Should Computer Coding Count as a Foreign Language in School?


2016-03-24 – School systems around the country are debating whether computer coding classes should count toward a kid’s foreign language requirement in school.

Considering what an awful job American schools doing in teaching foreign languages, I’d say the answer should be 1. That would be oui in French or si in Spanish or ja in German or כן in Hebrew, but you wouldn’t know that because you took computer coding.

When I say that Americans do an awful job teaching foreign languages, it’s because foreign languages are taught pretty much like they are substitution codes. You learn that ecole means school in French or that tortilla means . . . well, tortilla in Spanish. But you never really learn to carry on a conversation or read a foreign literature or survive in another country.

When I was in school I studied four languages: Hebrew, Latin, French, and German. I picked up a little Spanish on the side. With the exception of Hebrew, I pretty much displayed the extent of my knowledge of the other four languages in the last two paragraphs.

Hebrew was different, although it didn’t start that way. As with Latin, French, and German, I learned lists of words and practiced conjugating verbs and declining nouns. I laboriously translated passages. With Latin, French, and German, I did this for a few semesters each. With Hebrew, I did these exercises from third grade until I graduated from College.

The result was that . . . I could laboriously translate passages from the Bible.

But then I went to Israel. While there, I spent a couple months in an immersion program (an Ulpan). During those months in the Ulpan, I learned more than I had the previous 14 years under the word list and conjugation method. I could actually carry on a conversation at a fairly high level. I could read a newspaper. I could watch TV. I could even understand a radio broadcast, which was the hardest because there’s no visual help to understanding radio.

That was 40 years ago. And while I’ve lost a lot, I’ve retained a lot over the years.

If this is how languages were taught in American schools, the answer to the question about teaching computer coding as a foreign language would be a resounding no.

But considering the reality of foreign language instruction, you might as well replace it with computer coding . . . or accounting, or wood shop, or cooking, or dance . . . or pretty much anything. Maybe even math!

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