Monday, April 20, 2015

Computer Coding as a Foreign Language

I want to make a modest proposal:

Count computer coding classes as fulfilling the "foreign language" requirements for High School Graduation.

There is much moaning and wailing regarding the U.S.'s lack of foreign language proficiency.  One person characterized it as:

“[Other] countries recognize that language is a tool for economic competitiveness and national security, so they have mandatory language programs,” says Shuhan Wang of the National Foreign Language Center.

Perhaps more to the point, people...parents and students recognize that learning a foreign language is to their economic advantage.  They eagerly study foreign languages because they have the reasonable expectation that it will put more money in their pockets.

That is a tough argument to make in the United States.  Show me a valid study that proves accountants or engineers or plumbers or auto mechanics make more money because they speak/read Urdu, Farsi, Mandrin or Spanish.

Computer coding, on the other hand, will improve their employability and their life-time earnings potential.

Third, fourth and fifth languages

By all accounts, learning a second language makes learning additional languages easier.  Our brain rewires.  We start paying attention to tense, plurality and so on.  There is no reason to believe that learning a computer "language" would behave any differently.

Professional programmers tend to fall into two classes.  One class is the specialist in legacy languages like COBOL.  Yes, there are still some massive applications resting on a foundation of COBOL and it has been difficult to find replacements as curators retire.

The other class of programmers learns, no masters, a new language every 18-to-24 months.  They go where the money is.  I gave up any effort to be one of those guys after Pascal "lost out" to C.  Surely that demonstrates the mental flexibility that "foreign language instruction" touts as a benefit.

Not everybody

Not everybody has a good "ear" or the ability to mimic cadence, intonation and accent.  It seems a lost cause to try to teach students another foreign language when "English" is not yet mastered.  Granted, English is bushy with many, screwy grammatical rules.  That is what happens when you pull in ideas and language from The Empire, not to mention the spicing up of Celtic, Saxon, Roman and Norman invasions.

Can anybody doubt that teaching an inner-city kid MySQL or PERL or C++ will offer him/her a surer path out of dependency than learning textbook Spanish or German?

So why not count computer coding classes toward High School graduation requirements for "foreign" language?


  1. That makes sense... So it'll never be implemented... sigh

  2. That makes sense... So it'll never be implemented... sigh

  3. I suspect, but don't know with precision, that the main foreign language learned by kids in other countries is English. Your economic reasoning is sound and applies to that. Computer programming languages seem to gain and lose "popularity" in a manner that is a mystery to me. I had to learn (unstructured) Fortran in college. Have been using Forth instead since 1985, self taught. Forth is a rather obscure computer programming language but has served me well over the years. Forth does object-oriented and has always been "structured". Supporting multiple core processors (parallelism) is likely the next big thing.


Readers who are willing to comment make this a better blog. Civil dialog is a valuable thing.