Whenever I need information on a programming topic I tend to search Google directly in English. I don't even bother trying to search in Spanish which is my mother tongue, I know that probably I won't find anything interesting.

  • Do you ever try to search for programming help in your mother tongue?

  • Do you always find your responses in that language or you have to search in English?

  • Apart from English do you find there's a good information base in any other language?

  • Can a good programmer live without English knowledge?
18 accepted

The utter dominance of English in the software development world is due only in small part to the interminable self-promotion of the US, and has quite a bit more to do with the fact that language is crystallised culture. It reflects the perspectives, priorities, prejudices, and most importantly, ontologies that make up said culture. It is also optimised for their expression, and this produces a feedback loop, with the language and culture being both cause and effect for one another.

A single culture established a clear technological lead for several decades. Every year of that accidental dominance, all the best tools (best because they were the only tools) reflected the language and culture of the people who created them. As a result, thinking in that language/culture conferred an instant technology boost on anyone adopting the language and mode of thought of that culture. It was (and remains) uneconomic to take any other path.

Thus, nearly all the good software tools are built by and for people thinking in English - even if they don't use English at home. If they aren't thinking in English then certainly they are structuring their thoughts with English derived ontologies because they don't have any choice if they want support from advanced tools. There is some serious cultural imperialism going on here.

Another reason for the dominance of English is that it is, unlike the Romance languages (and as far as I know, any other language) the only language that is also a meta-language: it explicitly supports the systematic extension of grammar and vocab.

My (now deceased) French wife observed that there were often half a dozen grammatically legal ways to structure a sentence yet only a few that wouldn't raise eyebrows or amuse people. She asked me how we know which are the "right" ways, cursing a language that seemed to her entirely composed of exceptions. After some days' reflection, my answer to her was that English is a creole, encompassing all the grammars of all the major language groups, and the "right" grammars are the ones that produce the shortest comprehensible sentences.

When a another language is more effective in some way, English speakers will brazenly borrow from that language whatever is good about it, and make it their own: English is a kind of linguistic Borg.

I mentioned ontologies. What made Delphi more than Object Pascal, what made Java useful and what made C# more than just another Java was the supporting technologies: the libraries and the IDEs. These necessarily reflect the ontologies of the culture of those who built them.

In summary: you can't stand on the shoulders of giants without getting cozy with them.

I have heard a French sysadmin cursing the fact that he didn't have the English Netware manuals: endless examples of technical idiom were erratically translated, making terms impossible to find in the index, and even when he did find the right section it was, he said, incomprehensible because l'Academie insisted on translating "bug" as "insecte" and similar foolishness, and the translation of ideas was inconsistent because the ideas themselves were alien to the translators who are generally «Diplômés des Arts, avec peu de science et encore moins du rigeur» (his words: Arts graduates with little science and less discipline).

All that said, three hundred years ago the trade language was French. Now, it isn't. Why? Follow the money. This logic says that - allowing time for the English-language leviathan to die - soon it will be Chinese. But not the chinese of today, and certainly not the chinese of Mao's fevered imagination.

They've been living in our minds for thirty years, copying our works, first cheaper and then better. A whole generation has lived and worked in a frame of reference that was the essence of us. Just as the Greeks remade the Romans, and the Romans both the Britons and the Franks, as our minds were forged in the embers of their zeitgeist, so have we reforged the Chinese in our own image. Give 'em 20 years and they'll be better at thinking like us than we are.

At one workplace I was involved in a lengthy assessment of the economics of internationalising our product in response to interest from Hong Kong. To paraphrase the outcome: "Not worth the trouble. Half of them speak English and the other half don't have any money."

Why is this? Maybe English will outlive us. In what other language can you invent the word "extensibility" and not need to explain it, spell it or justify it to l'Academie? Oh, and ideogrammatic written languages are less than keyboard-friendly.


A great question!

A also look exclusively in English which is not my mother tongue.

The reason being is that all new info originates in English and maybe gets translated later. But I need now not later.

The other thing is that what we are doing is our common language. Why should we restrict ourselves from communicating in single commonly understandable language?

Answer to you questions:

  • Do you ever try to search for programming help in your mother tongue? Almost never.
  • Do you always find your responses in that language or you have to search in English? Sometimes I do, but these are single cases.
  • Apart from English do you find there's a good information base in any other language? Probably, but scattered all over the place. hard to make it together.
  • Can a good programmer live without English knowledge? Sure he can. But there will be clear disadvantages.

Some of the best implementations of truly practical lock free programming that I have come across have been discussed, published and commented entirely in Russian. English is my native language, so in this instance, my lack of Russian was an obstacle.

I speak a bit of Spanish, enough to embarrass myself while being understood. I came across a really cool hosting control panel (which I really needed) and all functions, DB tables and comments were in Spanish. Once again , if I did not speak a bit of Spanish, my lack thereof would have been a major obstacle. Instead, I was able to join the development team and help improve the code.

Finally, I once was developing software to help educators teach English as a second language. I managed to find some teachers who were frustrated with the software that they had, most of them lived in China. Now, I need the aid of a teacher to get feedback from my users (the students), who only speak Chinese (the GUI is in English, I did not need to know Chinese to write it). So, once again, I am handicapped by only really knowing the 'de-facto standard' language.

I migrated from the US to Metro Manila (Philippines) .. and I had to learn enough Filipino to get by. So now, I think I'm in a place where I can answer your question .. since I appreciate it and was literally forced to learn another language in order to work.

Learning English is never going to hurt you. Narrowing any search to "just English" is terminally stupid. Speaking English is not a requisite to being a brilliant programmer, it just helps if you do. At the least, try to use English when naming functions, classes, etc.

