"Yes we code," but we can't communicate

"Yes, we code", but we can't communicate! Don't accept programming as a substitute for required foreign language training. It cheats students, and it will hurt our potential for truly functional international skills. It is also founded on a very false notion about our rapidly evolving digital culture. Look for the high-tech corporate funding, and an ardent desire on the part of legislators not to create an unfunded mandate. There are many objections to this:

Coding Can’t and Shouldn’t Replace Foreign Language Requirements    

Supporting the Study of World Languages and Computer Science (ACTFL) 

In the first place, "language" is a convenience term for the alpha-numeric strings including usually about 100 English-language words, used to communicate description and command between script and machine, with no voice or sound, no personal interaction, figurative language, hypothesis, analysis, no cultural focus, etc.ACTFL extends this list.

Legislators in a number of states are eager to make this substitution. In others, they have already made the substitution (Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia). Since the slick talkers began to push this idea, it has found its way into legislative bills in 20 states: house, senate, committee, as part of a HS graduation requirement, or college entrance requirement (GA).

Washington, Kentucky, OKLAHOMA, TEXAS, Maryland, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, [Colorado math], Pennsylvania, Montana, GEORGIA, Florida, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Oregon, California, New York

State-level was apparently not enough for this bogus claim. As early as 2006, US HR6334 Coding Opportunities and Development for Equitable Students Act . allows high-school students to take a coding class in place of a mathematics, science, or foreign language class as graduation requirement." Carl D. Perkins

In 2015 representatives from California and from Texas created in H.R. 4041, the America Can Code Act. designating computer programming languages as "critical foreign. languages." This did not make it all the way.  But nobody is giving up just yet.

Another national initiative last year. I was alerted through the research of JNCL-NCLIS. US bi-partisan initiative  2018 (introduced Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) Maria Cantwell (D-WA) - S.3122. High School CODES Act shifts resources to schools that allow replacing foreign language, math or science courses with computer coding. Amends Carl D. Perkins 2006

To begin with, coding does not represent a large portion of society's needs in information technology, and will not necessarily lead students to enter the disciplines which fill those needs. So, where are we going to find the teachers?

"There's an app for that."   In case you are wondering about staffing to teach this skill where there is sure to be a shortfall of qualified teachers. You should not be surprised that information technology has already solved that problem with apps:



This brings up another challenge. It is well known that programmers frequently demonstrate poor social skills and have communication problems. An ed-tech CIO once bragged to me about a new hire: "He dreams in code". When I asked him. "Can he interpret his own dreams", the CIO answered quietly "Oh... I see what you mean." Take away the class and teacher in the initial training, and you are also removing the necessity for social skills and communication. What do you think the result will be?  One more thing: are you ready to stretch your school budget for all the computers needed in this endeavor?

Oddly enough, much of the toughest criticism for this misguided educational initiative seems to come from information technology people and recruiters, who have complained about the shortage of computer programmers.

Sorry STEM, Google just made the case for moore foreign-language education

Computer Science is Not a Foreign Language (code.org, Amy Hirotaka, 1/30/14)

Computer Science Is Not a Foreign Language (Stacie N. Berdan, 02/20/201, HuffPost)

Why Counting CS as a Foreign Language Credit is a Bad Idea (Computer Science Teachers Association)

Don't Swap Coding Classes for Foreign Language (Igor Persic, VP Engineering at Linkedin)

Learn to code? No: Learn a real language (GeekWire, Frank Catalano, 2/8/14)

Coding is not a foreign language (Intrinsic Strategy (Feb. 2014)

Language of computing, language of cultures not comparable (2015)

Please don't code, Tech Crunch 5/10/16 (Basel Farag)

According to the following:

"Should schools teach computer code as a foreign language?"   

James Previti, a programmer and father of three from Medford, N.J., says that learning code and a foreign language achieve different results. "Computer 'languages' are for creating instructions for the actions of computers. Spoken languages are for the communication of ideas ... a realm not likely to be occupied by computers anytime soon. The clear communication of ideas is much more important for our race than computer instructions." It is not surprising that organizations like Code.org do not support the coding as a foreign-language trend.

Computer Science is Not a Foreign Language (Code.org)

Is it possible that the armies of law-degree holders we call legislators are missing something?  Since they are substituting programming for foreign languages, there will be legal pressure to limit learning to an actual programming language. Could it be that programming languages taught after the inevitable war fought over choosing those languages will not solve the recruiting problems in information technology? Which language should they tag? Will they choose an educational programming language (designed primarily as a learning instrument)? Many languages have a limited shelf life,  and it is uncertain that the choice will be in use when students finally exit into the work world. A few decades ago some schools decided that it was time for students become familiar computer languages, and they chose one called "Logo".  Some people will remember moving a turtle around on a screen. Though "Logo" is related to some modern programming languages, it will not fetch jobs.  For more of our argument, see

All students should learn to code. Right? Not so fast. (Washington Post 5/29/14)

JNCL-NCLIS on "coding"

ACTFL Releases Position Statements on World Languages and Computer Coding

Yes, we know that the Bureau of Labor statistics predicts a 7% decline in computer programming jobs between 2016 and 2026, but it also predicts a 18% increase in translation and interprater jobs for the same period.

