Is Coding Really the Language of the Future?

The issue of multilingualism in the U.S. and Britain has been widely discussed for some time. The lack of strong foreign language classes and presence in schools is often blamed for fostering cultures where English is considered the sole must-know language. As governments strive to tackle these problems, a new language seems to be looming on the horizon. It’s one that is more important than ever in our computer driven age: that’s right, we’re talking about computer languages like JavaScript or Python. Are these the new must-know languages of the future? And will they replace the drive to learn typical spoken tongues?

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The 4th “R”

Earlier this year, President Obama remarked that Computer Science should be joining the ranks of the standard “three R’s” (reading, writing, and arithmetic). Along the same vein, Florida has seen its fair share of controversy over the debate of whether or not to allow students to swap out language classes for coding classes. Considered the lingua franca of the computer age, there are undoubtedly many benefits to learning to code, the main one being to have the ability to translate languages across the internet. Without a doubt, in this context its benefits appear manifold: people from around the world hold the capability to communicate with each other using the same computer language. Being fluent in computer languages means you can communicate from your computer to computers halfway around the world being used by individuals who may or may not be fluent in your native tongue. Coding definitely serves as something which anyone privy to the language can understand, whether they’re from Australia, China, or Argentina. It’s a language which unites in a way that few spoken ones do.

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The Weakest Link Is…

Perhaps the sudden interest and concern the American government seems to display in urging individuals to take up coding stems from the United States’ long history of being weak in areas of math and science. In fact, out of 76 countries ranked according to intelligence by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) last year, the United States ranked a bleak 28th, falling far behind fellow Western nations like Germany (13th), Australia (14th), and the United Kingdom (20th). In fact, jobs heavy in math and science are often filled by individuals migrating to the U.S. from countries such as India and China. It seems obvious then that the U.S. government would have a vested interest in trying to make coding the new big thing, wouldn’t it?

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Bringing Sexy (Coding) Back

The lack of interest in the U.S. isn’t from lack of trying. As mentioned above, Barack Obama has shown himself to be a staunch believer in the importance of learning code while celebrities like former Victoria Secret model Karlie Kloss have tried to make coding sexy and appealing through programs like Kode with Karlie. Furthermore, several other states such as Washington, Texas, and New Mexico have dabbled with the possibility of allowing students to choose to learn coding in lieu of a language. However, this either/or stance is perpetuating a culture where students are forced to choose between learning a language that will help them communicate in foreign countries or in face-to-face situations, or a language that will allow them to speak fluently from behind a computer screen.

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The Rise of the Machines

Some experts fear that our humanity will be lost in the bid to completely become a computer dependent society. And many argue that communicating computer to computer is no more important than being able to speak with and understand the human beings that surround us. After all, our minds are opened to new cultures and ways of life when we learn to speak a different tongue and immerse ourselves in foreign norms. And even though the world is at our fingertips when we sit down in front of a computer, even though we can see and experience many more cultures in a single hour on the internet than we could in a year of travel, isn’t some of the magic lost in the barrier of the computer screen?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be a society that makes our students choose. Perhaps both options should be open to students: learn a foreign language and study coding. Without a doubt, if this were the case, young people would come out of schools well-rounded and prepared for the future – regardless of where that future may lead us. Do you think learning to code is more important than learning a foreign language?