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Alvaro Montoro
Alvaro Montoro

Posted on • Originally published at

JavaScript as a Foreign Language

Talking to some people, the topic of programming and STEM education came up. And, although maybe a bit old, we ended up discussing the initiative in the United States to consider programming as a second language at a high school level.

In summary, the idea involves counting the credits from programming classes (Coding, Computer Science, Technology, etc.) towards the credits of foreign language classes (Spanish, French, German, etc.)

Some states are proposing or already implementing a similar initiative: Kentucky and Oklahoma passed bills enhancing coding as a foreign language, Texas offers it only to certain students, Florida ended up rejecting a similar bill (after pressure from education lobbies)...

I find it an interesting topic, but it has me divided.

On one hand, there is a clear need in the workforce for people with a technical and programming background. Learning how to code would light a path into a career that -at least for now- means job security and high-paying jobs.

In that sense, students would be learning something that they could actually apply in a professional environment. Something that could level the field, and break some social barriers.

On the other hand, and on a personal level, foreign languages were of extreme importance to me. Knowing some English and French opened many doors and gave me opportunities that I could have not even imagined: working in multinational companies, traveling the world, and meeting new cultures and people. I wouldn't be the person that I am now without learning a foreign language.

For many people, the second language they learn in high school may not be really useful. But for some others, it is a life-changing class.

What is your opinion? Do you speak JavaScript? Do you think Coding should count as a Foreign Language?

Top comments (2)

curtisfenner profile image
Curtis Fenner

Human language is fundamentally different from computer languages, and the reason why you would study them is also quite different.

Understanding other languages opens up your ability to understand more culture, media, literature; in short, it opens up a huge new window into how other people see the world.

Learning computer languages does no such thing. They do not increase your access to the world and the people in it.

So, whether or not it makes sense to replace a human language curriculum with a computer language curriculum will depend on the goals of requiring a second language in the first place. If the reason is all of the things that make learning a second language uniquely valuable, then no, I don't think it makes sense to 'count' JS as a foreign language.

However, your time in primary school is limited, so this is a bit of zero-sum result. Learning even limited programming skills will probably be increasingly important for employability (and possibly as the world becomes more and more monolingual, foreign language skills less so). I for one have never really used my 3 years of high school Spanish and have totally lost the ability to speak and hear the language. If the real goal is just pushing students academically, then maybe this is reasonable.

However, I don't think that could be the goal, given that a breadth of honors/AP/IB courses doesn't count. If you had to choose between taking AP History, AP Physics, and AP Bio, AP Chemistry, and taking Spanish, which is more challenging and leaving you well-rounded and knowledgeable? I would not say it's the language classes (which in general are actually academically quite "easy"). The understanding you can get out of a language class is unique, and it wouldn't be filled by taking CS class

Still, as a matter of practicality, maybe it does make sense to allow the substitution, just because of what was outlined above and in your post, that so many people get so little out of foreign language learning and programming continues to be a good way to secure your future.