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Ask Slashdot: 2nd Spoken/Written Language For Software Developer?

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the can't-go-wrong-learning-klingon dept.

Education 514

ichimunki writes "I am a mid-career software developer. I am from the Midwestern U.S. and my native language is English. I've studied a few languages over the years, both human and computer. Lately I've begun to wonder what is the best second (human) language for someone in this field to have. Or is there even any practical value in working to become fluent in a non-English language? I am not planning to travel or move/work abroad. But if I knew a second language, would I be able to participate in a larger programming community worldwide? Would I be able to work with those folks in some useful capacity? Perhaps building products for foreign markets?"

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Obvious answer.. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334741)

The best 2nd language for a programmer is naturally English. What your first language is depends on your nationality.

Re:Obvious answer.. (3, Insightful)

DarkDust (239124) | about 2 years ago | (#42334831)

You didn't read the posting at all, only the title, didn't you?

Re:Obvious answer.. (2, Funny)

davester666 (731373) | about 2 years ago | (#42334869)

No, you fool.

He should learn proper English [which is most definitely not American].

It would be worse if, say, he was from a southeastern state...

Re:Obvious answer.. (5, Insightful)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 2 years ago | (#42334875)

Let's face it; many native English speakers would benefit from learning how to speak and write English.

Re:Obvious answer.. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335203)

Your rite! Its for there own good!

Re:Obvious answer.. (0)

kthreadd (1558445) | about 2 years ago | (#42334999)

The best 2nd language for a programmer is naturally English. What your first language is depends on your nationality.

Not necessarily. Things like nationality or physical location says nothing about first language, second language or even if you know a particular language or not. Those are not connected and you cannot deduce any of them from the other.

Re:Obvious answer.. (1)

somersault (912633) | about 2 years ago | (#42335053)

*rolls eyes*

Re:Obvious answer.. (1)

tenco (773732) | about 2 years ago | (#42335095)

Things like nationality or physical location says nothing about first language (...)

Sure it does. If your nationality is e.g. spanish, chances are rather high that your first language is spanish.

Re:Obvious answer.. (2, Funny)

deniable (76198) | about 2 years ago | (#42335137)

Maybe you can provide translations for "whoosh".

Re:Obvious answer.. (4, Insightful)

turbidostato (878842) | about 2 years ago | (#42335177)

"The best 2nd language for a programmer is naturally English. What your first language is depends on your nationality."

You are only half true:

The best 2nd language for a programmer is naturally English.

The first one should be C.

Chinese (1)

Racerdude (1006357) | about 2 years ago | (#42334745)

Chinese or indian

Re:Chinese (1)

crank-a-doodle (1973286) | about 2 years ago | (#42334789)

There's no such thing as Indian!

Re:Chinese (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334809)

There's no such thing as (spoken) Chinese either.

Re:Chinese (3, Informative)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#42335013)

There's no such thing as (spoken) Chinese either.

China (if we were to anthropomorphize the country) might beg to differ. Although outsiders seem to want to call the official spoken language "mandarin" chinese to somehow distinguish it from other spoken dialects of hanzi/kanji script, the chinese just call it putunghua which roughly translates to the people's tongue or common spoken language. Of course putunghua is mostly just a codified Beijing dialect, but similarly, there's no such thing as (spoken) English either, except maybe if you count RP...

Of course there is no "Indian" language, though. The most common languages in India are English and "standard" Hindi. Of course Hindi has lots of dialects which are pretty much as unintelligible to standard Hindi speakers as some of the Chinese dialects are to the putunghua speaker.

Re:Chinese (1)

Racerdude (1006357) | about 2 years ago | (#42334905)

I'm sorry, my bad. Any major language that is spoken in India

Re:Chinese (5, Insightful)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about 2 years ago | (#42335007)

The major language in India is English (it was a part of the Empire for a very long time). While many try to push Hindi, it is not truly "national", so English is the standard in business and technology. You're unlikely to find much discussion of the finer points of Python list comprehensions in Hindi....

Re:Chinese (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335061)

Part of the Empire? India was part of the thuggish, cretan British Empire for around 200 or so years. It was Bharat for a bit longer than that (a few thousand at least). Hindustani is the official language of India as codified in the constitution ( Hindustani is actually a mix of Hindi and Urdu. I suggest you read more before you comment on something you know shit about.

And you're unlikely to find much discussion on the finer points of any programming language in any language other than English. That's just a retarded remark to begin with considering that English is the lingua franca of the planet.

Go back to school and learn something. Idiot.

Re:Chinese (1)

PACSFerret (1292446) | about 2 years ago | (#42335197)

I don't believe Crete is part of the story at all. I believe you mean cretin. And I believe history is a tad more complicated than thugs & cretins.