BLS figues projection for translators and interpreters

In May 2019 ACTFL cited a just completed Ipsos Public Affairs survey of 1,200 U.S. employers, and the results confirm what the BLS predictions about language skills. Here is a summary which appeared in the ACTFL account:

9 out of 10 U.S. employers rely on employees with language skills other than English.
56% say their foreign language demand will increase in the next 5 years.
47% state a need for language skills exclusively for the domestic market.
1 in 3 language-dependent U.S. employers report a language skills gap.
1 in 4 U.S. employers lost business due to a lack of language skills.

Even with a current programming language, knowing how to code is no guarantee of a job. With over 700 currently functioning programming languages in the world, the 8500 created over time is some indication of the mortality rate of these languages.  I wonder how many of the BM, Microsoft, Activision Blizzard, Oracle,  SAP,  Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, Intel, Sony layoffs just didn't speak the right one. These were not people who learned assembly language, Fortran, Basic, Pascal, COBOL, ALGOL, TELCOMP, LOGO, and SNOBOL in school. Their knowledge of computer languages was much more modern, but still not fully relevant to the market.

As we contemplate what has happened and happens regularly in these companies, we might also ask what will the public advent of quantum computing (in 20 years) bring. Right now, D-Wave, Google, NASA, and the Universities Space Research Association have joined forces for a special artificial intelligence project. Will learning a current language be the best way to prepare us for the quantum age?


In order to fully understand why coding is not necessarily the key to a brilliant high-salaried career with endless work opportunities, it is important to understand something about it's place in economic history. Our current digital era is often referred to as the 3rd industrial revolution The first industrial revolution began with 18th century mass production using specialized machines and steam power (the 2nd 1870-1914. expansion of electricity, petroleum and steel. These only succeeded because those in charge were able to control labor costs with efficient optimization of  mass production, use of temporary help services, lower-paid staffing agency workers, off-shoring of some manufacturing operations, and eventually the use of robotics.

This 3rd revolution was the shift from analogue electronic technology to digital. A beginning of information age, with transistor and microprocessor—also the rise of telecommunications and computers 1960s. Where we have had over two centuries of the first industrial revolution, we have had a little over a half a century of the digital revolution. Cost-saving measures are not clear to the general public, but because programmers are still paid relatively high salaries, it should be known that Big Tech is reducing them through templates, open-source platforms like Apple's "Swift" for App development, insights from the use of "stack overflow", cloud computing, ApplicationProgrammingInterface, cheaper programmers through early coding education, outsourcing to foreign programmers, no-code, AI, cloud AI, and anticipated future developments in quantum computing (20 or more years), which will change everything. All efforts are full-steam-ahead.

Two out of three developers are self-taught, and other trends from a survey of 56,033 coders

Tech's push to teach coding isn't about kids' success – it's about cutting wages (The Gardian 9/21/17)

Foreign coders get over 25 percent of America’s programming jobs  

Don't Learn To Code! You'll Be Competing With Cheap Foreign Labor (2019)  

If there are varying statements about what programmers make, it is because programming is a relatively new field whcih grew fast, not only in numbers, but also in categories. Median salaries are high, no matter where you look; over $80,000/yr.. Indeed puts the average salary of a computer programmers at $23.71 per hour, but most put it slightly under $51.000 per year (under $20.00/hr for a 40 hr. week). I have seen entry-level jobs as low as $25.000/yr  ($12.20/hr.).

Software Engineering Future: How Your Job is Becoming a Commodity and Might Even Disappear  

Companies that have RECENTLY Off-Shored & More Who May — (2019). Jobs for American Coders

Will You Lose Your Job To AI?  

Of course, learning a programing language omits cultural study, and is not going to do what foreign language study does for general cognition and the human brain, whereas knowing a foreign language is both saft skills and hard skills

Foreign Languages - An Essential Core Experience

How Language Shapes the Brain (Psychology Today, 5/3/19)

and we have some very pressing shortages of workers proficient in foreign languages:

$$World Languages = Career Opportunities$$

There are some who are highly suspicious of our push to teach as many kids as possible to code:

Jason Bradbury: Coding Lessons In Schools Are a Waste of Time (2016) 

John C. Dvorak, "Teaching Coding to Kids Is a Scam" (NYTimes, 5/12/14)  

Tara Tiger Brown, "Learning How to Code" (Forbes 1/10/12)  

Zamilur Rashid, CSM, "Why coding is a waste of time for you!" (Linkedin  7/26/14)  

I almost forgot to tell you, believe it or not, there are non-English coding experiences:

Non-English-based programming languages

Digital culture does link the sciences together, and is a communication bridge, the understanding of which is necessary to humanities, but the route to this understanding is in no way attainable through the substitution of coding for foreign language study. Digital culture, which does connect can best be understood through genuine study of Computer Science. Tell your state legislators to back off, because you know what they are up to.

TennesseeBob Peckham, PhD
Director, Globe-Gate Research
Made in Tennessee to bring you the world