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How important is knowledge of languages for a developer?

 
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I think I am on the wrong track here.

I actually started to improve my German and English because of two reasons: First I was a little bored with programming. In my free time, I just wanted to do something else than what I do forty hours a week in the office. Second, I had neck problems and shoulder problems from working behind the computer all the time, and listening to spoken lessons and songs was better for that.

Now a few years later I have passed the Goethe C1 exam for German. This is perhaps useful if I were a secretary or a salesperson for the German market, but as a developer it's pretty useless, right? Nobody will be impressed by that. Actually I think I am just lazy. It is easier to put on a German movie and pretend you are doing something beneficial for your career, than to cram some real useful knowledge.
 
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Now a few years later I have passed the Goethe C1 exam for German. This is perhaps useful if I were a secretary or a salesperson for the German market, but as a developer it's pretty useless, right? Nobody will be impressed by that.


It would obviously be useful if you had to (or wanted to) work in Germany. C1 is the level I consider adequate for hiring developers for a German-language team; anyone below that I would reject out of hand.
 
Jan de Boer
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Thanks Ulf! You make me happy now.

So C1 is minimum? That is good. I actually thought that: First nobody in software engineering would even know what Goethe C1 was. Second if they would want somebody to speak German, people would say that B1 would be enough and that it is not that important. I am not working in Germany. But I work with German customers a little, and with other German engineers on line. Some headhunters have asked me to work in Germany even, but I have got a daughter and a cat and a mortgage, so it is not my first plan. I am really happy that it does have some use! Thanks again.

I am from the Netherlands by the way, but that should be readable from my profile.
 
Ulf Dittmer
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So C1 is minimum?


It was more a rule of thumb when I was hiring. Interviews with people who were below that generally were so bumpy as to cast doubt that they could be productive members of a German-speaking team.

I actually thought that: First nobody in software engineering would even know what Goethe C1 was.


The European economies being in the state they are, in the last few years we got a lot of resumes from people from all over the place - so I had to familiarize myself with that. HR folks will generally know the scale as well (well, they should :-). We got few resumes from the NL, though - I guess the tech job market there was/is still good.
 
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For anyone (like me) who doesn't know what these codes mean:
Language Level A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2
 
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Listening to movies or music is one good way to start. May I suggest you advance your method of learning one more step, and start conversating with Germans? This would be verbal conversation rather than text-style. Being able to process the linguistic challenge is one thing, but thinking "on-your-feet" while face-to-face with someone is entirely a different matter (so as not to appear befuddled in the middle of a verbal debate about how to implement the next bit of code).
 
Jan de Boer
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Hi Roger.

I do not want to appear arrogant, but at 'C1', you have no trouble talking in German. I am listening to songs and watching movies because it is also fun, and I then combine something relaxing with something useful. Also I have started to get certs in German after I was already used to speak German in my job and for example on holidays. So, if there was something that needed to be improved for that Goethe C1 thing, it was writing and grammar, not conversation. Remember Germany is just across our eastern border. But thanks for the advice, it should be probably be applicable to many people. I have heard it before. But I am, like always, story of my life I fear, a little different.
 
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Gruss Dich, Jan!

Ulf is the expert here, but as a Brit who used to work in Germany, here's my 2 (Euro-)cents' worth.

I had a degree in German when I went to Germany, although my spoken German was not brilliant. My first IT job in Germany was working for a software house, where the working language was German, but they had lots of non-German staff and lots of people spoke English. I managed OK in German, but some of my colleagues only spoke quite basic German at first, so the German staff used to help them by speaking English. I think most people managed to get up to speed in German reasonably quickly, thanks to the flexibility and openness of our German colleagues.

Later, I worked for a big insurance company, where most of the staff were German, and it was a much more conservative working culture. Although people were very friendly and very tolerant of my mistakes in German, it was definitely not the sort of place where you could expect to start work unless you were already pretty fluent in German. Everything was in German, and you really needed to speak German (and understand Bavarian dialect!) to integrate properly.

And there were other companies where they had a lot of foreign staff, so the working language was English. But you still needed to speak some German if you wanted to fit in better with your German colleagues e.g. meetings might be in English, but informal conversations over coffee/beer would often be in German.

