English has become the universal language of business, and culturally diverse work environments are more common than ever, whether on physical location or with remote teams scattered around the world. Gui Sarkis, innovation facilitator and instructor at VanHack’s Premium Academy, and Evan Reinhold, ESL teacher and English instructor at VanHack, had a friendly chat about global English for multicultural conversation for VanHackCON 2021.

They began by defining the role of the English language as a tool to connect people. Being half German, half English, Reinhold is familiar with different cultures at home, which also helped him navigate different cultures everywhere. “London is the capital of England and the heart of the English language. But an exciting thing to consider is that many people’s first language in London is not English. It might be an Indian or Pakistani language or one of the languages spoken in Nigeria. So English is becoming a language that everybody speaks. It is transcending different cultural boundaries”.

Sarkis agrees and adds that “that’s what learning a language is all about! We are trying to unlock opportunities for people all over the world”.

Global English & Native English Many people who learned English as a second language have experienced some hesitation about making mistakes or pronouncing something wrong This fear may soften a bit if we remember that everyone else is going through the same process. "The ratio of non-native speakers of English and native speakers of English is somewhat like four to one", Sarkis says. "So, there's probably somewhere between 2.5 to 3 billion non-native speakers of English in the world. And only about 700 million are native speakers. So, we are probably going to be talking to other people that are not native speaks of English, and that's where the idea of Global English comes from". Sarkis himself was born in Brazil and learned English as a second language. 

Andrea Piacquadio via Pexel

Global English & Native English

Many people who learned English as a second language have experienced some hesitation about making mistakes or pronouncing something wrong This fear may soften a bit if we remember that everyone else is going through the same process. “The ratio of non-native speakers of English and native speakers of English is somewhat like four to one”, Sarkis says. “So, there’s probably somewhere between 2.5 to 3 billion non-native speakers of English in the world. And only about 700 million are native speakers. So, we are probably going to be talking to other people that are not native speaks of English, and that’s where the idea of Global English comes from”. Sarkis himself was born in Brazil and learned English as a second language. 

Practice: “It’s like your mouth is going to the gym.”

Our face has 42 muscles, and speaking a new language is also a physical workout. “Not only does our brain needs to think about what it is that we’re about to say, but it has to send those signals to our mouths as well. And that takes practice”, Reinhold says. “I say it’s like your mouth is going to the gym. You have to go to the gym every couple of days, train it and keep doing it”.

Strategies to improve your English skills

Our teachers agree that even though you can learn a lot by yourself, language skills can only be improved by interacting with other people. They say an excellent progression would be learning the basics with apps like Duolingo, then moving on to listening to a few podcasts, then signing up to learning tools like online platforms, and finally actually using the language to communicate with other people. “I think group lessons or one-to-one lessons with a teacher is where the real progress happens,” says Reinhold.

Communicating with multicultural teams

Learning a new language also means opening the doors to meeting new people and getting to know different cultures. Our teacher enthusiastically urged those watching VanHack CON to remember that being open to learning about real people is more important than learning everything about a language. The best way to navigate a multicultural workplace is with curiosity, openness and respect. Speaking English fluently comes second. “I think being curious about people is what enables us to not act on assumptions or prejudice. It doesn’t matter how kind we are in our assumptions, it is always going to be something that can create friction”, Sarkis explains.

What VanHack’s Premium Academy can do for you 

For our teachers, one of the main advantages of studying English with the VanHack Premium Academy is using the language as a tool to solve problems, as a simulation of a real-life work environment. Early in the learning process, we all try to grasp the first fundamental notions of how a language works. However, the more we understand it, the more confident we become about using languages as means to other things. Reinhold talked about an exercise he plays with his students. “I try to create space for students to work in groups to discuss, co-create, collaborate and communicate. I like grouping people together to solve some usually an open-ended kind of its They’re not; they’re not questions with answers open-ended questions”.

It’s a never-ending journey so you might as well enjoy the ride

Some may find coding easier than language. Others feel the other way around. Regardless of how you approach these two abilities, our teachers say you have to see them as very different. “We spend a lot of time talking about developing and coding, where we are not allowed to make too many mistakes. Whereas I think when we are learning a language, there’s a lot more forgiveness in terms of the way that we learn”, says Sarkis. 

If you have ever used a dictionary to look up a word in your native language, you know that the learning process never stops. Studying a foreign language is just something you will have to keep doing forever. But, hey, why not enjoy the process?

“One key message that I want to bring into the talk today is about enjoying the process of learning and the ups and the downs that we achieve”, says Reinhold. And Sarkis agrees. “You just have to get yourself out there and try. Allow yourself to make mistakes and find the courage just to keep moving and learning”.

More resources:
Global Sapiens & Duolingo 🚀

Watch Gui & Evan’s talk here:

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