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The Ugly American Programmer


I do think that to programm well you will need read tutorials, manuals and techinical articles that are written in English. Good programmers have to speak and read in English.


Great post!


I also thought English was the common language for hackers.
Turns out that on our site wechall.net 10/23 listed Hacker Challenge sites are not in english at all.


There are programmers who do their job without knowing English well. Although it’s harder, you can just stick to translated books and other material in your (non-English) language.

Some people may know enough English to read it if they have to, but prefer ease of reading their native language even if manual is one revision behind.

These programmers create fantastic niches for non-English books, blogs, news, etc.


Interesting. I have laboriously used programs written in languages other than English and found their documentation to be somewhat lacking. I’m now wondering if that’s because of poor translation to English, or lack of facility to express details in the original language.


I’m from Poland, and I’ve learn English by playing games on C64 and trying to read documentation in English. Also - after I’ve installed my first Linux - from reading fortunes :slight_smile:

But - my problem is I’ve learn English by reading, and I always pronounced it in my thoughts like I’d read Polish. So now I speak English with mostly Polish phonetics, it sounds funny and not really like English. Still, I can communicate.

Funny thing is - when I read article on internet, later I often have troubles with finding it again, because I forget in which language it was.

PS. in my company we recently write code with English identifiers. We now have identifiers like GenerateSkladanki, RealShips :slight_smile:


Romanian programmer here.

This extends not only to the programming language and programming documentation, but also to the operating system interface.
I mean I never felt more lost than when looking at a romanian localized version of Windows XP.


I’m not ready to call you ugly, Jeff. But I do think that you’re being a bit insular and short-sighted.

The truth is that some programming languages support comments, strings, and identifiers that use any UNICODE symbol you want. (a href=http://jeffmatherphotography.com/dispatches/2006/10/_world_programm/Here’s an example in Perl/a.) That means that you can write your company’s programs and systems in your native language, harnessing a pool of local talent that doesn’t write English, and then localize it into English when you’re done. (If that’s even important.)

Of course, programmers will need to know enough to handle the English-inspired keywords and APIs of the library, but I’m continually amazed by the power and subtlety of Google Translate. Soon using English (or non-English) code won’t be much harder for the non-native speaker than using the code written by the newb in the cube next to you or the code you wrote five years ago.


If you Americans don’t stop abusing our language we’ll revoke your license to use it and then how will you communicate with each other?


Ugh… That link was supposed to go here:



I am from The Netherlands, English is the third language I learned (I went to an international school in Basel, Switzerland, learned German as my second language) and English is all I use when programming. Books written in Dutch for programming don’t make sense to me, they don’t feel genuine and most of them have mistakes or contain a lot of English anyway, might as well stick with English.


If those idiots didn’t put support for foreign languages into the wysiwig machines English would have won by now.

Sincerely, a true ‘Ugly American’.

Oh, by the way, we aren’t the only UGLY ones.

A story…

I was in Montréal a few years ago (in the 80’s) and I was on Center Street, french bars on one side, English bars on the other.
I met a group, unbeknownst to me at the time, of french separatist.

The very attractive dark hair french girl invited me upstairs with her and several of her ‘friends’. I should have known better, they were all dressed in black from head to toe.

After sitting with them at a table for a few minutes I very politely asked her if they could speak English as I do not understand one word of french.

She very impolitely screamed in french:
‘Manger la merde et mourir!’.

The in English:
‘You dammed Americans. You come up here with your dammed English and expect us to speak it.’

Then she screamed a few more things in french and I noticed that
the four burly fellows across from me were getting out of their chairs and I did not like the way they were staring at me…

I ran for my life, down the stairs, across the street, into an English pub and right into the Australian National Rugby Team.

I told them what had happened and they piled out the door to ask the frenchmen what their problem was…

I have never seen anyone in the US go berserk if their asked to speak french, German, Italian, etc…


We I am sorry to inform you but English is not an American language. You may want to bash Americans because its popular. Americans adopted english as its language. (Hint it came from another contry). When the country was formed the took a vote between German and English. I understand it was close. So you think English is hard to learn!!! Try German. 200 years ago this country decided to standardise on one language. Many other countries have done the same. It does not mean English is better, it just means its a standard.


Regarding the English defeated ‘insert language here’ by one vote urban legend:
a href=http://www.snopes.com/language/apocryph/german.asphttp://www.snopes.com/language/apocryph/german.asp/a

Note that similar urban legends exist for other languages too.

