of the plumbing or the gluing together of words in the middle to make sentences.
For example, if I need to learn what is .NET then what is it you won't understand in: “.NET is a platform and framework that allows you to build applications using many .NET compliant programming languages and even deploy and run those on many non-Microsoft platform OSs”.
I am totally against the reading of novels and so on to build an English vocabulary. Instead start a book of your choice on MVC, .NET, C#, ASP.NET, WCF and so on cover to cover. Yes, cover to cover; you read that right, from the About the Author to About the Technical Reviewer to the Acknowledgement, Dedication and so on and the chapters of your choice. I guarantee that the first few sections has much to teach you about general-purpose English communication. So your time is better invested into building your skills with books of your areas instead of reading a 1000 pages fiction novel like Harry Potter, especially for this cause.
However; if you wish to read a book other than for your technical benefits then reach out to me, I can guide you to some good books that might be helpful in various ways.
Rule #4: Listening is very important. When I was in college I heard people saying that listening to English songs will help you to learn English; well to be honest I never found time to double up my efforts to listen to English songs and then learn my study topics in English. By the way, I also don't recommend listening to English music and trying to read English material at the same time; it could turn out to be pretty messy, especially at the beginner level.
So listen to some of your favorite speakers for the topic of your choice. Listening causes great learning, especially in terms of the usage of words, sentence formation, accent, pitch, pace, sound quality and so on. My YouTube channel MyPassionForDotNet has a couple of videos from 10 minutes in length to 2+ hour long sessions.
In your free time, even listen to the people in your office, market, shops, conference calls, elevators, parking and so on.
Rule #5: No slang language; say “Yes”. I have often seen people saying “yeah” “bro”, “You know after each line”, “cool” and many more terms. Well, I suggest always say “Yes”; believe me this has an impact on your way of building skills. When you are good with English communication then an occasional use of yeah is OK. Basically, this puts you into a habit of strictly respecting the core of the language and also teaching your tongue what to utter, which is very important.
Rule #6: Hang out with the right people. If you know someone that can help you to polish your communication skills then find such people if possible. Well, I was not able to find any because I grew with people like me but time has changed. I am sure you might have someone around you.
Rule #7: Think big, start small. If you are in a discussion then start whatever you can using English and see how far you can go. Anyways, in our native land we speak in a mixed mode (some English and some native language) so instead you should focus on speaking only the English part and as precisely as possible.
Rule #8: Go slow. I have observed many people think that good English communication is all about speaking fast. Actually, that's a myth. I have earned a large amount of my professional experience working outside of India with people from various English speaking continents. One thing I have found common in all of them is that they speak slow, soft and clear.
Rule #9: Pronunciation, when speaking no matter what language you are using, the way to utter a word is very important. It becomes very important when you speak in English. Here is a great pronunciation tool to help you learn how a specific word is pronounced.
Some examples; I would like you to try and see what you thought was and actually how these must be pronounced. For example Scythe, calcium, pronunciation.
Rule #10: Get away from your native way of pronunciation. Our native place (town, city, country) has a huge impact on how we learn how to pronounce a word; many times we continue to speak the same way, but with an associated cost with that approach. If you have been speaking incorrectly then it can take a while to practice speaking it right.
For example, most of the Indian people, even Doctors, pronounce Calcium as “Cal-Shi-um” but actually there is no “Sh” sound in it. It's just a very small example of how our native culture has an impact on our way of speaking. Many people have the tendency to add the sound of other letters when speaking something. Try again how most of the people say “Pronunciation” and compare that with the tool I referred to in Rule #9.
Such issues can be fixed with caution, awareness and practice. There is nothing a human mind can't conquer or achieve.
So let's summarize the rules:
Rule #1: Learn grammar for better English communication.
Rule #2: Don't focus on Accent immediately
Rule #3: Learn technology in English only; strictly books, audio, video and so on
Rule #4: Listening results in great learning.
Rule #5: No slang, use words that reflect a respect of the language.
Rule #6: Right company, connect with people who speak good English.
Rule #7: Think big, start small.
Rule #8: Speak slowly but steadily and you will win the race.
Rule #9: Pronounce correctly; this is impressive in its own way.
Rule #10: Go global; to some extent, get away from your native tongue and pronunciation.
-Chief Administrative Officer.