Re:Chinese (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335157)

What you'll hear is an unintelligible stream peppered with English words and phrases. I worked with a fair number of Kannada and Hindi speakers at one point, and any technical conversaton between a couple of them eventually devolved to that state. Say one was explaining a point of .NET to the other: You'd hear [unintelligible] NET [unintelligible] async [unintelligible] delegate [long unintelligible passage]begin invoke [unintelligible]. [unintelligible] MSDN, [insult].

Mandarin Chinese (4, Informative)

sawak (582338) | about 2 years ago | (#42334803)

I agree with you on Chinese. Sooner or later you will work on some project where most of the developers are in China. Communication is the most challenging part of such a project. If you know the language you are definitely in a better position to get higher salary or some team leader position.

Re:Mandarin Chinese (5, Insightful)

damienl451 (841528) | about 2 years ago | (#42334873)

Communication is challenging because Chinese and English are completely different. Why do we expect him to do a better job learning Chinese than the Chinese developers did of learning English, even though they had a lot more incentive to do so? Maybe, occasionally, it might help him if he can clarify things in Chinese. But you have to weigh it against the risk that what he'll be misunderstood because his Chinese is too poor. When things go wrong, do you want him or the Chinese developers to be blamed? If he communicates something very clearly in English, they're at fault if they mess up. If he tries to speak Chinese, there's a good chance that he'll eventually get blamed.

In IT, there's little need for foreign-language skills, unless you happen to live in bilingual country (and even there, it's mostly used as a filter by HR departments). Everyone speaks English and there's a reason why he's a mid-career developer and never had to speak a foreign language.

That being said, learning another language can be a valuable experience. Just don't expect it to be useful on the job.

Re:Mandarin Chinese (3, Informative)

Malc (1751) | about 2 years ago | (#42335021)

It gives you a chance to re-iterate in the other person's language what you meant. Or you could just consider it useful for good will and generally smoothing your relationships. You can't go wrong improving your language skills.

Having lead off-shore Chinese developments teams since 2006, I wish I'd invested time in learning the language. The smattering of German I learnt at the Goethe Institut a few years ago really helps me with my German colleagues, even if it's an opportunity for them to laugh at me over a beer. It does give me a better sense of what is being discussed if they're talking to each other in German though.

Anyway, the story is about somebody in the US mid-West. That's a brutal time difference for working with Chinese colleagues. I did it for a number of years from Toronto (12-13 hours time difference). I'm much happier doing it from London now: I'd rather start work at 06:30 than have to come back to work at 21:30 after being out for dinner and not know when I'm going to escape so I can go to bed.

Re:Mandarin Chinese (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335193)

When things go wrong, do you want him or the Chinese developers to be blamed?

None of the above, I don't want things to go wrong in the first place regardless of where the blame is directed when they go wrong.
If a basic understanding of Chinese directs blame to me then the company have a leadership problem that will make it go to hell in a few years anyway.

Re:Mandarin Chinese (5, Informative)

diakka (2281) | about 2 years ago | (#42334881)

I disagree with this at this point in time. First, Chinese is not a European language. A native speaker will require many years of study to achieve a level that will be even remotely useful in the workplace. I personally have spent about 6 years actively studying, more than 10 passively studying, and am just now at a level where I would feel comfortable functioning in a Chinese work environment. And I apologies for blowing my own horn, but people often tell me that my Chinese is the best of any westerner that they know. Guess what? I have yet to see any development jobs come my way because of it. There could always be a change in the future. That said, most of those types of jobs could just be given to a Chinese person with a high level of English. If you learn Chinese, do it because you are interested in learning Chinese because the ROI is pretty lousy. I suppose this could change in the future, but I kind of doubt it.

If anyone knows a job for someone with a CS/admin + Chinese background, feel free to message me.

Re:Mandarin Chinese (1)

Vintermann (400722) | about 2 years ago | (#42334945)

If you learn Chinese, do it because you are interested in learning Chinese because the ROI is pretty lousy.

This. It doesn't just apply to Chinese. The problem is people grossly underestimate the effort needed to learn a language. Even English - sure, it's valuable to be able to access the English part of the web, and lots of English books, documentation etc. But you have to compare it with what else 4 lessons per week for 10 years could earn you.

Re:Mandarin Chinese (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335099)

Chinese is probably different if you have a European or similar language as native language, but:
If you take 4 lessons/week for 10 years your mistake is taking all those lessons.
Read books in the language, try thinking in the language, try in other ways to actually use it, which does not cost you all that much.
After 3 years at 2 lessons/week there's very little you will be learning from lessons (unless you avoided actually learning anything in those 3 years).
Note that there is a significant risk though of language confusion, particularly if you're learning your 3rd or 4th language...

Re:Mandarin Chinese (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335105)

Ditto for me in Japanese. English is incredibly important in the workplace, other languages are not particularly so. Even if you want to move to a country which speaks the language you are learning, it is just as easy to get a job in English it seems. At least in Japan, large developers are mainly working in English anyway and small developers are not interested in hiring foreign talent.

