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Firefox Programming

Ask Slashdot: Do Most Programmers Understand the English Language? 330

Posted by Soulskill
from the only-if-they've-called-the-right-libraries dept.
Shadoefax writes "I have been developing Firefox add-ons for several years and all so far submitted to AMO have been translated (localized) into several different languages. My latest add-on is geared more to the web developer as opposed to the average web browsing user. (It is a utility for examining JavaScript Objects and their methods and properties.) By my reckoning, I believe JavaScript, HTML, CSS and the DOM are all pretty much designed to be easily understood by English language readers. My question is this: Can I assume that most programmers understand the English language well enough that I may forego localizing the UI? While this will save time, effort and bloat, it may also restrict the usage of (what I hope) is a useful tool for developers."
Reader Cenan provides an interesting response from the perspective of a developer for whom English is not a first language:

"I am a developer, and happen to speak english as a second language. As much as I find it's helpful to my users to have the program's text information presented to the user in their native tongue, I really hate it if the tools I use speak to me in my native language.

Some vital parts of exceptions tend to get mangled when being translated, and you can't search for relevant information regarding whatever obscure failure you're experiencing unless you translate it back. And Google Translate doesn't do very well with technical terms.

It is especially unhelpful when the exception has been re-thrown from somewhere deep down, and is being presented with some parts translated, some parts not (I'm looking at YOU Microsoft; "Was this exception text helpful to you?" ( ) No ( ) No (x) Hell No!)"


Reader tlambert recommends such a tool only if it doesn't have end-user exposure:

Google translate will do the job well enough for non-English speakers, and almost every programmer is an English speaker in any case - or used to Google translations of CS technical papers, in any case.

If there's actually UI being exposed to an end user rather than a program, then of course there should be some way to localize the end user exposed content, although you should expect that most users won't end up using it, and will opt for English instead, unless it's for data input for text data for storage and retrieval.

For better or for worse, the primary language for IT is English. I generally think it's for the better, since there are concepts that the English language is better suited to representing, either natively, or with coined words/terms/phrases and/or "borrow words". For the last, French is probably the worst language, since they have "language police" whose sole reason for existing is to prevent "borrow words" entering the French language and "contaminating" it. The next most comparable language for "purity" is Japanese, which was represented by Matsumata Ohta when he attempted to prevent the C-J-K unification of the Unicode standard, and eventually got his way by pushing another Unicode code page so that you could, for example, grep -v the Chinese text out of a Chinese textbook on Japanese poetry. Double the storage size for a wchar_t, just so that they could keep the languages distinct in both encoding and rendering, rather than just in rendering.


Reader dejanc responds with an analogy:

"Being a programmer and not understanding English is like being a historian writing papers on the Roman Empire and not knowing Latin. There is a lot of programmers out there who don't understand English or are not comfortable with it, but as a rule, they are not that good.

You have to learn our profession somehow. Yeah, you can learn C or Java from a book written in your native language, but most APIs out there are documented only in English. If you don't speak English, then your resources are severely limited.

That being said, if you can do localization, do it. Localization is usually very easy and doesn't require much bloat. You can have volunteers do the actual translation, you just need to get the strings ready, so it shouldn't be more than a couple of hours of your time.

Some talented programmers are just not talented for learning languages, or prefer to have UI in their own language. They are the ones who Google Translate documentation online, so you'll be doing them a favor."
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Ask Slashdot: Do Most Programmers Understand the English Language?

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  • by e70838 (976799) on Friday February 08, 2013 @01:47PM (#42834461)
    I fully second this. When I was 18, I was reading complex technical documentation in english but was completely unable to have an oral discussion, even writing english was very difficult. Now, I work regularly with foreign people (in english). I still find discussing ideas in english a lot more painful than in my native language.

    Concerning translation of development tools, I prefer to have the tools in english, but I know people who really prefer to have them in their native language.
  • by tlambert (566799) on Friday February 08, 2013 @01:53PM (#42834529)

    If it doesn't have end-user exposure, no. Google translate will do the job well enough for non-English speakers, and almost every programmer is an English speaker in any case - or used to Google translations of CS technical papers, in any case.

