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Computer Coding as a Second Language

By Kip Glazer
 | Apr 26, 2017

Boy in yellow shirt on a laptopI recently read a story about a Colombian security guard named Edison Garcia Vargas, who learned to speak English using duolingo.com, one of my favorite language learning tools. As a teacher, I have recommended Duolingo (also available as an app) to several parents who want to learn English, including my own in South Korea. I was excited to hear Vargas' story, which demonstrates the life-changing impact of this tool.

Improving literacy is a longtime passion of mine. Despite having lived in the United States for over 20 years, I know I will be a second-language learner for the rest of my life. I feel this acutely when my colleagues and friends make references to the '90s pop culture, to which I must explain that I lived in Korea until 1993 and didn't speak English until the late 1990s.

One thing I have learned about language acquisition is that it requires daily practice. I often find myself searching for Korean words in conversations with my family, despite having attended a university in Korea. I frustrate my parents when I answer them in English.

In many ways, learning to code is similar to learning to speak another language. Duolingo reminds its users to practice the language 20 to 30 minutes every day. Its website provides pictures, audios, and quizzes, and allows users to repeat the lessons as many times as they desire. I believe that's how we should approach teaching our students to code; students must practice every day, and in a structured environment.

However, many schools do not offer coding courses. For these high school and middle school students, I recommend online learning tools such as codehs.com, codecademy.com, and codeavengers.com. For younger students, I recommend scratch.mit.edu and tynker.com, which,use colorful blocks and animated characters to help users build logical reasoning skills.

Students also need to be immersed in the language that they want to learn. While I had Korean-speaking friends, I deliberately befriended Japanese, German, and French-speaking students at the language school I attended. We all spoke different languages, which forced all of us to communicate in English when possible. I suggest that students create similar support systems when learning to code. If they do not know someone locally, I tell them to visit github.com and hackpledge.org, sites where experienced computer programmers and developers offer help and answer questions.

A report published by Burning Glass identifies coding experience as one of the most valuable and employable skills. With the advent of online coding courses, the educational resources that students need to develop these skills have become more broadly accessible.

The most important thing, however, is to encourage students daily to persevere, even if they experience failures. I explain to my students that learning to code is learning to speak another language. Having struggled to learn English as an adult, I remind my students that they can learn to code successfully, even if they start later than others.

Kip Glazer HeadshotKip Glazer is a native of Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States in 1993 as a college student. In 2002, she graduated Cum Laude from California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science. She earned her Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Chapman University in 2004, while receiving her California Single Subject Teaching Credential in both Social Studies and English. Since then, she has earned additional teaching credentials in Health, Foundational Mathematics, and School Administration. Glazer is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Education in Learning Technologies at Pepperdine University. She is the current team leader for Independence High School's Teachers' Professional Development Grant funded by California State University, Chico. She maintains a blog about her projects and grants.


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