For comparison, here in the UK, we have a lot of Indian developers, many of whom speak excellent English, but I've worked with quite a few who clearly have real problems understanding and especially speaking English. This can be a real problem, because they cannot contribute properly to meetings etc, and it is often not clear if they really understand what they are supposed to be doing. We sometimes end up having to work around them, instead of with them, which is frustrating for everybody.

So if you're looking for work in Germany, it will depend on the kind of place you want to work, and how much German you actually speak. It sounds like you'd be fine in conversation (or interview?) but maybe you'd need to work a bit on your written German e.g. for documentation etc. On the plus side, you obviously also speak good English, and Dutch is close enough to German that you can probably guess the stuff you don't understand perfectly, so people will be able to communicate with you somehow.

Think about how easy/hard it is for foreign staff to integrate into some of the places you've worked, if their Dutch is as good as your German. You can probably assume that the situation will be fairly similar for you if you want to work in a German company. So long as you're motivated and don't mind putting some work into it, you should be fine.

Incidentally, watching TV or reading aloud in German are both great ways to develop your ear for the language. But the grammar etc you're just going to have to do the hard way!

Viel Spass und alles Gute!


 
Jan de Boer
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Thanks Chris. Yes, I know the situation when you cannot really communicate with another colleague. We had a guy from Egypt in once. It shows how important it is, when you miss it. (Even though we developers talk less than sales guys and the girls from administration.) I did work on my writing, but actually solely to pass the test. I think people would not expect to write documentation in German. Right? But I am happy you also confirm it has some use. I had some thoughts that it might be of little value, since in most software companies in the Netherlands, all people can speak reasonably good English too.
 
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Jan de Boer wrote:I think people would not expect to write documentation in German. Right?


I had to write lots of stuff in German. If the people who will be buying/using/maintaining your system are German, it makes sense to use their native language.

Jan de Boer wrote:... in most software companies in the Netherlands, all people can speak reasonably good English too.


Great - maybe I should look for a job in the Netherlands!
 
Jan de Boer
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chris webster wrote:Great - maybe I should look for a job in the Netherlands!



Well the general economy in the Netherlands is bad, but I think if you know something special, something for which there is a lot of demand, you can still find a job easily here. Also, if you know German, and you know English, learning Dutch should be a piece of cake. Dutch is a sort of decayed German, where we use less grammatical cases and gender, and no subjunctive verb forms, just like English, and we have adopted a lot of English and French words in our language.
 
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Jan de Boer wrote: . . . no subjunctive verb forms, just like English, . . .

We do use the subjunctive a lot in English, but people would never recognise a subjunctive if they saw one.
 
Jan de Boer
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Campbell Ritchie wrote:

Jan de Boer wrote: . . . no subjunctive verb forms, just like English, . . .

We do use the subjunctive a lot in English, but people would never recognise a subjunctive if they saw one.



I know, it only makes a notable difference for the persons he, she and it. It is about the same for Dutch. In German there are very distinct forms though. Not to mention Spanish.
 
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Campbell Ritchie wrote:

Jan de Boer wrote: . . . no subjunctive verb forms, just like English, . . .

We do use the subjunctive a lot in English, but people would never recognise a subjunctive if they saw one.



If I were you, I wouldn't worry about subjunctives in English.
 
Campbell Ritchie
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Far be it from me to worry like that.

What was it Alfred E Newman used to say?
 
Jan de Boer
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Paul Clapham wrote:If I were you, I wouldn't worry about subjunctives in English.



Yes. That is actually why I stopped learning English. I was improving my English, like I did with my German. I was happy to have found an error in my English. I did not use the subjunctive form correctly. Then the girl teaching me said that even native speakers don't do that correctly. I got that remark more often, so, I am not sure but, I think trying to improve my English at least is useless.
 
Jan de Boer
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By the way, there might even be an opportunity in Germany for me now. Some company makes the same software I used to make, two years ago. Somebody I know works there, I asked whether they would have a job. Answer, they might: but...the R&D department moved to Germany. Is that a problem? Life in IT is really unpredictable, and you never know what skill could be usable next.
 
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