Having said that, it is fun reading both the English and Japanese Ruby mailing lists. I wouldn't learn Japanese just to do that, but it's a nice perk.

I think, though, that even though it hasn't benefited my career to this point, achieving adult level fluency in another language has been incredibly beneficial for me. No matter what language you pick, it's a massive task. It has changed the way I approach long term goals. Most people quit learning a language sometime after they learn how to ask directions to the toilet. Getting to the point where you are functional as an adult in society is at least an order of magnitude different scale. It changes your life.

My advice to the OP is to pick a language whose culture you are interested in. Don't worry about career.

A chance to get ahead (3, Insightful)

Coisiche (2000870) | about 2 years ago | (#42334917)

Well, maybe Chinese today and for the next couple of years.

But when labour costs start to rise in China where is the next place that the big multi-nationals will seek to keep their cost base as low as possible? If you can determine that and then learn the local language then you could reap big rewards when the off-shoring goes there.

Of course you can always just go for the long game. Eventually that low labour cost will be found in English speaking countries.

Re:A chance to get ahead (3, Interesting)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about 2 years ago | (#42335189)

But when labour costs start to rise in China where is the next place that the big multi-nationals will seek to keep their cost base as low as possible? If you can determine that and then learn the local language then you could reap big rewards when the off-shoring goes there.

This is an excellent point. The real money is in handover, and that's mostly done for all the established off-shoring locations. If you ready to do a handover in the next big location, you have a chance.

But you'll be hard pushed to assess that yourself, so it'll take a hell of a lot of reading and a hell of a lot of luck to achieve it.

The other option is to look at it not in terms of a single big outsourcing market, but to look for parallel outsourcing markets. At the moment there are two major outsourcing markets: English-speaking and Spanish-speaking. I think the next big opportunity is for those who are in a position to act as a "bridge" between the two operations when companies try to integrate them. Who's going to get India and the Philippines talking to Bolivia and Peru? Maybe it'll be you....

Re:Chinese (5, Informative)

Starky (236203) | about 2 years ago | (#42335211)

As someone who has learned Chinese as an adult, I would recommend against it unless you have the opportunity to do so without sacrificing considerable opportunity costs or have the luxury of not having to worry about opportunity costs. The learning process is considerably more time-consuming and challenging than a European language, and you cannot learn it to a functional level from taking classes. (There are many foreigners I've met in China who took four years of Chinese as an undergraduate and were astonished to discover when they set foot in the country that they were totally non-functional.) You have to actually live in a Chinese-speaking country, and it's very hard to get a decent job in China unless you're moved there by a multinational and retain your salary and benefits from the home country. Even then, if you're working a regular job, you simply won't have time to learn the language in a reaonable tme frame. I know plenty of expats in China who have been working here for 7-10 years and still can barely ask for directions in Chinese.

Finally, if you think you can simply show up in China and people will be beating down your door to give you a great job, think again. The idea that China is full of potential is a total myth for Westerners. There are almost no opportunities for Westerners outside of teaching English or other jobs unrelated to professional technical positions, and no Chinese-owned firm I've heard of has ever given a Westerner a management position with any authority. Whereas in the United States, being a non-U.S. citizen does not impose a glass ceiling, in China quite the opposite is true. You simply won't make money here unless you are working for a multinational and are moved here from your home country rather than someone who moves here and is then hired in-country, in which case your living here is taken as a clear signal you're willing to work for local wages.

In short, people who talk about Chinese as a way to open doors and create opportunities are simply out of touch with the realities on the ground in China.

Weird motivation! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334751)

Actually, if all you want to do is be a better programmer/developer, don't even think about learning a second language. It won't help you, and it probably wouldn't work. Learning a language, especially the first "second" language, requires years of work. And there is no such thing as "effortless" language learning. And can be fun, if you're motivated and don't feel that much pain, but it won't be effortless, much the same as any worthwhile aerobic exercise will bring pain and suffering into your life.

Re:Weird motivation! (1)

seebs (15766) | about 2 years ago | (#42334771)

Years of work? Oh, come now.

And what is your basis for claiming it won't help?

Re:Weird motivation! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334935)

Yep, I would think that learning a new language (properly) takes years of work for most people... unless of course you are constantly exposed to the language every day (by moving to a different country, for example)

Re:Weird motivation! (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | about 2 years ago | (#42335215)

And there is no such thing as "effortless" language learning.

...yet. But it's something that a lot of people are already working on. Computer games are fun because we're constantly learning. Computer games are boring when we're not learning enough, and they're frustrating when they expect us to learn too fast. Therefore we can conclude that the problems in education are all about pacing and difficulty. All learning can be effortless, and when teachers start listening to science, they'll start approaching that effortlessness (although probably asymptotally.)

