Overcoming the Communications Gap with Foreigners in the IT Workplace

Don Tennant

Earlier this month I wrote about Grammarly, a company that has tapped the power of the cloud to improve written English, and I noted that in a subsequent post I would share my thoughts on why the effort being undertaken by Grammarly and its CEO, Brad Hoover, is a noble one. This is that post. And my thoughts center around the fact that Grammarly is helping to break down the barriers between coworkers — especially coworkers in the IT profession — who come from different countries.

As I noted in my earlier post, Grammarly claims to have developed the world’s best English grammar checker, and Hoover said the company is striving to make it affordable to everyone on the planet who writes in English. In speaking with Hoover, it struck me that a lot of good could be accomplished if we could improve the communication skills of IT workers, given that so many of the people working in the IT field here come from other countries, most notably India and China. I explained to Hoover that I hear from my readers a lot about communication issues and having coworkers whose English is sub-par, and I asked him if Grammarly is doing anything specifically to address that particular problem. His response:

Yeah, absolutely. [Grammarly co-founders] Max [Lytvyn], Alex [Shevchenko] and the team in Kiev are English language learners [ELLs], and in the case of those [Grammarly developers] here in the U.S., English as a second language [ESLs]. So the product itself was developed by ESLs, and as a result, a lot of our user base today are in fact ELLs and ESLs specifically, in North America and elsewhere. So Grammarly as a tool was designed by individuals with that need, and as a result, not surprisingly, is used extensively by that community to solve just the problems you mentioned.

Another facet of the nobility of the Grammarly endeavor is the fact that the company has addressed the issue of grammar and spell checkers being used as a crutch. Much like the concern that kids can’t do math because they have calculators to do it for them, there’s a legitimate concern that kids can’t spell or write because they have spelling and grammar checkers to rely on. I raised that topic with Hoover, and he said this is one area where Grammarly really differentiates itself:

When Grammarly was started, it was developed in partnership with English professors in U.S. universities. As you might imagine, they had a very high bar, both around the accuracy of the program, and around presenting the results in a way that helps students learn and not just get lazy. As a result, when people use Grammarly today, there’s actually a very big learning component, albeit a passive learning component, already embedded in the product. So as people use the product, instead of correcting all the mistakes for them, in many cases we tee up relevant context and examples so the users can make the decision about whether or not to correct a mistake, and if so, how to correct it. The result of that process is that they learn. In addition to that, we provide analytics on the back end in the form of a monthly digest that tells the user the most frequent mistakes they make, and provides information on how to fix those going forward. So Grammarly as a product actually has a very significant learning component.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Nov 22, 2012 3:31 AM Dolores Dolores  says:
With more and more articles like these popping up, these noble efforts might be too little too late. http://www.cio.com/article/721886/7_Outsourcing_Nightmares_and_How_to_Avoid_Them?taxonomyId=3195 Reply

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