Non-native English speakers: Data-driven self-improvement is here and passive learning is real

Sinan Ata
3 min readMay 27, 2019


Don’t get drowned in your data, ride it

Life can get very hard sometimes especially if you’re not a native English speaker. Do you want to get better? My humble advice would be to take your ego under control and face the fact that you’re (already making or) going to make a lot of grammar and pronunciation mistakes. In this post, I’m going to explain how effective passive learning can be and how to monitor and improve yourself using the right tools.

That’s exactly what I did after doing executive work for global software companies right before building Exceptionly for revolutionizing the software talent industry.

At the beginning of April, I started writing blog posts in English. Before that, I’ve blogged in Turkish for over 15 years, even before it was called blogging and it was cool. I’ve started writing content pieces for an open-source software community in early 2004.

Why do you need to get better at writing?

If you are working in any of the following business functions and communicating in English, you must get better in order to improve your performance and success rate in your daily business conversations.

  1. Management
  2. Marketing
  3. Sales
  4. Recruitment
  5. Customer Success
  6. Support
  7. And yes, Software Engineering too

If your native English-speaking peers are not correcting you about writing or pronunciation, it’s because first, they can understand (so it’s not a big deal for them), and second, they’re simply being kind. My personal position is categorically rejecting to settle with “enough” if there is room for improvement, especially when it comes to personal and professional improvement. Do not settle down with “enough”, get better because you can.

Graph showing the correlation between the volume of writing and error rate

Expose yourself to writing

Speaking is relatively easier compared to writing, what I mean is actually writing a meaningful piece, not only handling daily business conversations. This requires some storytelling and content writing skills combined.

I must say, over 1400 readers who completely read my pieces on Medium motivated me in this challenge.

Monitor your performance

Remember, any data is better than no data. You need structured data about your writing behavior, here are the metrics you’ll have to track on a weekly basis:

  1. Number of keywords written
  2. Number of errors made
  3. Number of unique words used
  4. Error rate
  5. Categorized mistakes and quantified occurrences

The first and most important step of passive learning is making sure you’re collecting your own writing data. In my case, I’ve used Grammarly for collecting my writing data using the Google Chrome extension.

My numbers

Since the beginning of 2018, I’ve written 2.2M words in my professional life. I’ve made 28K simple mistakes during this period. Only in 2019, I’ve used over 2800 unique words per week.

Openly sharing my top mistakes, still trying to fix some of them. The primary root cause is thinking in Turkish in my case.
My data and data structure for the last 10 weeks

Get help

Give yourself some time and collect data for at least two weeks. Now you know your weak points, don’t be shy to ask for help from your native English-speaking friends. You as a non-native English speaker trying to get better deserves respect.

No matter what your position is, you should make peace with the fact that your current status is not perfect and take a step forward for getting better.

I accepted the challenge and set a high bar for myself. Target is writing 50 high-quality blog pieces in 2019 for getting better at writing. Right now you’re reading my eighth blog piece for this year.

About the writer: Founder of Exceptionly, revolutionizing the software talent industry by leveraging his unique big dataset of over 2M hands-on tested software engineers around the world.



Sinan Ata

Founder at Exceptionly. Software talent problem solver