Russian (5, Interesting)

Luuseens (1422579) | about 2 years ago | (#42334757)

I would say Russian. It's my 3rd language (English being my second), and it has helped me a lot when searching for some specific info on the net. There is a wealth of information on programming to be found; especially if you are interested in security. This might be less relevant for you if you are looking for information that might be considered 'shady' (e.g. jailbreaking phones, breaking certain security features), but I've found it very helpful.

Re:Russian (2)

Luuseens (1422579) | about 2 years ago | (#42335077)

Meant to say 'if you are not looking for shady information'. Sorry.

Market drives you to China. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334759)

..and I'm pretty sure there are plenty of opportunities for a developer knowing Chinese.

Re:Market drives you to China. (1)

DarkDust (239124) | about 2 years ago | (#42334819)

I second this. There's going to be a huge demand for Westerners who can talk and even write Chinese. The market is large and growing fast. An alternative to that would be Russian. But beware, although it's easier to learn the cyrillic alphabet than chinese characters, the language itself seems to actually be harder to learn from what I've heard so far: it seems to have lots of irregularities. A former colleague, who's Russian, said that after living a few years in Germany and speaking almost no Russian during that time had him forget a few of those irregularities in the Russian language and his Russian friends immediately noticed when he visited them. My father wanted to learn Russian and gave up because there are words that have flections that don't seem to be related to the original word at all and you need to learn a lot of vocabulary due to the grammar. By contrast, AFAIK the chinese grammar is "odd" for westerners but not hard to learn.

ENGRISH !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334761)

All your bases are belong to us !!

English is the most common second language (2, Insightful)

a_n_d_e_r_s (136412) | about 2 years ago | (#42334765)

for most programmers.

That's because most programmers don't have english as their first language.

Re:English is the most common second language (4, Funny)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 2 years ago | (#42334797)

Thats right most have C as there first language

Re:English is the most common second language (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334817)

Thats right most have C as there first language

I think you just proved it.

Re:English is the most common second language (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334849)

Except that native English speakers tend to do that shit much more often than foreign folks. This is because they learn it as speech instead of writing.

Re:English is the most common second language (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334933)

Interesting point you have their.

Well, of course... (4, Interesting)

seebs (15766) | about 2 years ago | (#42334769)

About all I'd say is: Pick a language mostly-unrelated to your own. Bonus points if you expect to have coworkers who speak it natively.

I see a comment saying it won't help you to learn a second language. I am unpersuaded. I generally find that anything I do which makes me more flexible makes me a better programmer. Being able to think in another language can be really useful for shaking up some of your presuppositions and assumptions. On the other hand, so can a philosophy degree.

I learned Chinese well enough to dream in it, and then mostly forgot it over the next decade or two. I still have an easier time understanding Chinese coworkers, because their English is often idiomatic for Chinese. But mostly... I am a more flexible person. I have concepts that there's a word for in Chinese and no word for in English. I learned to handle different ways of thinking about grammar. Overall, a good experience, and not one I regret. It's not as though it's a huge time sink; I'd guess I've spent more time playing video games in any given two-year period than I spent learning Chinese.

Math (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334781)

It's the universal language, after all.

Don't do that (5, Interesting)

jawtheshark (198669) | about 2 years ago | (#42334783)

Perhaps building products for foreign markets?"

No, please... Don't do that unless you're also culturally involved in your target market and actually understand the countries you write software for. Look at the whole "locales" mess. It works fine, if you have a single region with a single language, beyond that, it becomes very fishy... and $DIETY help you if you actually want an English system with date and time set to your geographical location. Language and regional settings should be entirely independent, but they aren't. On Linux, I found a workaround by just generating my own locales, but still.

I have worked on many multilingual projects, and I assure you: localization is not mere translation and translation is not merely swapping out strings with language. I would say, I can help on projects that to language for a sizeable part of Europe, but I am not good enough to include Asian languages, the Cyrillic typeset or even plain Greek.

While it's very interesting... I just wanted to warn you: you don't just walk into Localization.

Chinese (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334785)

Would you be able to participate in a large community? Probably yes.
Would you be able to work in some useful capacity? Probably not, because you are too expensive.

Better learn French, just for the sake of it and the nice wine.

Learn French (5, Funny)

Ed Avis (5917) | about 2 years ago | (#42334791)

French is the language of love!

Re:Learn French (4, Funny)

karolbe (1661263) | about 2 years ago | (#42334943)

Don't be silly. Software developer and love? You don't need to know language of love when all your love is stored on your hard drive as jpeg and avi ;-)

People confuse and depress me. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334805)

The kind of questions that people end up asking seem to scream of "I'm so unsure about myself and what I want and I need somebody to tell me what to do". I just don't get it. These questions asked on Slashdot depress me.

Obviously, if you can and want to, do learn a language. And learn the one that makes the most sense wherever you go and whatever you do. Why are you asking others to tell you what to do?