The world is full of brilliant people, some of them speak English. That should answer your question. If you wish to limit windows of opportunity, then limit the number of languages that you are willing to learn. The same goes for programming languages.

So, yes, NOT searching in your native tongue only limits your exposure to potential brilliance. Stop doing that. Meanwhile, most sources of help (i.e. mailing lists) prefer English. Why exclude potentially brilliant sources when you are (unlike me) able to understand them fluently?

Its not often that I say the word 'stpid', but doing so is just that.

  • No, but sometimes I find interesting bits in other languages, e.g. when searching for error messages. Fortunately I can read some important other languages (german, french, swedish). For other languages I sometimes use Google's translator.

  • No, no other language comes even close.

  • German is not too bad, but since my english is good I don't depend on it.

  • No.

  1. No, I didn't + I dont think it is useful :(

  2. Not Applicable

  3. I have seen several. I tried to read them using Google translate. :)

  4. Definitely NO.... The 99% of technical information, blogs etc are written in english. If a developer can live, He may need to get massively more time to learn and program every thing... Since in present rapid application development is expected by most employers, clients it will be a huge disadvantage

(My Mother tongue is sinhala. There are very small number of sinhala web sites and again a much smaller number of technical web sites)


Good questions.

I am French, yet I search mostly information in English, a bit out of habits, a bit because lot of programmers write information and articles in English, even it isn't their mother tongue (and sometime, it shows!).

Sometime, I am even annoyed because Google present preferably French sites before English ones... :-) Although there are some good programming sites in French, with valuable information. I don't always skip them.

I even started to write some technical articles in French on my blog, feeling it might be less redundant and filling a gap.

Obviously, if you are programmer, unless you are very specialized in a domain and language with abundant information in your mother tongue, you MUST know English. At least technical English. Technical information like API descriptions, manuals, FAQs, etc. are written in English, even if the creator has another mother tongue: at best they are translated in this tongue.
I see these non-English documents as a good mean to wet your feet, to get a quick feeling of the software or library. But to get the core information, you have to go to English documents.


The best method I have found when searching for answers is to using the syntax of the programming language in your searches.

Including key parts of the problem code as well as an error message (if appropriate) can often lead to the answer very quickly.

Also if you having problem with a particular language e.g. english. Google Translate is a very useful tool which maybe you could use to help word your seaches better.


No. What more, many terms are translated to my native language in multiple different ways. I cannot even lead a technical discussion with a collegue speaking the same language without using english for technical terms so we can understand each other, much less try to find any relavant information.


My mother language is Polish. When I started programming some years ago - mostly in C# world - there was only data in english language.

But now after some years - we have more and more websites in Polish language. Many developers start to sharing experience by blogs, we have some websites like dotnetkicks and so on.

Lately I had a question about SQL and I've found answer only in Polish language - there was no good explanation in English.

So from my point of view - the situation gets better.

I know English on such level - that lack of more is not bothering me. If I want to find something - than I will do it.

As I did my research some time ago - there are some Spanish resources and hope you'll have it more. Because it's more fun to talk about hard topics (like programming) in your mother language.


RE:Can a good programmer live without English knowledge?

I recently commented on another question that was asked in Spanish saying I thought it was good that Stackoverflow could host questions in languages other than English, but most of the other comments suggested that all questions should be in English to avoid diluting the effectiveness of the site.

It raises an interesting question on whether we are forcing developers to have a certain proficiency in English before they can fully participate in the general dev community.

Whilst I don't think that people should be handicapped too much for not speaking English, there are practical considerations - many of which are mentioned in comments above and the administration of the site would get much more complex if it had to allow filtering by language or combinations of language.

So I guess I may have been wrong suggesting that questions in other languages were a good idea, but I still kinda baulk at the disadvantage that others might have in being forced to work in English...hmm.


I usually use google translate or babelfish (its not perfect but is not bad either). if I come across any documentation that is in a foreign language. But in my case it was for converting from some other languages into english.


My primary pattern is to first try it in english and after not finding a pleasent answer i try it in my mother tongue (german). If there's a good information base depends on the language. I do know some very good programming boards in german. Nevertheless, the primary language is english, but thats often ok.


My first language is Arabic and I rarely ever look up programming information in other than English. Most of what I come across in Arabic are merely translations of English resources.

I think as one's English vocabulary improves so do does their grasp on programming in general, seeing as how vocabulary is related to terminology of data structures, programming metaphors, method names, etc.


I'm german and there are a few good information pages for development in my mother tongue. But most of the time I'm searching for help in English, since it's the fastest way to find good information.

The information base in german is good. But I'm not sure it would fits my needs if I haven't got the option to search for english information, too.

I think, at least, some basic english skills make it easier to be a good programmer, since nearly every programming language uses some english keywords and every api or sourcefiles are commented and described in english.


I prefer to use google translator to read content in language other that english. I don't find much programming information in non-english language. Yes, I think a programmer can live without english knowledge.


Usually I search in English - if possible.

Sometimes I get German error messages and it is not possible to translate them back to English and match the exact wording. That's when I'm doomed to search German.

That's the reason why I also TRY (but sometimes fail, because I prefer my Windows in German) to install my development environment in English.


i usually find information in my mother tongue. and i sometimes used to english for information.


There are few internet based programming communities on the internet who use my mother tounge, but I don't "search" for information in my mother tounge.

regarding your third question, I think there's probably a good base of information in the Japanese language, but I only speak very little Japanese, so (at least for now) it doesn't help me much.