Should we use English?

A friend of mine sent a link to a piece he’s written titled English as a global language, wherein he advocates that we should all learn one global language (probably English, given the current situation).

While I don’t have such strong feelings about the matter, here are some of my thoughts:

  • I produce content in English bot for popularity and because I want it to be useful for the largest possible audience.
  • Any programming/IT related content should be produced (also) in English. A programmer who doesn’t at least understand English is not a programmer.
  • Learning foreign languages can be very interesting. The biggest gain I’ve had from learning foreign languages is that fact that came to know concepts which only exists in them. I’m not saying that these concepts can not be described using other languages, rather that they have a very suiting one-word description in a given language.

Update: updated link to the essay.

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14 responses to “Should we use English?”

  1. “A programmer who doesn’t at least understand English is not a programmer.”

    Disagree. The concepts are expressible in any (modern, sufficiently sophisticated) language.

  2. The problem is not that you can’t express the concepts in other languages. The problem is that there is already a huge and growing amount of information out there in English (and most of the time only in English).

    Not knowing the language means that you don’t have access to this information and you have to (a) figure it out on your own (in which case you will waste a lot of time) or (b) you plain out won’t know, which makes you a lesser programmer.

  3. Any body who programs any high level language .. already knows english at some level. Understanding english is a plus point, but never a barrier if somebody is interested.

    Talking about resources, google language tool?? wht do u say?

  4. Just because you “understand English” doesn’t mean you can be expressive in English. Even if you’e fluent in English you can have problems expressing yourself.

    Spelling, on the other hand, every real programmer should know how to spell.

  5. I’m sorry but some of the best writing in the industry was originally written in languages other than English. And most books that have a significant audience have been translated to multiple languages.

    Saying “A programmer who doesn’t at least understand english is not a programmer.” is akin to saying that a programmer who can’t read a C-based language is not a programmer. Yes C is the most wide-spread language family, but knowledge (or the lack thereof) of C does not define who is or isn’t a programmer.

    I’m sure there are developers who can’t read a line of Englsh but could code circles around me. (Think Nintendo, Sony, and all of the great game studios in Japan). Your statement says that some of the greatest minds behind some of the greatest game franchises aren’t programmers. What was the last program you made that Millios of people used?

  6. @Brownie: in my opinion none of the software we refer to as “great” has been written by people who didn’t read documentation in English.

    Also, yes, I would say that if you claim to be a programmer but never touched C-like languages, you’re not really a programmer. If you are a good programmer (this in my opinion means enthusiastic) you have used at least one C-like language.

    Artist (like level designers and so on) I give you, but programmers have to know English at a level to read documentation.

    @Zuhaib: Google Translate (and similar tools – anyone remembers Babelfish which seems to be owned by Yahoo now?) can help, but nothing is more efficient than reading the original text in English (I almost never read programming books which are “localized” – even though they are much easier to come by – I would just get annoyed by the funky language the translators trying to make up).

  7. I often come across software developed by French or German authors. It usually employs clever algorithms, but the usability is a mess, or downright obvious features are missing. An extreme example is

    Note that I’m not biased by my American culture. Although I do reside in California, I was born and have been living in Romania until 23. I can only conclude that those who don’t really understand English, at some level, don’t “get” software development.

    See also this excellent post on The unexpected relationship between writing code and writing

  8. “A programmer who doesn’t at least understand English is not a programmer.”

    I am Russian, I live and work in Russia, and I agree 100%. On all software development teams I’ve worked in the past here, knowing English at least to the level sufficient to read technical documentation and books, and write code comments, was effectively a requirement for the job.

  9. I totally agree with that. When I was young and couldn’t read English properly, it was even hard to use a Chinese edition windows, some error messages were not translated. One interesting thing is that there were some programming languages are Chinese based (I’m sure there are some in Japanese).

  10. I think it is very rude (although in a sense true) that someone that doesnt understand english is not a programmer because its over-generalizing concepts. I think it would be better to say that it is definitley more difficult for a person to become a good programmer now days if he doesnt read at least some english. But I would even refine the sentence and say that no one can really become a master programmer without reading books and papers, which are of course (now days with amazon) mostly found in english.

  11. The statement may sound politically incorrect, but it is in fact -partially- true. The fact of the matter is that if you are a programmer and, because you don’t know English, you do not have access to the enormous amount of information (in English) that is out there, you will not be as good (or effective – if you like) a programmer as you could be.

  12. I came across an excellent forum post by the author of lxlabs, a widely-used web hosting control panel:

    “As far as we are concerned, English has become the de-facto language of the internet. There is no way you can escape it. So we are not going to take too much effort to support other languages. As the net evolves, we believe a single language is pivotal for surviving in the internet and it is a good thing if everyone learns English.”

    More at

  13. Yes, to be able to read the documentation and learn the language.
    A really big problem is that almost all new languages use special characters like {[]} which might be easy on an english keyboard but certainly not easy on my swedish keyboard. Why is those characters even needed at all?

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