I don't know how to speak it, but (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about 2 years ago | (#42334837)

I'd recommend perl.

Re:I don't know how to speak it, but (1)

gmhowell (26755) | about 2 years ago | (#42334899)

I'd recommend perl.

Kinda like the guy in this video [] .

No specific answer (3, Insightful)

Captain_Chaos (103843) | about 2 years ago | (#42334839)

I'd say that for a software developer specifically there isn't a particular second language that would be useful, as the lingua franca in the software development world is already English. Even in non-English speaking countries it is common to write code and documentation in English, converse in English, etc.

So if you want to expand your potential I'd say choose a second language that's generally useful. If you want to limit it to your own geographic area I'd say Spanish. If you want the largest possible expansion of your potential market I'd say Mandarin Chinese.

Re:No specific answer (1)

chrismcb (983081) | about 2 years ago | (#42334865)

I agree with this. IF you want to learn another human language, then pick one that you find interesting. Pick one because you like the cultural and might want to visit. Pick one because you think that maybe you would like to move to a different region.
But don't pick something based on computers. Chances are you'll never use it. Pick something you might be interested in, as you'll be more likely to learn it and use it. If you pick a language to try to further your computer career, you'll probably not learn it as well, and forget it in a few years.

German (3, Interesting)

phagstrom (451510) | about 2 years ago | (#42334845)

Chinese or indian are the obvious answers, but they may be a bit too much.

I would go with German, because it is a fairly large language area (90 million + speakers) most of which belong to technologically advanced nations. As an alternative consider a latin language, such as Spanish.

Re:German (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334903)

I live in Eastern Europe, second most sought after languate in IT is German.

Romanian is my first, and believe it or not, the other latin languages are easy to understand, English is second and German is third (which was harder to learn, but easier if you already know a little English).

Re:German (2)

alhague (127665) | about 2 years ago | (#42334979)

Another plus of German: You will finally understand those funny SAP variable names :-)

Spanish (3, Insightful)

Dave Whiteside (2055370) | about 2 years ago | (#42334847)

You're American - you're going to need Spanish to sound like a local soon -
how else are you going to know what the guys and gals at the local store are saying behind your back.

but seriously - Chinese , Japanese , Korean , Finnish , German are all good starters

Spanish (5, Interesting)

stoolpigeon (454276) | about 2 years ago | (#42334863)

If I lived in the US I'd learn Spanish as a second language. It ought to be compulsory for all American school children. It's the second most spoken language in the U.S. It's the language of the majority of the Americas from Mexico down. And trends I don't see changing significantly seem to indicate it will only have a stronger presence in the U.S. over time. So that's what I'd focus on first, regardless of vocation.

Re:Spanish (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334891)

I agree. Spanish for life.
For babes: Swedish
For career: Chinese or Russian. is a good place to start.

Spanish is an important language but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334961) does it help you as a programmer to know Spanish? Not a lot, I think...

Re:Spanish is an important language but... (1)

l3v1 (787564) | about 2 years ago | (#42335001)

It helps you as a person. And not only in the US.

Anyway, knowing more languages won't make you less in any way, they'll only improve you. Also, keeps your capability to learn and adapt at a high level. And it also doesn't hurt if you know some languages people speak outside the US. I know some languages, and independently of how they relate to my developer work and skills, they'd never hindered me, only aided me in a lot of situations. Think of language learning as a training excercise, or as a long term investment, either way, it'll improve you.

Re:Spanish (1)

Pollardito (781263) | about 2 years ago | (#42335195)

As a bonus Dora the Explorer will make so much more sense (and your kids who watch it will too)

recommended language (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334867)

Japanese and/or Chinese.

Do learn a second language, but not because of job (2)

Cheburator-2 (260358) | about 2 years ago | (#42334871)

I speak Russian, English and I'm learning German. But what I've learned so far is that you don't need any human language except English to be a good programmer. Learning a second language won't improve your programming skills or your value, cause all other good programmers speak English.

On the other side, learning a second language allows you to develop your brains, improve your memory and to delay brain aging. Which language to learn depends on what time do you have and what language is easier for you to practice. If I were you, I'd learn Spanish or French because you can always travel to Mexico or Canada to practice it. Other variants: if you have little time, learn English-like language like German, it would be easier. Still more time - learn Slavic language like Russian or Czech (yes, they make a good beer in Prague, definitely worth visiting). But if you have a shitload of time, then learn completely different language like Japanese, Chinese, Finnish or Arabic.

Neither Mandarin nor Hindi (1)

gentryx (759438) | about 2 years ago | (#42334877)

Both, China and India are being hyped as the prime locations for outsorcing software engineering. But if you listen closely to the companies then you'll see that the first are already coming back to the US and Europe. And even if not: the people there that you'd have to communicate with all already speak English well. So congratulations, as an English native speaker you already have the best tool at hands to get around the world. But you might want to consider learning Spanish so that you can talk to the fastest growing minority in your own country. :-)

No practical value... (1)

Kr3m3Puff (413047) | about 2 years ago | (#42334883)

Personally, if you aren't going to work outside the US, there is no practical value for a programmer, because it would greatly narrow down any other market.

