Digital Languages

I like to tell people that I’m semi-fluent in several languages (Hang on, don’t be too impressed – the sentence isn’t finished yet), if you count computer codes.

I lost you there, didn’t I? I’ve never been able to convince anyone that “speaking” a computer language is the same as any other. My Spanish IV professor was outraged when I suggested it. To me, though, it’s all in the same vein:

  • Both have specific nouns and verbs you need to memorize.
    (Though, thankfully, there’s no need to learn conjugation in a computer language. I presume this is because it never occurred to anyone to use a feminine pronoun for coding.)
  • Each has its own strict sentence structure and punctuation.
    (Ach, the hours I’ve lost searching for misplaced semi-colons!)
  • Once you’ve learned one, it’s easier to learn a second. And again, once you’ve mastered a couple, it is far easier to learn a third.
  • The only real difference that I can see is that there’s no such thing as Tex-Mex in computer languages. Try mixing ASP and PHP and if you end up with anything remotely functional it will probably make your computer whimper and self-implode.

What connected the two for me is something my college Spanish prof. said – that the strength in learning a new language is to help you break down ideas. You have to figure out ways to say what you want using only the words you’ve already learned. It’s a lesson in logic and teaching your brain to operate in a new direction.

… Which is exactly what coding is about, except that instead of making conversation (and continually asking, “where is the library?”) you’re issuing a series of commands and expecting the recipient to obey without talking back. So I guess it’s a lot like learning German.

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