coding as a foreign language

Bienvenido a Coding: Coding as a Foreign Language?

If computer code is the language of the 21st century, should high schools consider coding as a foreign language requirement?

coding as a foreign languageHave you ever seen the code behind your favorite apps and programs you use each and everyday? If you’re like me, this code is exactly that—a code that I certainly cannot break. It feels as though I am trying to read another language; a language that has a few familiar pieces, yet as a whole looks like gibberish. While the code that is required for computer programming may be a language that is foreign to many of us, it is essential for the growing computer science field. This has sparked a heated debate in the language education community: should high schools consider coding as a foreign language?

Educators and politicians across the country are advocating for the inclusion of coding as a foreign language credit that is required for graduation and college admission. This includes courses that teach students code such as Java, C++, or Python that are essential for the computer programming and computer science fields. Coding does in fact require the part of the brain responsible for language, even if these classrooms do not look like conversational Spanish and French. Will counting coding as a foreign language credit encourage more students to take these courses and graduate with a foundation in these skills? Some think so.

A Hot Debate

Considering coding as a foreign language has become a debate in education. Both sides have valid arguments that should be weighed. No states have successfully implemented this change, but there are many that seek to do so in the coming years.

Pros

• Coding will prepare students with the skills needed for the growing computer science field. According to Code.org, there are over 500,000 current job openings in this field, and it is projected to continue to grow at twice the rate of all other jobs.
• Computer skills are highly valued by employers, more than foreign language fluency.
• Student interest in foreign language has declined, and interest in computer programming has increased.
• Some consider coding more valuable than learning foreign language, calling coding the language of the 21st century.

Cons

• A large amount of funding is needed for equipment and training.
• While this can be approved within a state and its state university admission requirements, students may have a disadvantage if applying to colleges that are located out of state.
• Students may not have the opportunity to learn a foreign language, which has been shown to improve memory and problem solving skills.
• Foreign language classes assist students in developing social skills and the ability to communicate ideas, which are skills needed in the workplace.

States Leading the Way

coding as a foreign languageWhile no states have been successful in counting coding as a foreign language yet, there are many that are in the process of doing so. Florida would’ve been the first and approved the bill in senate last year, but it then died on the house floor. A new bill will be introduced again this year. Rhode Island, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, and Washington may follow in this same path with supporters in each of these states. Texas is the only state to currently count coding as a foreign language credit, but only if a student has attempted and been unsuccessful in a traditional foreign language course.

Alternative Initiatives

Coding and computer programming have seen support in other initiatives across the country outside of the realm of foreign language. This includes added funding, awareness, and the creation of state standards. Code.org supports an alternative to this debate, which is to allow coding and other computer programming courses to count as science or math credit for graduation. There are now 33 states allow computer science as a graduation requirement instead of just an elective. Yet only 7 states have computer science standards.

Closing Thoughts

No matter which side you fall on regarding coding as a foreign language, support is still needed for computer programming and coding in K-12 schools. We need to provide training and certification for our teachers, provide funding for equipment, and consider how to get more students involved. Coding is a foreign language to many of us, but it is essential for our modern lives. Learn more about coding initiatives in your area at Code.org.

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Alexandra D. Owens

Alexandra Owens is a STEM Education consultant based in Charleston, SC. She taught middle school science for many years and is now completing her doctorate in STEM Education at Texas Tech University.

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