Programming is like Air Traffic Control, for good or bad, everything is in English.

I have spent half my career outside the US (albiet mostly in English speaking countries) and from a development perspective, English is not optional. 99% of documentation is in English. Mastering another programming language would be more practical than another written/spoken language if you are only going to live in the US.

All that being said, the only large scale technical documentation I have seen being regularly translated into another language is Japanese. And increasingly Russian developers, amongst themselves, keep it in Russian.

It's always good (4, Insightful)

Mjlner (609829) | about 2 years ago | (#42334889)

Coming from someone who has English as third language, I'd say you're fine without, since all documentation is available in English and most discussion is going on in English. I have actually never used my first or second language for participating in software community discussion. OTOH, these are minor languages with 6-10 million speakers worldwide, all of which learn English in school anyway.

However, among the worlds greater languages, there are certainly a lot of people who can't communicate well in English and there is a lot of discussion in these languages. So I would say, pick one major language that could be useful in all walks of life. Or just pick any language that you are interested in. However, for the sole purpose of participating in the programming community, I don't think time invested will pay off.

There are two crucial reasons for learning a language: necessity and personal motivation. If it isn't necessary for you, you'll have to go with motivation. So, pick a language that you want to learn, because you want to learn it.

Three is better than two (1)

aglider (2435074) | about 2 years ago | (#42334893)

First spoken language should be English. Second spoken language can be a choice between Indian and Chinese. Third spoken language should be C or Pascal.

Re:Three is better than two (1)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#42335069)

First spoken language should be English.
Second spoken language can be a choice between Indian and Chinese.
Third spoken language should be C or Pascal.

As mentioned by many folks, there is no 'indian", you probably mean Hindi (which is the 2nd most popular language used in India).

Also, conversing in C can difficult, for example do you pronounce it "squiggly open brace", or is it "bracket" ? Is the "int" slient in "long int"? and who speaks Pascal these days? You are better off trying to speak Python or even Object Oriented Cobol if you want a job ;^)

Pick an easy one (2)

dejanc (1528235) | about 2 years ago | (#42334911)

Like everybody else already noted, knowing English is sufficient for programmers these days, but there is no harm in knowing another language. As you are an American and already speak the lingua franca, choose one that you can actually learn. If you take on e.g. Japanese or Arabic, keep in mind just how hard they are for an Indo-European native speaker. Furthermore, how much practice can you get in those languages? Learning a new language properly requires practice.

I would suggest a romance language: Spanish or Italian. If you start learning one of them, it will be relatively easy to switch to another one (e.g. if you suddenly start working with Brazilians and you already speak Spanish fluently, switching to Portuguese would take little effort). Also, both languages are easy to learn and are used in somewhat developed economies. A lot of development nowadays is outsourced to South America, so you can have practical use for it.

Finally, don't to what most people try to do: you can't learn a language from audiobooks or books. You will need to take classes - at least two or three times a week. A classroom setting is the second best way to learn a language. The best way to learn a language is a classroom setting in a country where that language is spoken by the majority of the people.

Re:Pick an easy one (1)

Vintermann (400722) | about 2 years ago | (#42334955)

there is no harm in knowing another language.

True, but there is effort in getting there. Grossly underestimated effort. I'm guessing > 90% of people who set their mind to learning a new language fail miserably.

Re:Pick an easy one (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335079)

As a westerner, I would choose Japanese or Chinese or Korean: not because I plan to be able to communicate in those languages within the workplace, but because they have such a different structure, grammar and way of expressing concepts that I feel very valuable to a programmer, helping to think outside the box. Language has deep consequences on the way we think, so broadening your language skills helps broadening your thinking too - which is useful even if you are not a programmer, I shall add.

There are several good options. (2)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 2 years ago | (#42334915)

I would probably choose Russian or German.

Chinese, Hindi or the like are tempting, but a lot of work to make real inroads, and in case you hadn't noticed, there really isn't a big percentage of quality software coming to the Western world from those places. I'm not implying anything, just stating facts.

There IS a lot of quality software coming out of Germany and the Russian Federation, though.

Think of where the innovation's coming from (4, Insightful)

twocows (1216842) | about 2 years ago | (#42334921)

I'd say Russian, Japanese, or German; those three countries seem to have a pretty big focus on technology.

German (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334925)

Lots of seriously knowledgable people, plus a huge market within EU.

Irish (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334927)

It'll help with lisp...

I am German speaking and... (1)

John Balance (2796767) | about 2 years ago | (#42334931)

... and I improved my English until I was comfortable with handling most situations. Now I have gone on to learn Swedish (Sweden rules), and next up is Russian.

