Can you hire an Japanese engineer with poor English?

hayato profile image Hayato Ise ・1 min read

Many Japanese are poor at English.
I am one of them.
For example, do you think Japanese engineers who are not good at English will succeed if they are job-seeking in Silicon Valley?


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We hired an non-native English speaker as a programmer. We thought it wouldn't be a big deal but we were wrong--it was a big deal. We didn't realize how important English communication skills were until we were working with someone who didn't have them.

We'd ask this programmer to build something and he'd misunderstand and build it incorrectly. And then it would take forever to communicate the problems with his work and get him back on track.

We started getting him to repeat back what he was going to do but he'd still get it wrong more often than we could accept.

I'd get emails from him and I would have to read them five times trying to figure out what he was trying to tell me. All communication with this person took a very long time and had a high rate of misunderstanding.

Naming things is a difficult problem in programming (classes, methods, variables, etc.). And because his vocabulary was so limited, his naming skills were really poor, which made his code difficult to understand.

He was slow at everything because he was working so hard to deal with a second language. And every interaction we with him or his writing (including code) was slow.

I don't know anything about the hiring practices in Silicon Valley. But coding is a kind of writing and I expect that you'll have a difficult time writing quality code in English unless you are fluent in English.


Thank you so much for your lucid explanations.


I work with different people from different countries, for some English is not their native language and sometimes they struggle to convey their message across but as a native English speaker myself I try and help them get what they are saying across, yes they may be unable to express themselves to the extent they can in their native language but they make an effort to improve.

One way I think one can improve with English, is to make conversation, practice English where you can and ask people to correct you if they need to. Also watch children's TV like sesame street where you can pick up some important aspects of language.

When going for interview about 70% of it is how you come across to the interviewer and not being able to fully express yourself can cause you not to get the job at the end, management need to know that you can work in a team with no issues and can communicate effectively.


Thank you for your advice.
I will try increase the opportunity to speak in English :D


In my opinion, spoken/written languages are just like programming languages and frameworks: They can be learned on the job.

You can still succeed in Silicon Valley but your prospects will be limited, well, your potential employers will be the ones that don't see language as a problem as long as you write good code and demonstrates the ability to gain skills on the job.

The prospects you lost (assuming if your English is really really poor) are the ones that expect you to write and speak a whole lot (like writing contracts, negotiating with customers, responding to customer issues), which by the way are not what you want to end up with doing the whole day as a coder.

Don't stay with this mindset about your English skills. I have taken ESL classes but they didn't improve my English dramatically. I am now because I read in my spare time and collaborate with people on the job.

My former boss suggested taking that at one time and I told him: Just talk to me more.


I decided to listen to your story.
I would like to extend the programming skills in Japan.

I think it is difficult for non-native speakers to master English conversation.
By spending time studying English conversation, I felt that I should not reduce programming study time.

Thank you for your valuable comments!


I am also really interested in how much common tech companies in English-speaking countries require non-native speaker to have English skills. It would be of course hard to measure, because it is not something quantitative. I just wonder if even the guy who is not really good at speaking English can get a tech job if he has a talented coding skill. I am not sure how to measure it as well though.


Thank you for your comment.


Yes, you can. English is just part of communication. You should have strong programming skills. Not only to work in Silicon Valley but anywhere else outside Japan(In Japan Japanese is more than enough). However you will get some communication gap in the beginning, but as I know Japanese people can write good Japanese only the issue is the conversation(Do reconfirm your task by writing on board during discussion). Once you are in outside Japan, English is a necessity and I am more than sure if there is a will there is the way. I am living in Japan for last few years and in the beginning, I was on 0 Level Japanese and now N3 Level. It's just the way how you have interest in new language. In employer point of view if you are a super engineer (Very good programmer) you will be an asset to them not now but a year later.


My senior developer barely could speak English however he get a job as nobody wants to work with this company. Same with my previous job, they was 6 people who barely could speak English. Most important for you: You need to understand English and be good what you doing. You will get first job for 80-60% of money at the beggining. After year or two when you will be more confident in English you will be paid normally. (I worked for sites for air company, insurance, bank etc. php/html/js/devops )


most of codes are based on English,dude..i think you'd better learn English well as possible


It seems necessary not only to study programming but also to study English.


I think there is fundamental value in social skills (mine are truly poor and need many level ups), that very much includes a common and well communicated language and skills to put it to practice. I would like to connect with you for practicing English and perhaps some Japanese in the future.


Why not learn English? Is very important before Google Translate works, but you might not need it in the future...


I am doing my best just by studying programming.


Thank you for your advice.