    If there's actually UI being exposed to an end user rather than a program, then of course there should be some way to localize the end user exposed content, although you should expect that most users won't end up using it, and will opt for English instead, unless it's for data input for text data for storage and retrieval.

    For better or for worse, the primary language for IT is English. I generally think it's for the better, since there are concepts that the English language is better suited to representing, either natively, or with coined words/terms/phrases and/or "borrow words". For the last, French is probably the worst language, since they have "language police" whose sole reason for existing is to prevent "borrow words" entering the French language and "contaminating" it. The next most comparable language for "purity" is Japanese, which was represented by Matsumata Ohta when he attempted to prevent the C-J-K unification of the Unicode standard, and eventually got his way by pushing another Unicode code page so that you could, for example, grep -v the Chinese text out of a Chinese textbook on Japanese poetry. Double the storage size for a wchar_t, just so that they could keep the languages distinct in both encoding and rendering, rather than just in rendering.

  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Friday February 08, 2013 @01:59PM (#42834645) Homepage Journal

    I've heard anecdotes [c2.com] that speakers of some languages (e.g. French) actually prefer programming languages written in English, because (a) the more regular grammar results in more predictable/compact function/keyword names, and (b) more transparent syntax... or at least a foreign language that abstracts away all of the questions about how to decline the verb in a function name.

    For many languages, something as obtuse as Perligata [monash.edu.au] would be required to generate a coherent mapping to their native tongue; with English, native speakers simply accept the broken grammar and move on, and non-native speakers just treat the grammar as a black box, like an English speaker regards the Italian terms embedded in music notation.

  • by AchilleTalon (540925) on Friday February 08, 2013 @02:40PM (#42835247) Homepage
    Neverless, you should always show respect to non-English speaking people and not be condescendant toward them like a comment in the body of the original post where a guy says programmers who do not speak English are not that good. Wow! What a asshole! I always appreciate a GUI and messages translated in my mother tongue when available and I consider this should be encouraged as much as possible. It's not that difficult to show respect to others.
  • by bradley13 (1118935) on Friday February 08, 2013 @04:14PM (#42836499) Homepage

    Every German speaker who studies IT learns enough English to read technical stuff. Many - maybe even most - prefer to use English documentation and tools.

    I will go out on a limb and say that this is probably true for every Western European country except France.

    The French make a real effort to prevent their language from becoming "contaminated" with foreign terms. Where every other language has just adopted computer terms as they were invented, the French have specifically gone to the trouble of inventing different words that sound more French. To take just one example: consider the word "byte". The Spanish say "byte", the Germans say "byte", the Italians say "byte", the Dutch say "byte", but the French say "octet". This is annoying, but really, it's their problem, they've done it to themselves.

  • by jean-guy69 (445459) on Friday February 08, 2013 @05:41PM (#42837595)
    As a french speaker I am ashamed at the poor level of english reading level of most people in IT, even after five years in college..
    A true IT professional should be able to read technical documents in English, which is the de facto standard language for CS ..
    One complaining about not being able to read English, needs to be told he'll be doing a great favor to himself by improving his english level.
  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Friday February 08, 2013 @06:57PM (#42838491) Homepage Journal

    From the perspective of someone coming up with programming language keywords, they most certainly are. Not in syntax necessarily, but definitely in declension: the verb forms in particular are much simpler.

    For example, in particular, the imperative and infinitive are identical. In English, "is file open" and "open file" use the same word for "open". In French you'd use "ouvert" for the first case and "ouvre" for the second, from the infinitive "ouvrir". And these endings aren't consistent across verbs—only very rarely do you see irregular English verbs in code; "to be" almost always appears as "is". Having to use separate keywords for function names (actions) and properties (predicative clauses and adjectives) puts a substantial cognitive load on the programmer.

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