Europeans... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42334939)

I'm an American working in Italy. There are very few true Italian words for CS. They make English words into new Italian ones because they get created too fast: "tweetare", "downloadare", etc. where you just add an Italian verb suffix to the English word. Unless you are trying to develop a product for normal Italian users, it would be useless to learn Italian. All Italian programmers either know English or are picking it up while working. I believe this is true for most of Europe (maybe with the exception of France).

Marain is the best language (1)

Tim12s (209786) | about 2 years ago | (#42334969)

Marain is the best language to use as your second/first language.

After that, your goal should be to flex your ability to precisely describe an algorithm. Ambiguity within a language should make this more difficult.

Learn Latin! (3, Insightful)

deoxyribonucleose (993319) | about 2 years ago | (#42334973)

There is a lot to be said for learning a second language in order to understand your own language better, and to realize its deep structures and biases. In the evolution of English, much of the Germanic structure of Old English was eroded away, and the resulting language lost much of its surface logic.

My take is that English speakers benefit from learning a more obviously structured language, and that learning about the structure in itself helps with the programming mindset. To be an effective programmer, after all, you do not only need to be able to make the computer/compiler/interpreter understand you: your code must also be understood by those who integrate with it and maintain it. Thus, all communications skills also contribute to programming skills.

Therefore, my suggestion, only partially tongue-in-cheek, is to study Latin. While you won't find a lot of Romans to speak with nowadays, much less program with, and although other languages exist that also have a great deal of surface structure, the teaching of Latin has always been highly focused on grammar and structure, and a lot of excellent teaching resources exist in many languages.

Colonial languages (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335089)

Latin is a pretty good suggestion actually. In fact I'd suggest choosing one of the colonial latin-based languages (French, Spanish or Portuguese). They're wide-spread and you'll be able to make yourself understood in places you previously could hardly dream visiting. Spanish is probably the most useful for you, presuming you're in the US. Also, it's the colonial language which is spoken geographically nearest to the old Rome so it's a good "average" of the other latin-based colonian languages, making those easier to pick up or at least to make sense of when in written form.

As a bonus, all these languages share Latin script - which is something you're already familiar with. Contrast that with many Asian languages, many of which have their own "alien-like" scripts.

A matter of heart (2)

countach (534280) | about 2 years ago | (#42334997)

At this point in your life, there is probably no hope you will gain a competent level in another language unless you are really motivated and that culture speaks to your heart. Only you can say what that language/culture might be.

The most spoken language in the southern hemisphre (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335015)

The most spoken language in the southern hemisphere is Portuguese. You can't beat that.

Ancient Greek (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335027)

It is "Geek" with an "r". No, you will not be needing it in the workplace. But when I have found people with a non-computer background fiddle along at high capacity with non-mainline languages like Emacs Lisp or Scheme or Haskell, it would appear that with quite unrandom proportionality they would come from an ancient language background (also sometimes ancient Arabic or even Chinese studied as foreign language).

Apparently those are the areas geeks went in into the time before computers and Sudoku. For something a bit less geeky, try classical Latin. There is no real point in trying Medieval Latin, though: its complexity is not significantly different from Spanish, so you might learn Spanish right away and have a few more modern day uses.

The obvious answer (4, Funny)

belmolis (702863) | about 2 years ago | (#42335029)

The obvious answer is Klingon.

Stupid comment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335031)

Personnally I would pick finnish, danish or swedish because girls are cute there.

Other languages are pretty useless (for software) (3, Interesting)

pieleric (917714) | about 2 years ago | (#42335033)

It's always great to learn a new (human) language. It will allow you to discover a new way of thinking, and let you see the world through a different point of view.

That said, let's be honest right away, if there is one part where it will bring you almost nothing, it's for software development. 99% of software communities online are discussed in English. 99.9% of software comments and software documentation is written in English. I happen to speak French, English, Dutch and Spanish (nothing special, I'm just European). I have been doing software development for more than 10 years and I cannot recall ever using any other language than English except when doing translation. The only advantage is that you'll be able to understand a bit better why translators are mad at you when you write bad printf()'s.

So go ahead, learn a new language, it's a great experience. I'd recommend one with a big amount of speakers like Spanish or Chinese (this one, I promise, will completely change your understanding of the concept of "language"). However, don't kid yourself, it's pointless with respect to software development :-)

RE: Congrats (1)

Archon-X (264195) | about 2 years ago | (#42335037)

Congratulations on deciding to commit to learning a new language - it's a fairly exciting achievement, actually.

Learning a new spoken language is not dissimilar to learning a new programming language: the first time is hard - you need to learn the constructs - ie learn how to learn a language. Conjugation, grammar, etc - these are all notions that are difficult the first time around.

Once you've got a grasp on that, you'll realise that you can communicate with about 20 verbs and 50 adjectives.

