English Vinglish

There’s an Indian movie called English Vinglish, which stars a beautiful actress Sridevi as a mother of two, an owner of a small home-based business and a wife of a white collar worker, struggling to gain respect in her own family. The reason of her not succeeding (in the beginning of the movie) is that she doesn’t speak English. Based on the movie, it looks like it’s quite a big thing in India; if you are an English speaker, you can get a better job, get your kids to a better school, earn more money – and, well, you’ll be more respected.

As a software developer from a non-first-world country, I can relate to that. A software developer, speaking good English, is a kind of elite in Ukraine. He can find a job with the outsourcing company, or outstaffing, or whatever it’s called, the main thing being that an employee is working for a foreign client. And is getting paid the rates which are therefore much higher than he’d get with a domestic client, on average.

Of course, the first thing here is being a highly qualified tech specialist. But the second thing is speaking good English. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why this second thing is so badly underestimated.

The quality of teaching English in Ukrainian schools is, honestly, appalling. From my experience and the experience of my colleagues, none of them has ever learned to speak English in school, nor in college or university. Everyone had private tutors, or paid English courses, or whatever, but they did have additional lessons. And even after that, a lot of software developers underestimate the importance of really communicating with the client, not just barely getting through the stumbling dialog.

I am pretty sure there’s at least one occasion when I wasn’t being let go thanks to me being better in English that another colleague. The team was being cut in half, and some people were let go, but I wasn’t. I can’t of course be a hundred percent sure that this was the main reason of me staying on, but I suspect it strongly.

English isn’t just the means of communication. It’s your window to the world outside. I am sure that this miserable teaching in schools inherits a lot from the Soviet times when people were thought to be better off not being too good in English – that way they only had the sources of information provided within the borders of the Soviet Union, and of course those sources were fully controlled. Now, this happens again with Russian propaganda.

Also, English is kinda a measure of your intellectual level. It’s not directly related of course. There’s a lot of people who are very smart and intelligent but can’t express themselves very well in another language. Well, what can I say – it does them no favors. It’s not fair, but if you can’t speak properly, a lot of people will have a hard time considering you to be their equal. It is less pronounced in cultures like American and maybe Canadian where there’s historically been lots and lots of different immigrants becoming a part of the population, but it can still happen.

This text isn’t ground-breaking of course. It doesn’t really say anything very original. What I wanted to say is this: if you haven’t had the good luck to be born in a first-world country, then in addition to a good profession, you must learn English, and learn it well. It won’t open all the doors; it’s not a magic bullet. It’s just your means to an end, the end being a better life.

Everyone wants a better life, right?



About Maryna Cherniavska

I have productively spent 10+ years in IT industry, designing, developing, building and deploying desktop and web applications, designing database structures and otherwise proving that females have a place among software developers. And this is a good place.
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