February 28, 2023

Why English is the true language of startups

Language plays a big part in the startup ecosystem — but, this cofounder argues, using English as a common corporate tongue is the only way forward

Today, tech startups operate in a world where products, ideas and talent transcend geographic borders. They have to; over 20% of companies are hiring internationally because of the difficulty of finding local talent for specialist roles. And given the growing adoption of remote work, hiring talent is no longer dependent on work visas or immigration policies. 

But if companies decide to implement a requirement for new international hires to speak (or learn) a non-English language in order to work, the chances of attracting those in-demand candidates in the first place drops to near zero. And given the severe skills and labour shortages in the current market, having such a language requirement will further hamstring companies’ efforts to find the qualified talent they need to fill their vacancies, recover and grow.

Some German politicians have called for the country to recognise English as an official second language to address its own local talent shortage. The move has led to some lamenting the apparent cultural damage this could cause. 


But I believe that in the context of growing high-performing international teams, language has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with hiring the best person for the job, whoever — and wherever — they are. With nearly every multinational corporation now mandating English as the common corporate language, it’s obvious that facilitating communication across diverse markets and distributed workforces is a common sense approach to ensuring high performance and connected teams. This is why English is — and should be — the true language of startups. 

As a Dutch-speaking founder, it never even crossed my mind to operate in any language but English

While the German language is famous for its unique and expressive terms which often have no English equivalent, it’s also notoriously complex for a non-native speaker to grasp — our own research shows that language barriers are still a key challenge for 38% of businesses hiring in new regions, with 32% keen to hire in regions with high levels of English language proficiency.

Based on our findings, employers open to global recruitment are still more likely to consider talent from more traditional tech hubs around the world — such as New York, Berlin and San Francisco, which have a high proportion of English speakers — over emerging talent hubs like Helsinki, Guadalajara or Buenos Aires. And when it comes to growing high-performing global teams and attracting candidates for specialist roles, it’s crucial to create an environment and ways of working that help employees do their jobs properly. 

As a Dutch-speaking founder, it never even crossed my mind to operate in any language but English — this would have severely limited my company’s ability to trade internationally. Creating a language-neutral environment within Remote allowed us to foster a more inclusive workplace culture that prioritises diversity and promotes global collaboration. With the internet now serving as most companies’ primary distribution method, and with more and more teams becoming globally distributed themselves, there’s nothing stopping any European startup from becoming an international one. 

Adopting a new global language policy is not an easy process, and will undoubtedly be met by resistance from multiple sources, including those keen to preserve national pride and fearing cultural losses. However, when we consider that all programming worldwide, most startup metrics and tech companies already operate in English, it becomes clear that introducing a common corporate tongue is simply the most practical way for companies to remain competitive and achieve high growth in a global market.

Job van der Voort is CEO and cofounder of Remote