I would, however, underline that your motivations to learn a specific language should probably stem from an inherent interest in the country/ies / cultures where it is spoken.

If you're attempting to learn a language for conducting business, unless you're incredibly motivated, you're going to probably fail.

The language of business / commerce is difficult - heck, you go to university to learn how to talk the talk. It's such a domain-specific use of language that it will take literally years of immersion (2 at an inside minimum) to get a handle on it.

(References: Australian living in France working in IT)

Not really (1)

Zouden (232738) | about 2 years ago | (#42335045)

"Would I be able to work with those folks in some useful capacity? Perhaps building products for foreign markets?"

I think it's easier to learn a programming language than a human language, so in practically every country you'll find people who are already fluent in their own language plus whatever programming language you know. And most of them will have learnt English since childhood.

Learn a language for fun, or if you want to see the world, but it won't tie in with your programming in any meaningful way.

Depending on your future work place (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335063)

It is impossible to say one language would be better than another. It all boils down to your work place. Even if you do not travel or work abroad, you might end up communicating with people from another country.

If your company have a lot of developers in France, learn French. If your company have a lot of developers in Italy, learn Italian.

Benefits: When they speak a bad English, and they translate directly word by word their expressions, you might understand it.

Only as a hobby. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335071)

In your case I see no reason to learn another language. For most people it takes a long time, not a huge effort, just a long time.

Here is an informative article about learning languages:

If you like to see movies, TV shows or read books in a certain foreign language, and do that for years on end, please go ahead.
-- Written by somebody that has to use three languages every day.

Dutch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42335091)

Learn Dutch. That's what I did. It didn't do me any harm.

Sorry to rain on your parade but... (1)

lurker412 (706164) | about 2 years ago | (#42335107)

If you are not planning on moving/working abroad, you're not going to learn any second language well enough to be very useful. People with technology skills are rather mobile and the largest tech firms have foreign subsidiaries. So the big employers have no shortage of native speakers of the most commonly spoken languages. In the meantime, machine translation is getting better all the time and while it may never do poetry or literature very well, it will certainly be good enough for most business purposes in the not very distant future. I wouldn't expect adding a new language to change your employment potential much, but there are many other good reasons to do so.

So snobbish (0)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | about 2 years ago | (#42335109)

Seriously, you wonder what human language you have to learn next? You're American, native English speaker? What do you need more than that? There are so many opportunities within the US, + companies abroad looking for English speakers - even in China, Japan, and most of European countries, there are plenty of foreign companies over there that would be happy to hire a native English speaker. But anyway, you want to stay in the US... Just learn a foreign language as a hobby, not seeking professional opportunities - that looks so snobbish.

None (or german) (1)

spectrokid (660550) | about 2 years ago | (#42335129)

I speak 5 languages myself, work in a technical environment, and it is not appreciated at all. I applied for a job where my knowledge of languages would be an obvious asset (international helpdesk), but my 10 years of language learning was wiped out by a 10 minute psycho-test showing I wouldn't throw down the phone fast enough. Don't get me wrong: learn french and you will see how Jacques Brels lyrics will send John Lennon running home to his mommy crying. Every language you learn means new people you meet and new treasures you discover. But I have never gotten a job or a raise because of it. It is like juggling oranges: nice conversation topic at the xmas party, but not something that adds to your bottom line. If you are going to do it, German is the obvious second technical language in both west and eastern Europe.

Not planning to travel or move/work abroad ? (1)

Pascal Sartoretti (454385) | about 2 years ago | (#42335165)

I am not planning to travel or move/work abroad.

Without any direct (live) contact with people, it will be at the same time hard and not very useful to learn a second language. If you live in the South-West, maybe you can try Spanish...

Depends on your boss (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 2 years ago | (#42335201)

During the cold war Russian would be useful if you could show an interest and skill. Great if your family was trusted and you where loyal.
A wage would go up - great for smart people from working class backgrounds in tech/crypto.
German might be good for industrial trips to Germany, Austria, parts of Switzerland - not for the computer code, work - for making friends long term.
vs telling people you are Canadian, asking about IKEA, grunting at a map and a pointing to a museum name...
If your in the USA - China is interested in the USA and translation from a US background might offer an edge.
Placating locals as a factory is sold? An Australian engineer who understands dismantling vs the skilled local accent offering hope until the last moment.....
Spanish parts of the Americas sounds useful but their top people buy in from Germany/ USA - they have had that covered for generations.
French - France looks after/trusts France - the rest is just some US elite coast 20 something having a 3-6 years of very expensive daycare.
Arabic/Farsi - like Russian during the cold war would open doors to rapid advancement - drone strikes, freedom fighters, triangulation, interrogation transcripts, financial tracking. If you ever upset the wrong contractor or agency it could be a very, very interesting.
Germany, China and the Middle East seem to be good regions to think about as many have listed.
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