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Why you should use English versions of your OS and other software

Even though I’m writing this blog in English, I know I have a considerable number of readers in non-English-speaking countries, such as my native Poland. This post is for them. If you are American, British, Australian, New Zealand(ish?)Kiwi — sorry, there’s nothing for you here. See you next week.

Now for the rest of you. As you can probably figure out from the title, I’m going to try to convince you to use English versions of your software. Now, I am the webmaster of a site which tells you how to learn English, so you might expect I would tell you how daily exposure to English menu items, system messages, help files, and all the other textual UI elements will program your brain with correct English. (Which, by the way, would all be true.)

But today I’m not going to write about the importance of getting English input every chance you get. Instead, I will give you a very practical reason to install English versions of your operating system and other software rather than versions localized in your native language.

Suppose you have just updated the drivers for your nVidia card. Unfortunately, something has gone wrong and every time you reboot your machine you see the following error message:

Sterownik ekranu przestał działać, ale odzyskał sprawność.

(The error message is in Polish because, in this example, we will assume you are Polish and use the Polish version of Windows.) “Motyla noga”, you curse to yourself while opening your Web browser. If there’s one thing you’ve learned online, it’s that the Internet has the answer to your computer question. Other people must have had the same problem and there must be a forum post somewhere which has the solution.

But what are you going to type into Google? What keywords would be likely to occur in this forum post you want to find? In all likelihood, the poster would have quoted the error message itself.

Except they would have quoted it in English, not Polish. Let’s face it — it is much more probable that the solution to your problem is posted on one of the many English-language tech forums than on one of the few Polish-language ones. A Google Groups search on “nVidia” turns up 17,000,000 group threads in English and only 211,000 in Polish (1/80 of the English figure).

So now you’re stuck with your Polish error message, trying to figure out the exact words the English version might have used. “The screen driver has failed?” “Malfunctioned?” “Stopped working?”

Of course, I have an English-language version of Windows, so if I am having computer issues, I can simply read the English error message off the screen (in our example it’s “The display driver has stopped responding and has successfully recovered”), type that magic phrase into Google together with the name of the malfunctioning device or application and boom! — within minutes I’m reading about the secret registry setting that makes it all okay.

Now that I think about it, having an English-language version of Windows probably accounts for something like 30% of my troubleshooting ability. Moreover, using English-language software is useful not only when troubleshooting — I find it equally helpful when I just want to learn how to do something in Windows, Office, Photoshop or even a Web app like GMail. I can just search on the names I see instead of wondering what is the English name for warstwy dopasowania (adjustment layers). And I can apply the solution more easily because I don’t have to translate all the names back into Polish.

It would perhaps behoove me to give you “the other side” of the argument, but the matter seems pretty clear-cut to me: If you want to get help with your software (and who doesn’t?), it helps to use the same version that most of the potential helpers use. And with this, I leave you.

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42 Comments so far

  • xpclient

    I always felt the same way. English is not my native language but I prefer to use all software strictly in English only.

  • Čech

    A few years I have too English as my primary language in the OS. But now it’s Russian because my main computer was demage. The Russian I have on the second PC where I’m now. So it was very funny use that, because I never learn Russian. But now I prefer it because nobody understand that. Also I can any time change language to English (Ubuntu allows that) if i will need that. Try to find solution for same problem is easy with English or Russian.

  • windows 7 blue screen error driver_irql_not_less_or_equal

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an extremely long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that
    over again. Anyway, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

  • das1951

    “…program your brain with correct English.”
    You mean “correct *computerese* English” or “Bill Gates English”…since quite a few words have been “hijacked” in computerese…

    I won’t quibble about your spelling of “programme” as “program”, since I have grown to accept American spelling in computerese…

    Overall you make an interesting point and I face this in my family where my old Mom uses German on her Surface tablet and I English on all my devices, and it is very hard to help over the phone with the operation of email and Skype as I am unfamiliar with the German terms, even if one works out the meaning from the position of the menu item. Excacerbating it is the fact that on my devices Skype looks a bit different and I don’t use the Win 8 mail app. Of course when hearing the German I can usually work out the meaning, e.g. Posteingang = inbox, but I would never have guessed it the other way round…
    (I can’t access her machine using TeamViewer as it’s RT. I though I could with a recent version of TV, but I have not succeeded)

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