The Ugly American Programmer

English IS a pivot of the programming world.

But truth is, depending where you live, you might never need it. In countries like France, Germany, Russia, Japan or China where almost everything is translated, you DON’T NEED to learn english at all, even for programming.

In fact in those countries you can usually find some very good documentation. But you must search it for real.

Two years ago I searched online for some good ilasm tutorial which was not yet another introduction; found it in Japanese.

Igor Sysoev developed the powerful Nginx, but he only speaks Russian.

Check out the Chaos Computer Club website, most content is in German.

At some point in the chain there is people understanding English at least, but it is not necessary functional enough to express themselves.

And it is not necessarily a handicap.

Homosapiens Geek, commonly known as Homogeekus Simplex

I’ve noticed this too. In one job I had two colleagues who spoke Mandarin as their first language and their English was decent but not completely fluent and when it came to technical discussino just between the two of them they’d use English still.

It was actually kinda funny to listen to.

English may be a necessary part of a hacker’s life, but my two Mandarin-speaking teammates most certainly don’t use it in their own discussions except in that tacked-on way that most languages directly adopt a word for practical use.

I got a pretty good laugh from some of my friends when I expressed concern about working in Austria because I would have trouble coding in German C++.

I agree that English is somewhat essential, but only because that’s what 90% of language documentation is written in.

All but on the Wordpress codex documentation. There’s one french person that’s taken it upon themselves to do a lot of the documentation. I tend to find that documentation more helpful than the English versions sometimes, and I only have a high school french vocabulary.

Agreed if there was no such thing as translation tools. There are… so your argument is hollow.

What I mean is, what if Google (or other company) can create a translation so accurate that nobody needs to be able to read anything but their native language? I think we aren’t far off that now!

I’ve found many Dynamics AX solutions on Chineese web sites because of Google translations. I don’t speak mandarin and I don’t need to, but I still got my problem solved.

The problem of language is that its structure dictates thinking patterns. Therefore a homogenous language produces a reduction in options and abilities to solve problems. I had a friend who could speak several languages who also had a unique problem solving ability. He could think through the same problem in different languages in order to come up with multiple solutions that nobody else had thought of. He wasn’t thinking outside the box - he was thinking in a logically structured way within the confines of each language.

Maybe I think this way because I have traveled outside my country, I have studdied with several nationalities, I work with a variety of nationalities and my country is surrounded by, and contains, an amazind diversity of languages, dialects and cultures. I think that our society all too frequently wants others to conform to what we believe, what we think and what we know to be right and best.

No - what we need in this world is more diversity but better translation tools, and as I said earlier - we aren’t too far from that right now.

I don’t think it’s a sign of being ‘an Ugly American’. As a UK-born Australian programmer, there are a lot of people in the world who have English as their native tongue anyway. And, next to Mandarin Chinese, it’s the most commonly spoken language in the world.

But deciding on one language for a professional field of endeavor (whatever that language may be) doesn’t seem to me to be wrong, if it is essential that practitioners can communicate. The obvious other example would be aviation, where the official language is also English.

None of which is to deny that we English speakers shouldn’t make much more effort to learn other languages. But have pity on us, we can’t learn EVERY other language, whereas English is pretty much the common SECOND language of almost every non-English-speaking country.

I’m from Sweden, where most or all hackers are pretty good at English. I was really surprised when I was an exchange student in Berlin, and learned how many German people don’t understand English have to rely on translated or native books. Of course it’s a large language and a lot is translated… but still?

Now if only we could make those damned Americans use the Queens English we might just be able to change the colour of this web page.

Great post! I actually just asked a question about this very issue on stack overflow a couple weeks ago. Seems the majority of people there would agree.

Fellow programmers in Japan (at least, the ones who could use English, which wasn’t all that many) told me that they preferred English documentation because the Japanese language tends to be oblique and implicit, whereas the English manuals and references were clear and straightforward.

There’s a very good reason why the problem-solving code samples and answers are usually in C# and not VB.NET.

Ideally we would all use Esperanto - that’s the future! Ah well.

There’s a very good reason why the problem-solving code samples and answers are usually in C# and not VB.NET.

There are certainly reasons for more than one programming language to exist, but they should have to do with how well those languages fit the problem domain – instead of the meaningless choice between coke and pepsi…

It’s true. There is nothing imperialistic about it. I am german and if my English wouldn’t be as good as it is, my live would be a lot harder. Of all the developers I know, exactly one doesn’t speak English but she can read English documentations and technical discussions good enough to find her way around.

While lots of programming related books are translated to German, I always buy the English version. I’m so used to it that when I read a German one I translate it to English in my head (yeah, seriously).

It doesn’t help that most technical books are translated in a horrible way. I mean, when you read it you can basically see the English structure of every paragraph through the German words, if that makes any sense. It’s just irritating to read.

I live in France, speak French as my native language, and to me English is necessary in my everyday job as a programmer. I always change language to en-us in MSDN to get the most complete and up-to-date information.
At work we don’t speak English, but use the technical English term, more precise, rather than an approximate French translation, when we need it.
Reminds me I learned some written English words as a kid (before I started courses in school) playing games on my parents’ Macintosh SE… Beginner, Advanced, Begin and a few others were part of my initial English vocabulary.

I think most will concur with this post.

Even on the simply basis that most languages’ keywords are English, full comprehension of the code is lost -or at least impaired- by someone who isn’t comfortable with the language.

I’m a college student, and thus I have some colleagues who really struggle through programming, even getting absolutely lost without native documentation.

One of the most wonderful things about the internet is that you can
pretend the world is flat. Whatever country you live in, whatever
language you speak, you have the same access to the accumulated
knowledge of the world as every other citizen of the planet Earth.

Unfortunately this is not true.

Catch ex As Exception

…gets translated into whatever language the client runs in. Try google an exception type translated into swedish!

Most programming languages are subsets of English so… It is only natural that the de facto language should be English.

I’m Romanian and learning English for my programming hobby proved to be one of the smartest moves I made. It opened the door to a body of knowledge otherwise not accessible.