Code or Let Language Learning Programs Implode?

Code or Let Language Learning Programs Implode?

“He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Whether coding courses should be offered as an alternative to foreign language classes in highs schools’ core curricula is the subject of great debate among legislators. To make my position undoubtedly clear early on in this post, I urge our leaders to vote against a bill that allows coding to substitute foreign language learning. As an intern at a foreign language learning company, my bias is evident. However, I will present irrefutable support to my position on the matter to show you I don’t speak out of self-interest but rather popular interest.

early-learningBefore I delve into why I vehemently disagree with the proposed course of action, I must qualify that I understand the motives behind the bill. With our president using Twitter as his own media outlet, Facebook allowing cute images of puppies and simultaneously devastating snapshots of war and terrorism to reach millions in seconds, and posting videos to YouTube becoming a career path, I do concur that our world grows ever more dependent on technology. I also understand that this dependency on technology implies a demand in the global economy for individuals educated in engineering and computer science. With only 4% of people graduating with a bachelor’s degree in engineering in the US, compared to 31% in China, for example, it logically follows that other global superpowers are fulfilling this demand in the job market. To become more competitive in the job market and contribute to technology-related fields of the global economy, US citizens must be better educated in the associated areas of study. For these reasons, I understand the desire to integrate coding into the core curriculum.

While I recognize the need for coding classes, I do not understand how they can be viewed pedagogically as comparable to foreign language classes and therefore be offered in lieu of them.  Java and C++ are languages in that a combination of good diction and syntax allow for expression. However, these coding languages

  • Only consist of approximately a hundred words (Little Pim can teach you 250 more in the foreign language of your choosing)
  • Are not spoken
  • Don’t underpin a society’s rich cultural history

These qualities that differentiate coding languages from foreign languages may seem unimportant to a decision about the proposed education bill, but they are actually the very reason we must say no to the bill!

1. Word Count

Learning the thousands of words of a foreign language requires the brain to become flexible and switch between vocabulary, grammatical structures, and accents. These skills developed to speak foreign languages are believed to be responsible for bilinguals and multi-linguals divergent thinking, or creativity. The fact that coding languages have significantly fewer words than foreign languages means the skills required to jump between languages, skills that translate to divergent thinking and improved creativity, are less developed. Why should you care? Coding is integral to a successful career in technology-related fields, but creativity is equally imperative in technological innovation. Steve Jobs may have been able to program Apple software, but he also needed the creative mind to come up with product ideas and marketing strategies. Without this creativity, he wouldn’t have been as successful. Thus, foreign languages, in cultivating creativity, are just as important in training people valuable to the tech space as coding classes. Moreover, creativity is appreciated in many other fields, too. Thus, to deprive children of foreign languages, effectively limiting their creativity, is detrimental to the US’ position among tech powers, like not having coding classes at all.

2. Spoken Word

Coding has become important, because our society is so technology dependent. Accordingly, many of us have grown more screen-facing than people-facing in our jobs and daily lives. Changing the foreign language requirement to permit coding in place of foreign languages only reinforces this screen-facing culture, which endangers the quality of our face-to-face interactions and children’s people skills. Tech companies might need coders to build products, but they need to know their consumer in order to create desirable products. Surveys and stats are only so telling of consumer response. Face-to-face interactions, where you can see body language and hear intonation can be far more informative. Thus, successful tech companies also require people-facing individuals. These people skills are acquired through conversation, like those had in foreign language classes. Once again, foreign language classes are as necessary in properly educating individuals to enter the tech space as coding.

3. Cultural Awareness

There is a horrible stigma surrounding Americans that we are culturally unaware and self-centered. With English as the language of business, we are rarely forced to accommodate others linguistically. This unaccommodating nature has leaked into our service industries, like tourism, and beyond, tainting our global image. Foreign languages force students to acquaint themselves with a different culture. The AP foreign language examinations offered to high school students who have taken the course test both language and cultural knowledge. Having taken AP French, I can say that the curriculum truly does touch on culture too. We read French literature, discussed historical events, learned of famous chefs and characteristically French dishes, compared the French educative system to the American one, and more. The class taught me a lot, but most importantly that language is merely a window into culture. With this in mind, coding keeps the curtain over that window, bolstering the negative perception of Americans’ cultural awareness. Furthermore, in a globalized economy, cultural awareness, achieved through foreign language classes, not coding, is more and more important to potential employers, including tech companies.

“…allowing coding to replace foreign languages may create more programmers, but runs the risk of letting those programmers be less creative, less congenial, and less culturally aware.”

The fact that coding languages have fewer words, aren’t spoken, and don’t lay the foundation for a society’s cultural background may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Yet, these aspects of coding entail that coding languages don’t heavily improve creativity, don’t better interpersonal skills, and don’t make coders more culturally aware. Foreign languages, unlike coding, enhance all of these qualities, which are desirable to tech employers and all employers, in fact. Therefore, allowing coding to replace foreign languages may create more programmers, but runs the risk of letting those programmers be less creative, less congenial, and less culturally aware.

“In trying to find a solution to the fact that America is behind other countries in the tech space, the proposed bill creates more problems in the form of less well-rounded graduates.”

Moreover, if the same amount of money is allocated to foreign languages while coding classes, which involve very expensive equipment, are included under that umbrella, even less money will go towards foreign language classes. With smaller budgets, foreign language classes will likely have higher student teacher ratios, potentially less enthusiastic teachers, and less immersive curricula. Studies, (like the one in the following article: https://www.thespec.com/news-story/7460958-a-way-to-teach-babies-second-language-if-parents-only-speak-one/), have shown there is a direct correlation between these qualities of foreign language classes and students’ mastery of the language. Effectively, passing the bill wouldn’t only result in less creative, less congenial, and less culturally aware programmers but also less creative, less congenial, and less culturally aware foreign language students, meaning all students suffer. In trying to find a solution to the fact that America is behind other countries in the tech space, the proposed bill creates more problems in the form of less well-rounded graduates.


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