It’s been twenty years, and I keep observing it, in all places, and at all levels. It doesn’t matter your education. It doesn’t matter if you are an employee or upper management, Puerto Rico has a problem with information technology marginalization, made worse by all the status, power, and access issues associated with its colonial status with the U.S.
I looked over the shoulder of an employee editing a document in Microsoft Word. She was proudly showing her boss the changes she made. She dutifully highlighted her changes and created a legend to mark deletions, insertions, and changes. She had carefully thought through the problems related to sharing her work, and cleverly developed a system to communicate it.
After her boss left, I gently showed her the track changes features of Word. I have never interacted with her in English, and I don’t imagine she speaks even a word of it, but her version of Windows 10 as well as her office suite, Microsoft Office were entirely in English. In fact, every single computer in the organization was the same way. I don’t doubt that there are people there that speak English, but no one has it as their first language, and no one wouldn’t benefit having their computer system presented to them entirely in Spanish. Your native language invites discovery, ownership. Your non-native, opacity and confusion.
I know this, because I always use unfamiliar systems in English. Even though I am perfectly fluent in Spanish both reading and writing, there is a distance from the words that is a challenge to overcome, and I don’t pay a social cost for choosing my native language.
The people of Puerto Rico pay a social price for choosing their own native tongue.
“Oh, no, these things are understood better in English. I’m accustomed to it that way.”
I commonly hear this, and I always shake my head internally and I have never been successful getting people to switch to a Spanish interface. There is no way that you are benefited by using it in its native tongue. Us it in your native tongue.
The resistance, of course, is due to issues surrounding status. English is seen as the language of the elites, those richer folks who put their kids in bilingual or English schools, vacation in the U.S. and send their kids to American Universities. If you admit you don’t speak English well, then you are effectively labeling yourself as lower class.
If you choose Spanish, you stigmatize yourself. You buy into the imposed narrative that you are less. Lesser politically, of lesser intelligence, a lesser human being. This young woman clearly showed both intellectual and emotional intelligence. She had successfully thought through the problem domain of how to track changes in a text document, and then placed herself in the shoes of anyone who would see it after herself, making sure that they could follow. And yet, she is held back, relegated to a second-class status because of her lack of access to English. Forget about English, I say, make the computer YOUR servant, and leave the idea that you must interact with it in its language in the past.
By the way, I later showed her boss how to turn on “track changes” as well.