Problem Question

This post was inspired by a conversation with James Bach on his blog:
"What testers find"


  1. Asmir Babaca Says:
    Few years ago I was preparing my trip to China and I took a short course mandarin language.
    What I’ve found very curious was that the words “question” and “problem” in mandarin are one the same word.
    Meaning that, if someone says in mandarin that he has a problem, he is actually saying that he has a question.
    To me it signifies that we as testers are looking for questions.
    [James' Reply: How do you know that question and problem are one and the same word? Maybe the first people who learned both languages just misunderstood that, and they've been telling people the wrong thing ever since.
    Seriously though, language translation is not the same as mapping one word onto another word. Indeed, in English, when I say that a practice is "questionable" I generally mean that it has a problem. And a "problem" on a test is really just a question you are being asked. So, it's ambiguous even for native English speakers speaking only in English.]
  2. Asmir Babaca Says:
    James,
    I’m afraid that I was misunderstood.
    Please forgive me if I am wrong.
    I will try to clarify that I’ve meant.
    In my previous comment, I wasn’t talking about translating (mapping) words between languages but showing how people see and express ideas differently and how they put things in perspective.

    [James' Reply: I know you are talking about that. What I was talking about is mis-translation. Let's consider a simple example: Can you translate the English word "problem" into the English word "problem"? My answer is "not necessarily." I might use the word "problem" in a way that you don't understand. But since you speak English, you might believe that you understand it.

    The idea of mapping words is an oversimplification, of course, but even without oversimplifying the problem is still there. I just don't know what it means to say that in Chinese problem and question are the same thing. For me, it's incomprehensible that they could be the same thing, in some contexts. But maybe in those contexts the Chinese don't use their word "problem/question" but rather some other word.]
    I think that “putting things in perspective” is what we testers do.

    [James' Reply: Yes.]

    Here is another example:
    An English expression “to land (a plane)” is “landing”.
    In French, “landing” depends where you are landing on:
    Landing on the ground is “atterrir”. “Atterrir” contains a word “terres” which means “land”
    Landing on the sea is “amerrir”. “Amerrir” contains a word “mer” which means “sea”.
    Landing on the moon is “alunir”. “Alunir” contains a word “lune” which means “moon”.
    To a french it is unthinkable to say “landing” if you are landing on the sea, moon or anything but land because there is no land to land on. In english, it makes no difference where you are landing on.
    (http://translate.google.com/#fr|en|amerrir%0Aatterrir%0Aalunir%0Aterres%0Alune)

    [James' Reply: Isn't that just a matter of lexical trivia? You could as easily say that "Apple" is unthinkable to a French person, because it doesn't mean anything in their language. But of course, they can translate into French. Landing can also be translated into French. And it could be translated in many ways, including "Coming down from the sky" or "ending the flight."]

    English make a differentiation between “problem” and a “question” while for Chinese it is unthinkable to differentiate those ideas.
    (And what do I mean here by “english” and “chinese”? People or a language?)
    I’ve learned that there are at least approx. 900 million persons that are seeing problem and a question as the same thing.
    (66% mandarin speakers of china)
    http://translate.google.com/#en|zh-CN|problem%0Aquestion%0A
    What can I learn from that fact?

    [James' Reply: I don't see how you can judge whether a Chinese person would find it unthinkable to distinguish between a question and a problem. Just looking at language seems not enough to carry that case. Furthermore, it may be that English speaking people also don't distinguish between question and problem, but only think that they do because the words are different.]

    As a tester, I used to seek problems. (bugs)
    Learning that a problem can be seen as a question I am now consciously seeking questions for which there are no clear answers.
    (If there is an answer, then there is no question left, isn’t there?)

    [James' Reply: Again that seems like an illusion. An answer is the illusion of settling a question. Questions of fact cannot be settled with certainty.]

    And after all, it is much easier to me to present a question to a customer than a problem.
    They start to feel involved, less defensive and appreciative.
    Now, I am not a native English, French nor Chinese speaker so I hope that I could express my thoughts understandably.
    Cheers,
    –Asmir

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