Developers get the opportunity to have lessons with a real native English-speaking teacher – they would never have access to this level of learning if it wasn’t for Techifide
Douglas Matheson

How long have you been teaching English?

I’ve been teaching for ten years now. I first began in Malta when I moved there for three months. As an IT graduate, there weren’t many jobs that didn’t require Maltese as a first language but TEFL was big there so I trained, thinking it would be a useful stop-gap. My first lesson was an absolute nightmare but everything fell into place in the second lesson!

After meeting my wife, I ended up staying 7 years and I loved it so much I’ve never looked back. I never did learn Maltese, despite my wife and mother coming from there – it doesn’t worry me at all when they get talking and I don’t understand a word, honestly…

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The way I work is always one-to-one. One of the biggest challenges with the teaching industry is standardised curriculums. There’s reasoning behind the standardisation but when you deal with different ages and abilities you need to be flexible. The books all teach similar things but that’s not what the clients need – students don’t adhere to the models! In my teaching, I can build all my materials around the individual students. They can all focus on what they need and I’ve got the flexibility to bring the best out of them as well as I can.

How does it fit in with your lifestyle?

It’s a fantastic job – you can travel anywhere without getting on an aeroplane. Did I mention I hate flying?! I’ve taught all over the world from the comfort of my own home. I have students past and present from most of Europe, Asia, Middle East and South America. My most remote client is a teacher from New Caledonia!

I’m a homey person – my hobbies are indoors and I only really venture as far as the cinema down the road. So it’s ideal for me to work from home. I plan on moving up to the Highlands on a semi-permanent basis, which means I need to take my work with me – jobs are in short supply up there! I can also take my work with me if I join my wife on her travels as an anthropologist.

How does teaching over video-link compare with face-to-face?

If it is in an environment that I have full control over, such as my own personal classroom, then I am able to create the environment that would be most conducive to their learning. However, given that I am (virtually) entering the students’ homes, I have absolutely no control over their surroundings. But one key area when working with students who also work at home, such as the Techifide team, is that their homes are also their offices and they are already comfortable working environments. If I were to turn up at their door, I would be a disruption to their work/life style, but as I’m online I can slot into their daily schedule without issue. In that respect, I would say it’s actually much better.

Finding the balance between professional lessons and relaxed learners is always difficult. This style of teaching is a great way to get past that and keep the focus on continuous and stress-free development.

How long does it take to learn a new language?

It totally varies between students but most people pick up the basics of communication in three or four months. In Brazilian schools, kids have perhaps one hour a week of English and they definitely pick up more at a younger age but they don’t get the advanced concepts that they need to learn for professional conversations with UK natives.

English Language

Although being a software developer means learning technical programming languages, the logical side of the brain can be more privileged than the language side, so it can take a while to build this up.

What’s different about teaching language for a professional technical role?

Because I studied IT at university I’m very comfortable with the software industry and its technical language, which I think is quite rare for an English teacher! The grammar is the same anyway and many of Techifide’s developers are already comfortable with the work-related vocabulary, so it’s mainly about working on sentence structure, grammatical forms and expanding their vocabulary range. Sometimes it’s the same as teaching basic holiday vocabulary – the structures are basically the same!

There are two types of language: productive and receptive. In general, productive language is more about the language that we use on a daily basis, whereas receptive language is more unusual – we don’t use it regularly so we have to learn it specifically. For offshore software developers, their productive English is all about work-related issues – that’s their everyday language. Because technical documentation for the programming languages they use is all in English, they’ve had to study in English to become qualified experts, so their technical vocabulary is on point. It’s the use of global English in conversation that’s more of a challenge – this is specialist receptive language for Techifide’s Brazilian developers.

What’s it like working with Techifide?

I’ve been working with Techifide since May 2019 after a chance social media connection put us in touch and I discovered that Ivan wanted exactly what I was developing as a business. We started off with a small group of developers but the results have been positive and the progress is obvious, so all new developers that join the team now come to me for lessons. I look after all the developers but tailor each lesson to each individual.

Ivan is moulding his team into a truly international company. He fully understands the benefits of language tutoring as English is his second language too. He is an astute leader who understands what work is required but doesn’t get too involved, except sometimes to send me specific pointers about things he’s noticed recurring in meetings. He notices improvements and is happy with the continual progress of his team, even just with one hour a week. We do bespoke testing after every 8-12 hours of tutorials, so that’s every couple of months. But there’s regular feedback and everyone’s records are shared online so progress is all transparent.

What is your work like with the team?

We meet individually once a week for an hour and I set 45-60 minute homework tasks weekly. We cover all the skills but focus mainly on conversation and writing, vocabulary and grammar. We’re concentrating nowadays much more on pronunciation.

A couple of them have fantastic English if they were speaking with International speakers of English. Although some have studied American English so have picked up some particular phrases we don’t use in the UK. Speaking with natives brings extra nuances and colloquialisms that are more likely to come about than if you’re learning as a second language and following all the rules. Techifide’s clients are UK based and very likely to be native speakers.

The developers are all appreciative of the challenge and really good students, committing to coming to the class on time and producing homework. They’ve been really interested and conscientious, which makes them a pleasure to work with!

The only challenge they have is not having anybody to practice with, unless they get together with other Techifide developers after-hours for conversation practice. But just recently they’ve started having a whole team daily stand-up meeting in English, with the UK team and English QA’s, which really helps.

What benefits do the team find from learning English?

It’s the opportunity to have lessons with a real native English-speaking teacher – with an authentic regional Scottish accent! They would never have access to this level of learning if it wasn’t for Techifide. They enjoy pushing themselves and their confidence is improving so they’re more able to deal with clients directly without the need for a mediator, which I am sure that the clients appreciate too. They wouldn’t get that with many offshore outsourcing companies.

Providing English language training for their overseas developers really makes Techifide quite unique and effective. I didn’t realise how unique it was but not a lot of software outsourcing companies do this, so it’s a privilege for me to be helping the team to achieve their goals.