Here are 5 Reasons Coding Is Not So Different Than Learning a New Language

If you had asked Dariell Vasquez about coding while he was studying to become an Italian language teacher, he would have said, “That’s a math skill.” Dariell’s impression of coding was that it involved ones and zeros and only got more mathematical from there. Then, a friend set him straight—and let him in on how creative coding can actually be. Dariell’s interest was piqued.

At the time, another friend told him about Rutgers Coding Bootcamp. Dariell liked that it was a six-month, part-time, deep-dive into coding. “I had done some self-paced studying, but it wasn’t enough for me,” he said.

In taking the course, Dariell was surprised to learn how much coding has in common with language—and how artful it really is. Little did he know that this discovery would lead him to pivot in his career.

Here Dariell identifies five links between language and coding.

1. Both call for basics—and build up from there

Dariell points out that you can’t really learn a language if you don’t first learn the alphabet. He compares learning coding basics—such as objects and functions in JavaScript—to learning the alphabet, followed by basic nouns and verbs.

“Without building blocks, you can’t build. Some people prefer to just memorize whole phrases. But if you don’t understand the lower level stuff, you’ll never be able to build things on your own,” he said.

2. Both follow a clear structure, and predictable rules

Learning a language is all about grammar and semantics, and so is coding, said Dariell, adding that his earliest lessons in JavaScript, HTML, and CSS were all about syntax.

This is where he acknowledges the importance of memorization. “Some people had a hard time memorizing syntax. But for me, memorizing the rules was more or less the same as memorizing verb conjugations,” he said. “I need these rules to move on to the better stuff—the cool stuff.”

Dariell found that both coding and language acquisition contained an element of predictability that he enjoyed. “It was more like OK, if I follow these rules, this is how I can get an output on a web page. Coding is structured—and I like that,” he said.

3. Both benefit from a little immersion

“I definitely think that if it wasn’t for the bootcamp environment, it would’ve taken me at least three times as long to learn the things I did,” he said, adding that it was easier to retain the information because all of his fellow students were on the same ultimate journey.

Beyond being immersed in a stimulating environment, Dariell says he’s grateful for the classroom setting—and its implication that the learning is not a one-person mission.

4. Both require the ability to break things down into simpler parts

Dariell has taught Italian informally and he assists in teaching coding. For both, he helps students break concepts down into their simplest parts, which makes things less overwhelming.

“For example, if I want to explain how to use the past participle, instead of trying to explain it in grammatical terms, I would just use plain English. That way they can understand how it works, and build up from there,” he said.

“Same thing with coding. They might not understand the very complicated topics now, like filtering or mapping over an array. But they know the building block: how to iterate through an array with a for-loop,” he said, adding that it makes a big chunk of a task more digestible.

5. Both call for practice—it really does make perfect!

Dariell had attended the University of Verona as an exchange student to study Italian. He developed fluency while in Italy, but then lost it when he stopped speaking.

“I started to forget certain words. I started to mess up my conjugations. Same thing happened with coding. As soon as the boot camp ended, I started to branch off and think about all these other cool things I could be doing instead of focusing on the fundamentals,” he said. “Thankfully, I did get back on track.”  

Today, Dariell is a senior React engineer for What If Media Group, helping them revamp their internal administration system.

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