Coding is not a foreign language

GeekWirenewCoding for kids is cool and useful, but the movement promoting it threatens to go sideways when programming is equated with learning a foreign (human) language.

Yet that’s what has happened in several state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives — with one going so far as to propose formally classifying computer programming languages as “critical foreign languages.”

Over at GeekWire, I humbly submit that this is a Really Bad Idea and shows an ignorance of either computer languages, world languages, or both. (For one, human languages are also a long-standing life skill … and don’t change as often.)

CodeDayfulllogoSince the column appeared and was re-posted on EdSurge, it’s led to some spirited (and thoughtful) debate in the reader comments on GeekWire and also on the education technology site.

Others have weighed in. Code.org, which pushes an important learn-to-code agenda, similarly flatly states, “Computer coding is not a foreign language.” Meanwhile, on Twitter a researcher pointed to a small-scale study that suggests that “young computer programmers have ‘bilingual brains,‘” an interesting implication of the cognitive benefits of coding.

Bottom line: understanding computer programming is important, both as a window into computer science and how our technological world works. But well-meaning efforts at the policy level should have it counting toward math and science graduation requirements (as it does in Washington and at least nine other states) and not toward world human languages, especially if it means sacrificing a student’s foreign language exposure.

Read the full argument, “Learn to code? No: Learn a real language,” over at GeekWire.

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One Response to “Coding is not a foreign language”

  1. John Edelson Says:

    My opinion: Coding should replace some combination of calculus, algebra 2, and pre-algebra.

    I’ve worked now for 40 years in a number of high tech and high intelligence industries. I’ve been in business strategy and high tech. I’ve never seen in my professional life an X squared or the need to take an integral. While both are good intellectual training, coding is better training. And a lot more relevant and useful. This feels to me like the argument for dropping Latin and adding some non-fiction to the curriculum.