VSHN was started by Swiss nationals in the German speaking part of Switzerland back in 2014. For most of us it was only natural to speak in our native Swiss German language, and thus we wrote most of our early documentation in German.
Since then we hired more people from all over the world. Now a growing number of VSHNeers don’t speak or understand German. Fortunately it’s very common to find very good English speakers in the IT industry; therefore in 2019 we changed the official company language to English.
|The official company language for written text is English. In meetings it’s just polite to speak the language that everyone understands–this is usually English as well.|
Does this mean you shouldn’t speak your native language?
Of course not. You’re free to use whatever language works best for all participants in a conversation. For most official meetings, be it internal or with external partners, this means that we speak English.
|Remember that we document in English even when speaking another language in a meeting. You never know who will read the notes later and will need to understand its contents.|
During breaks, company events and when we’ve lunch together you usually see some groups speaking a native language like Swiss German–this is great as it’s our free time, and usually a very welcome change from the official daily routine. Don’t be afraid to join such a group though, as we will simply switch languages then.
Improving language skills
Keep in mind that not everyone is equally proficient or feels comfortable to speak a non-native language. Be sympathetic towards small grammar mistakes, wrong words and bad pronunciation. Apply the robustness principle: "Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept."
Most VSHNeers are eager to be corrected, or to get vocabulary suggestions when such mistakes happen. On the other hand, please don’t create awkward situations during presentations or bigger meetings by interrupting the presentation flow.
Depending on your language proficiency it can be tricky to write good text in a non-native language. To ensure quality, particularly when communicating with third parties, apply the "four-eye-principle" (or pair programming) and let a colleague review your text before saving or sending.
Last but not least, remember to use an online translation service or a dictionary, request help from colleagues, use your education budget to improve your skills, and take your time when writing.