Coding as a Universal Language

Another great piece by Riccardo Mori:

Somehow I had missed this Tim Cook interview on The Guardian, but fortunately I have Kirk McElhearn in my RSS feeds, and his recent article The Tech Industry’s Tunnel Vision about Coding and Language has brought that interview to my attention.

Irritatingly, the article doesn’t present the full text of Cook’s contribution, just a series of quotes. And, like Kirk, I was a bit let down by this one in particular:

I think if you had to make a choice, it’s more important to learn coding than a foreign language. I know people who disagree with me on that. But coding is a global language; it’s the way you can converse with 7 billion people.

It’s easy to forget that most programming languages — and certainly all of the major ones — are written in entirely English words: if, then, while, and even shortened versions of English words like var for a variable. It’s not enough to know what words to put where; good programmers understand the specific use of these words, and that requires an understanding of the grammatical syntax of English.

What would it take for a programming language — like, say, Swift — to be translated into multiple human languages? That would be a remarkable feat, and if it truly is more important to be able to write software than to learn a second language — and I’m not convinced it is — it would open doors to lots of non-English speakers who are aching to code.