Saturday, February 27, 2010

English - "A thinking language"...!!!

Was just reading Pradeep's blog on "Coaching testers on Bug Reports, Advocacy and Credibility" @, when the following thought took shape in my head.

In all our interviews, we ask for a list of known languages of the candidates. But, we never ask for the "Primary Thinking Language" of the applicant, neither do we make an effort to find out what that is.

Going through some of the awful bug reports that Pradeep has reported, and having sampled much more of the same in my life, I am of the opinion that we need to look at ways to identify the tester's "Primary Thinking Language", and all our training programs on communication skills should also look at how English becomes our primary thinking language - since English is the universally accepted language for defect reporting.

We ask them for languages that they speak, they write and they can read. But have we ever, for a moment, thought of the importance of identifying the "Primary Thinking Language" at all? Having posed this question, what do I mean when I say "Primary Thinking Language"???

The way I'd define it is... Your Primary Thinking Language is the language of the word that comes immediately to mind when you think/look at an object or think of an emotion. We did the following experiment with a group of people who were predominantly tamil speaking and another group who are management grads from IIM.

We showed them a door, An Angry Amitabh Bachan scene from a movie, a key to the door, a picture of a child sleeping and the photo of a tomato.... and asked them to answer whatever comes to mind in the 1st second.... The answers that they gave...

Majoring of answers from the tamil speaking group --- Kadavu/maram, padam/cinema/kovam, saavi/pootu, kuzhandhai/azhagu/thookam, thakkali... (Words that first came to their mind were in their mother tongue... Conclusion ---> the primary thinking language --- Tamil)

The English speaking Management Graduates rattled off the following words --- Door, anger/flick/movie, key, child/sleeping/bliss, veggie/sandwich/rotten tomato..... That helped us conclude what's their "Primary Thinking Language" was --- English, Obviously.

You can do this experiment with someone you know to identify your primary thinking language and you would know what I am trying to say here...

Training Deparments --- Please take note.... Please help employees identify their "Primary Thinking Language" and work with them long-term to make English as the "Primary Thinking Language", so that it would be beneficial for both the employee and the company in the long run....

And I don't think that this is a problem specific to India... I am sure this problem exists in many countries where English is not the primary speaking language.....

And yes.. this article has nothing to do with fake testing... Just some thoughts that came to mind on reading Pradeep's blog... The fake tester's off on a long weekend... See you in March!!!


  1. A good thought!!!

  2. Hi Fake tester (I would love to know your name but couldn't find it in your profile) ,

    Your name made me read your comment in one of Pradeep's post and eventually your post.

    All that I agree with in this post stops with the definition of "Thinking Language". I appreciate the attempt (am talking about the experiment) and I wonder how does that prove the so called IIM grads "Think in English". Well, Some might be !!

    I have read and realized myself that a persons' thinking process naturally happens in h(is)er mother tongue and its all the more effective, original when its done in their mother tongue.

    Now comes the ability of expression. This is infact the catch. Irrespective of the thinking language (language in which a person things), the ability of h(is)ers to express it is what makes the message clear.

    I think Pradeep was talking about coveying the message (bug details) *clearly* with ALL information (required to understand the bug and its risk) and I would at any day recommend people to think in the language they are comfortable with (and urge to think in their Mother tongue) and use "English" as tool to express their thoughts.

    To a step further, I believe a person who can think & express clearly in h(is)er mother tongue can express the same in any language (of course there is a practice/learning involved in this.

    So the bottom line is
    *thinking happens best in ones' own mother tongue and expression (translation) happens/can happen in any language not necessarily in English*

    few people enjoy the competency of expressing their thoughts in more than one language effectively but I would assume they also might be thinking in their mother tongue (atleast untill they acquire the mastery in other languages to an extend that it becomes natural for them)

  3. Hi Parthi,

    English, as you know, is the preferred medium of communication in the field of IT the world around.

    I completely agree with you when you say that it happens best in the mother tongue. But, when you are working in a language day-in and day-out, it's much more effective when your thinking language transforms as English.

    But, as you know, there are a lot of debates in which testers need to participate, especially when justifying the defect to the developer, or to the business. Here's where English as a thinking language comes to the forte --- Verbal Communication is much more effective if he thinks in English during these situations... Though the breed of those who think in their mother tongue is very much alive, over time, most of them develop a huge inferiority complex , and gradually, their ideas slowly are buried in the sands of time.

    I really don't have anything against the languages of the world... but, when English is the preferred language, gradually Training departments need to step in to help people think in English to avoid problems such as above.

  4. You can’t even train anyone on how to think.
    I am wondering how you can train some one to think in English. Many are not able to communicate in English not because they lack thinking or imagination skills, they lack English knowledge. Train them with English. All you have to do is make people to understand the importance of analyzing and being calm, take some time to translate then give the views. The translation time will drastically reduce as you practice more. If you are not good in English and tries to think in English, that completely stops your imagination. Instead of trying to training people, a thinking language, teach them English and allow the freedom of their thinking to them. By trying to make them to think in foreign language, please don’t cage their imagination.
    –Dhanasekar S

  5. Really thought provoking topic..
    Two things here..Are we talking about improving the thought process or able to communicate better? Thinking in english might help the latter and not the former.
    Your illustration proves that.As long as the tamil thinking people know the corresponding english words while they communicate, they are on par with the so called "IIM Grads" in terms of thinking.
    Callcenter training centres does exactly the same. They primarily try to focus in eliminating the MTI (Mother tongue influence) by encouraging the students to think in english.
    How often do we see a tamilian asking "Todayaa??" ( very Honest translation of "Innaika?" while communicating). These are the stuff that thinking in english would eliminate.
    One of my college friend (son of a professor couple) did his entire schooling in tamil medium whose command over english would put even a convent goer to shame.
    That was how his dad wanted him to be.Tamil medium education to harness his analytical and thinking skills and at the sametime made utmost care that he did not lose out on his english skills. And all my colleagues did realize that there was something extraordinary in him that seperates him from the rest in the way he approaches a problem.
    I guess the same reason why japanese and chinese are so successful.
    My take on this..
    1) Think in english to harness you language and communication skills.
    2) Think in your mother tongue to enhance your analytical and comprehending skills.