Is English Necessary for Programmers?

I am an English learner and a freelance programmer by profession. Often, I am asked, “Is English necessary for programmers?”

In short, yes, English is essential. It is highly beneficial to learn English.

Reason 1: Documentation is all in English

Programming documentation is mostly in English because most major languages are developed primarily in America. For example, the official documentation for React Native, the language I mainly use, is all in English. There are no Japanese documents. Additionally, the number of reference books is overwhelmingly larger in English.

Some might suggest using Google Translate, and while it’s useful, it often translates inaccurately, missing crucial details. Details are essential for writing code. I first use Google Translate for a general understanding, then read in English. Although my English proficiency isn’t very high, I constantly wish I could read English faster. That’s why I study English daily.

Reason 2: Interactions on question sites are in English

Programmers need to write in English, not just read it. For instance, when contacting Apple Store or Google Play, interactions are in English. Also, posting questions in English on question sites increases the chance of getting answers.

Having an aversion to English can be a disadvantage. It might be a generalization, but all the capable programmers I know are proficient in English. They don’t necessarily speak it perfectly, but they aren’t allergic to it.

Which should be prioritized, English or programming?

This is another common question. Contradictory to the above, the answer is “prioritize programming,” especially for beginners. Until reaching an intermediate level, it’s fine to focus only on programming. English isn’t necessary yet.

The reason is simple: programming study is intense, leaving little time for English. And for beginners, Japanese resources are sufficient. You don’t need English unless you’re in a leadership position at work.

The need for English comes at the next step. For example, those who teach others or start developing sizable apps might need to fetch information from overseas or post on question sites. Also, working abroad as an engineer becomes an option.

For these people, I recommend dedicating half of the time they used to spend on programming to learning English.

Reason 3: Opportunity to work abroad

Many programmers might dream of working overseas for various reasons: higher salaries, learning English while working, experiencing different cultures, and more. I haven’t worked abroad but considered it.

At 29, I went to Canada for language study. After graduating, I attempted job hunting but was unsuccessful.

I passed the document review with 7 years of engineering experience and help from local friends. However, the interviews, both phone and in-person, were challenging, and I didn’t succeed.

To work as a programmer overseas, you need to be proficient in English. It’s a misconception that programmers aren’t expected to be proficient in English. You are.

In conclusion

  • Beginners in programming should focus entirely on programming, not English.
  • For intermediate and above, English proficiency is a significant advantage.
  • Job hunting abroad is challenging without English proficiency.
  • Aim higher? Learn English!


Finally, as a programmer and English learner, I developed a language learning app. It allows you to write in English and get feedback from AI. If you’re interested, please check it out.

Download the app for iOS here.
Download the app for Android here.

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