12 Ways Learning a Programming Language Parallels Second Language Acquisition

In February 2020, I enrolled in a Web Developer Bootcamp . My life pre-bootcamp could be painted as a full-on humanities, right-brained bonanza of art, literature, and language. Although I had no prior experience in coding nor in STEM, I did have a fulfilling yet arduous decade+ experience learning a French as a second language. Now, having graduated from Nashville Software School and reflecting on my coding journey, I realize how many parallels exist between learning to code and learning to speak French as an adult.

Here’s a list of parallels between programming and second language acquisition I’ve found during my experience:

1. Being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable is paramount to your success.

2. Perfectionism and fear of mistakes inhibit growth.

In my coding bootcamp, my perfectionist expectations lead to me being impatient with myself, which in turn inhibited my journey. Judging harshly my own learning process was dangerous to my success. It took a senior instructor calling me out on this to change my tune.

3. Start small and simplify.

In coding, if I don’t start small, I become overwhelmed, spin around solutions in my head with no exit. To combat this: I start with one thing I know to do, keep it simple, and let it unfold from there. Proper planning, rubber ducking and pseudo coding are also life-savers.

4. Acquiring the schema is painful and arduous. But once in place learning gets much easier.

However, once I climbed out of said pit in French and in JavaScript, I was able to learn so much quicker and relearn the aspects that didn’t quite click in the beginning. Once the schema is in place, your brain is used to it and doesn’t require so much energy and force.

5. Once you learn one language, the next languages get easier and easier

6. Full immersion is the fastest way to learn

7. Expert Googling skills are required.

WordReference Forums are to French learners what stackoverflow is to Developers. It’s necessary to see how and in which specific context a concept is used. Nuances are important. How you think you might communicate a concept can end up being wilding incorrect, but Google research skills help you.

8. Your perception of your own skill level can vacillate based on the day, the context, the person, the amount of sleep you got.

9. Learning the culture and the people is just as important as learning the language.

10. If you don’t use it, you lose it (sort of).

11. The path from novice to mastery is similar.

12. It’s impossible to know it all; the learning never ends.


If you have other parallels between learning a language and learning to code, comment and give me your feedback!

Newly minted Software Developer, Abstract Artist and former French Teacher. https://github.com/sarah-hart-landolt

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