Programming language as a foreign language
Like many Americans, I have German heritage. I’m proud of it, but it doesn’t impact my day-to-day life too much. When I studied the German language in high school, I did it because it was a requirement, not because I thought that it would help at the grocery store or to get dates. I felt the same way when I had German in college. This is true of a number of the languages taught at US high schools and colleges – German, French, Italian. They are interesting, but the effect they have on daily life is minimal, especially when it comes to finding work.
Spanish has been around for some time, and rightfully so. The number of Spanish-speakers in the US is growing and businesses and non-profits are looking for people with knowledge of Spanish to assist and interpret for new customers and those who seek services. Chinese and Japanese language instruction is emerging at the secondary and college level in response to business and cultural needs. Since these three languages are growing in importance because of their impact on business and culture, it stands to reason that other languages should get a chance with college students. Why not computer programming languages?
I’ll make my case in three points:
- Foreign language study forces us into new cultural experiences. Agreed. Just as studying German can inspire you to travel and discover people and customs that are new and different, exploring programming languages can do the same. There is an immense programming community around the world, all sharing the same languages, but in novel ways. The human and technical cultural interactions through programming languages encourage competition, collaboration, and excellence. Open-source programming, which benefits much of the earth, is the result of language interaction and sharing.
- Foreign language study will be valuable in your personal and work life. Sort of agreed. There is tremendous pressure on colleges and college students to demonstrate outcomes as a result of their study. “Outcomes” typically means “a job”. By that definition and standard, present collegiate language study doesn’t hold up. Offering programming languages would be a big step towards accomplishing “outcomes”. If every student had access to a basic understanding of programming languages, it gives them a marketable skill, and deepens the global community of computer literate individuals who could participate in innovation and progress.
This is already happening in some places. Providing more opportunity to learn a language that drives the things we use every day can’t be a bad idea. That’s the definition of a good outcome.