  • Wow, the parser kills lt gt characters…


Jeff, didn’t you know that thanks to India, Inc. and the H-1B lobby, Hinglish is now the lingua franca of programming?


I completely agree with Eric Raymond and am in the same situation as Slawomir, except with Romanian instead of Polish. Also Herr_Alien a few comments up.


Something people are forgetting in all this discussion is /why/ English is the ‘lingua franca’ that it is right now - and that’s imperialism. No, not the derogatory meaning, which seems to carry overtones of ugly racism and narrow-minded provincialism, but the original meaning of having a mindset pertaining to empire. That is to say, a mindset that acknowledges the existence of a larger common framework while maintaining local culture and civilisation.

Why was Latin (and Greek) the lingua franca for such a long time? Because the Roman Empire’s influence spread far beyond its borders - and at its height, its borders were pretty large. France had a pretty huge geographical spread as well, stretching from America to Asia. As for the British Empire and all its territories… well, let’s not say any more. American (or rather, Hollywood) culture may complete the English cultural hegemony of the entire world.

Accatagon comes exceedingly close to describing the supremacy of English as the ruling language, in the describing of English as an amorphous blob of words. But did you know that this is a deliberate action? The English were pirates, after all, and equal opportunity pirates at that - they stole everything from everywhere, and are the mediaeval version of the Borg. Your language and cultural distinctiveness will be added to the Empire, arr. Resistance is fultile, yaargh. There’s a reason why you have maharajahs and gurus running amok across verandahs in their haciendas while discussing microbiology and masticating hor d’oeuvres. Name one language that has not had at least one word imported into English, and I can tell you that people group had never been discovered by the British Empire.

And that is why two centuries from now, ceteris paribus, some language called English will still remain dominant. Granted, we peons might not comprehend yonder language to any significant degree, but we will probably still be able to speak the lingo, Homo sapiens that we are.

Vive le English! Ada 2005 forever!


If I’d hire a programmer here I’d demand English as a second language (fluent).

Some of the programmers here still use horrible method names, simply because it’s incorrect spelling or incorrect use of terms in English.

But I guess that’s inevitable if english is not their (and my) first languuage.

Aftur all my englis vill not be parfect eether.


Consider the following: first in Swed#, second in c# … I have a hard time not laughing :smiley:

använd System;
namnrymd Konsollapplikation1
klass Program
statisk tom Huvud(sträng[] args)
Konsoll.Ut(Hejsan Världen!);

using System;
namespace ConsoleApplication1
class Program
static void Main(string[] args)
Console.Out(Hello World!);


I am natively German. I started using a German Version of Delphi 3 as my first real programming IDE. I switched to an English Version of Delphi 4 when it was released, and since then, I NEVER looked back, and I NEVER had the desire to use a German version ever again. When MSDN.com comes up in German, I switch to English. Why? Because translation are just that: Translations. They are not the Real thing. It’s called Exception, not Ausnahme. If my code says Exception then the error message should say Exception as well. If my Code says Exception and the error message talks about Ausnahme, I have to make an extra thought-step in order to associate them - easy with Exception/Ausnahme, but really hard in some other areas.

Plus, because English is spoken by so many people, the community and resources are simply bigger. You can bash Americans/British if you like, but it’s a fact that English is by far the most spoken language in the world. Limiting myself to the German Community would be a stupid move in my opinion, because it’s like using only 20% of your PC’s RAM before starting swapping.

For people who do not really speak English, localized Communities are of course fine, I don’t want to bash them, but I think that if you really want to connect to all the community, English is the way to go.

Any if someone wants to change that - feel free to do so. Invent an absolute must-have programming language in your native tongue. Just keep in mind that Delphi is an English Product, Visual Studio is English, Mac OS X is English, Windows is English - with only very few exceptions, ALL the important programs are natively English and then translated, and translations are never 100%, especially not if you leave the Syntax unchanged in english. There is one example, which is WinDev. To my knowledge, they have a French translation that really translated EVERYTHING into French, including the language itself, and it seems to be quite big over here in France.

But unless 99.99% of my working environment is natively English, I refuse to use a translated version of any development tools, because that would mean I seriously limit my resources.


While your point is certainly true for the next 30 years or so, the promise of machine translation is that it will eliminate language barriers. e.g. on the fly (perfect) translation.

But yes, I’m guessing that’s at least 30 years away. I think we’ll be getting diminishing marginal returns wrt accuracy - unless we hit some big breakthroughs.