[techtalk] natural language vs. programming language

TiMoNeiRa timoneira at unbounded.com
Sun Mar 25 12:39:07 EST 2001


Interesting, this natural language vs. programming language discussion...

I'm very much a language person, my mother language is Dutch and when I was 
growing up I learned English and German from tv (we were very close to the 
German border, and English shows and movies were subtitled) and also 
Gronings, my dialect, which is spoken in the north-east of the Netherlands. 
Since then I've learned Portuguese and a bit of Spanish, and am now 
struggling with French in Montreal. This sounds like a lot of languages, 
but my Spanish got buried under Portuguese, and my French isn't very fluent 
yet. And the first four languages are a matter of circumstance. But still, 
not many people can say that they know 7 languages.

But I also see myself as a computer geek, a techie. I call myself a 
(software) localisation engineer when I'm at work (see 
http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/10609/61241 to find out what s/w 
localisation is..); I built my own computer this winter and installed RHL7 
on it; when I was ten or twelve I wrote my own BASIC program called 
'Quadris' (anybody remember that tv series??) on an Osborne using only 
PRINT, INPUT and GOTO; and I have spent a lot of my work and spare time on 
the internet or making computers do what I tell them to.

I feel that a lot of the times I don't fit in people's categories: I'm not 
a programmer, they see that I didn't study CS but languages - I have a 
B.Sc. degree in translation, specialised in IT. But I didn't just 'study 
languages', I studied translation, which not only means studying your 
mother language and foreign languages, I also learned to study the subject 
you're translating about and how to find the information you need. A 
technical translator needs to understand what they're translating, a 
dictionary won't help you very much. So one of the things I learned is to 
be self-taught in a broad number of subjects.

I didn't become a translator after I got my B.Sc., I'm now doing the 
engineering part of the translation of software, websites, multimedia, 
etc... (localisation). There's this left/right hemisphere myth, and I 
always thought it was an asset that I could go both ways, but lately in 
searching for a job outside of localisation, I find I need justify myself. 
People don't know what localisation is, what the tasks are, and only see 
that I'm not a programmer but a linguist. So I've been thinking, maybe I 
should learn some programming, find a job that will give me some 
programming experience, take some programming courses, to finally get 'peer 
recognition', but would this mean starting from scratch again, 
career-wise..? I'm a senior localisation engineer now and a team lead, I 
lead most of the projects that I work on and have quite a bit of 
responsibility for 3 years of experience. I intend to start an MBA next year.

My boyfriend on the other hand is very much a programmer. He would like to 
learn some natural languages, like Japanese and Dutch, and he'll probably 
be good at it too. We're thinking of moving to Côte d'Azur in the south of 
France, there's an IT/Telecom cluster there with loads of startups... 
Anybody who lives and works there? I would like to find a job in wireless 
applications, I'm learning WML and WMLScript, and after that programming 
for PalmOS (C), and Perl, and maybe PHP... any recommendations on what is 
required in this field? It sort of strengthens my self-confidence reading 
that learning a programming language is very much linked to learning a 
natural language, one of the reasons I haven't really started learning 
programming yet is lack of confidence.

Thanks for listening,


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